SVRS & Passport Renewal

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2016 • all rights reserved

The SVRS program makes it easy for US citizens to check back in after cruising to foreign countries. A few tips to navigate the system with ease --US Citizens – Have you signed up for the SVRS (Local Boater Option) program?

This is a variation on the “Trusted Traveler” program, allowing you to usually just call Customs and Border Patrol to report your arrival from a foreign country back to the US – great for those going to the Bahamas or Mexico or who are in the Caribbean and hopping back and forth between US islands and those of other countries.

However – as we learned when we returned from the Bahamas (I’d never heard about this before) – if you renew your passport after originally being accepted into the SVRS program, you must either:

  • Go to an SVRS enrollment site with your new passport BEFORE leaving the US and have your passport number updated in their system. No, you can’t do it by phone or online. It must be in person and can be anytime prior to leaving the US (that is, you can update it even if you don’t have immediate plans to take your boat out of the US). Most SVRS enrollment sites do not require an appointment, but some do so you might want to call ahead and see if you need an appointment.
  • OR, when you return to the US, you’ll have to check in at a CBP station in person. If that CBP station is a SVRS enrollment site (not all are), they can update your passport number at the same time.

For those who aren’t familiar with SVRS, you can learn more about it here. You apply online, then have an “interview” at an SVRS processing site where they take (and run) your fingerprints and examine your passport. Then you are given your SVRS number (also referred to as a “BR” number since all start with the letters “BR”). Everyone on board needs their own BR number, not just the captain.

NOTE: The boat is also required to have a CBP border-crossing decal, commonly called a DTOPS sticker, for you to be able to phone in (I’ve heard you are supposed to have this sticker even if you aren’t a SVRS participant). Get yours here.

Once you enroll in the SVRS program and have your DTOPS sticker, when you are ready to return to the US, you file a CBP Float Plan (this is NOT the “in case of emergency” float plan that you leave with a trusted friend or family member) and then call in when you are anchored or docked back in the US. A few things to know about the CBP Float Plans:

  • You must file it online within 24 hours of your planned departure from the foreign country. In reality, file it from your last stop with internet availability – the form itself acknowledges that dates are not set in stone.
  • The form is a little confusing in the mechanics of how to fill it out and progress from one screen to another. Click on the topic you want, then click Next at the bottom of the screen . . . and you can prepare the form several days in advance and then activate it at the last minute. I recommend this in case you have problems with it, so that you don’t have time pressure.
  • The web site is very picky about what internet browser you use. I could only get it to work with Internet Explorer — not the newer Microsoft Edge, not Chrome, not Firefox. Friends with Apple products report that it does not work with Safari, but does work with Chrome. So if you have problems, keep trying different browsers. Another reason to begin working on it in advance.
  • Some Ports of Entry (Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands in particular) almost insist that you have a float plan on file when you call to check in. In other places – such as Florida – it makes the process much faster, but no one gets upset if don’t.

You are required to call once you anchor or dock in the US. You may still be selected to check in at a CBP station (aka “Port of Entry” — usually at an international airport) within 24 hours of your arrival, so it is wise to plan your entry for a location where you could easily get to a check-in location. For the record, the CBP facility at the Marathon airport in the Florida Keys is extremely nice to work with – a $5 cab ride from anywhere in Marathon, an SVRS station, no wait and genuinely nice people!

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  1. We were’t finger printed and there was no interview. Maybe because husband’s captain license (TWIC) and I’m a current federal employee?

    We were also told, in Ft Lauderdale that we had to check in from a dock, not anchor. Which was impossible because we couldn’t find a skip. Not even the$5.25/ft slips at Bahia Mar.

    • I’ve heard that from a couple of other people, and then others who were told that they were to check in as soon as they dropped anchor . . . maybe different offices, different officers?

    • I’ve never been directed either way. I usually call in about 2 miles offshore and am told that those without LBO or GOES had to report within 24 hrs to a local office. The boat wasn’t really important to them as long as there was a DTOPS sticker. I usually enter 2 or 3 times a year.

    • We called in and they said, “Welcome Home.” Our interview and all was in Key West.

  2. Thanks for this info. I just obtained my SVRS BR number and the DTOP decal for my boat. My local CBP ofc is Port Everglades – they didn’t require prints, however I’ve been previously printed for my Security clearance so that could be the reason. Great post – thanks again!

  3. This is really helpful, Carolyn. And very timely for us! Thank you!

  4. Good to know. Thanks for sharing.

  5. What were the mistakes you made The Boat Galley?

  6. Helps backup what I’ve told people for a long time, thanks. I look at it all as convenience. Boaters option has been around awhile and makes life easier, but even with that. When you call in when your entering local waters, you still need to give passport info for others. .a long process over the phone. The CBP float plan came along as a request, but I understand that it will be required in the future. This is convenience. .. fill in before leaving or before returning. You fill in all information you would have to give over the phone then you just need to give them the float plan number and not spend all that time on the phone.
    Don’t forget the DTOPS sticker. They all expire on 12/31, even if you buy it on 12/1 and you have to get a new one. They don’t renew.
    If you have to go to the office, remember you can go to any office, port, airport etc.

