Returning From Cuba: Checking In On A Boat

We had an easy but frustrating experience returning from Cuba on our sailboat, s/v Winterlude.  Easy because it was a simple phone call – after 8 AM.  Frustrating because officialdom doesn’t seem to know what the process is these days, which I suspect will continue.  Here’s our saga …


Back in Key West

The US Coast Guard gives very specific instructions that a boat is to call them 20 miles out of Key West to notify them of arrival.  When we were 20 miles out, there was no cell service, so I called on VHF 16 and was redirected to 22A.  OK so far.

After I informed USCG that we had both Local Boater’s Option Cards, a DTOPS customs sticker and our USCG Form 3300 permit number, I was given a telephone number for the US Customs and Border Patrol Small Vessel Reporting System to call – still problematic since we had no cell phone service.  USCG told me to call as soon as we had cell service.  Which happened to be about 1 AM.  So I called 800-432-1216 – no surprise that I had to call back after 8 AM.

Local Boater Option Card

Local Boater Option Card

Our plan was to sail back to Stock Island Marina Village (next door to Key West), so in the absence of any officialdom to the contrary, we returned and called the 800 number the next morning.  Calling the Homeland Security 800 number is interesting – the menu offers several options for reporting into the US, including international arrivals.  Our selection was #2 f0r Local Boater Option card members who had not filed a float plan with LBO (I didn’t even know it was an option 1 was available – click here for details for those wanting to use it),

The lady took our LBO numbers as well as our DTOPS sticker number  (more on how to get these below) and gave me a sixteen digit confirmation number.  So I ask if she’s taking the USCG Form 3300 permit number – she said she’d add it to the record of our checkin, but there was no official need for it.  HUH?  Being the doubting thomas that I am, and not wanting to get stopped for illegal entry next time we used our passports, I questioned if I was really “done” like she kept telling me.  She told me she’d check and call me back, which she did, confirming that I was “done” and officially checked back into the US even though we were returning from Cuba.  Seems simple.

DTOPS Sticker

DTOPS Sticker

But me being the doubting thomas again, I called the US Coast Guard Key West – the telephone number was 