  7. Remember, before going to the Bahamas, you can download and fill in the paperwork in advance. Saves a ton of time. Only thing you cannot download is the multipart tourist form. I actually fill in the forms while online and print them. I also get extra tourist forms when I check in for future trips.

  8. comment. ..I promise. If you have a GOES card, your good. They accepted that when we returned last time.

  9. Thanks, Carolyn. We’ve had nothing but problems with SVRS & it’s because I forget which browser worked last time (Mac–have to use our spare PC). Amen to starting the float plan A WEEK ahead of time. PR required it but helped me work through because it wasn’t activated (UGH! I swear I did). I didn’t know you had to update GOES–DH renewed his passport in San Juan & I renewed my GOES. Didn’t know he needed to make another visit 🙁

  10. We are in the process of signing up. We got through Hugh’s app, including scheduling the appointment, but when I tried, I couldn’t get past the line for vessel DTOP number — we don’t have one, but it wasn’t required for Hugh’s app. Hmmmm. I am trying to apply for one now, but the website isn’t responding. (is every other TBG reader doing the same thing :-)?)

    • Maybe try a different browser?

    • Make sure cookies are activated for the site. They require it.

    • Carey Moluchi says:

      We just did our SVRS application and ran into the same problem with the DTOPS decal issue. You have to have one for the “vessel master” in order to complete the form. Any other applicants don’t have to have the info, but at least one person travelling has to be the vessel master with the decal, even if you later all go on a different boat! We had to buy our sticker(you can get 2016 or 2017 now ) and then used the application number which worked. (Having called three different customs people). Now we have received the decal information five days later it does provide the proper decal number so I guess we could have just waited a week. We are Canadian Nexus card holders so don’t need an interview or fingerprints.

      • When we originally did ours, it was for a trip on a friend’s boat and we didn’t have a DTOPS number . . . I don’t recall it being a problem, but maybe it was because we weren’t trying to make one of us a “master.”

  11. We ended up having to visit the office the first time we returned. When we called in there was a lot of confusion because they gave us both the same number. I didn’t even think to look at that!

  12. We had to go into the office the first time we returned because they gave us both the same number. Didn’t even think to look at the cards.

  13. Linda M Fletcher

  14. We just returned Friday night from the Bahamas. We had signed up for SRVS before we left in June. We had our interviews in Ft. Pierce (no fingerprints). I filed and activated the float plan using Firefox on Thursday night from the marina at Bimini Sands. I called the 800 number when we had finished tying up at our marina in Stuart at 7:30 pm Friday, gliving the float plan number when asked. They verified the vessel name and the passenger, gave me a clearance number, and said my clearance was closed. Couldn’t have been easier.

    The customs sticker, (DTOPS) is required for all vessels over 30 feet, whether SRVS participants or not. It is a user fee.

    Thanks for a great website!

  15. Victor Raymond says:

    We are US citizens with a foreign registered vessel. Last trip in US we were told we should get BR numbers since we were already CANPASS members. The very helpful officer got us both our BR numbers while we waited and then checked us in with no hassle. He said we did not need a Decal but since we had a cruising license. Oh well! So confusing even the officers was confused and had to call headquarters for details.

  16. Your information was very timely and helpful. My wife and I are preparing to take our 43′ Beneteau to the Bahamas for the winter. Our planned arrival in Bimini is around November 25 with travel south to Georgetown Great Exuma over the next 10 – 14 days. We will then leave the boat in Georgetown and fly back to the USA with plans to fly back and forth several times over the winter for 2 – 3 week stays before bringing the boat back to the USA in April. I have not researched the requirements for the boat clearing in and out of Customs only once while we come and go several times. We both have Global Entry and Trusted Traveler clearance. The SVRS link you provided indicates we will not need to interview with a CBP officer to complete our SVRS application. It sounds like the benefits of enrolling are worth the effort. I have not researched the requirements for the boat to remain in the Bahamas for 5 months while we come and go several times. Do you know if DTOPS stickers for both 2016 and 2017 can be secured at the time of application. I assume a float plan is filed upon leaving the USA and another when returning and I will need DTOPS stickers for both years. Your thoughts on these questions are appreciated.

    • You do NOT need to file a float plan when you leave the US (you don’t have to do anything to leave the US — no calls or anything!), only when you return.

      • Lee & Cindy Smith says:

        If you are leaving U.S. Waters for a Foriegn Port you will need to check out of the U.S.
        Filling out the departure forms and having the CBP required Stamps and Signatures. If you arrive in a Foriegn Port without the documents you may find that the country will ask you to leave and return to the U.S. Port. The Customs Officials in Anguilla for example are particularly strict…no departure documents, No entry. When we depart from U.S. Virgin Islands to Bonaire, Caribbean Netherlands, we always stop in at CBP at the Ferry Terminal and check out. We always keep extra form on the boat so that we can fill them out in advance, prior to going to the CBP office. Therefore, checkout is quick and simple.

        Lee Smith

  17. One other detail since so many people end up having to fly home for whatever reason during your trip is to get the Mobile Passport App before you leave:
    We just used it for the first time last week and it worked brilliantly, breezed right through customs in record time, bypassing at least a 30 minute line. Completely free, unlike Global Entry.

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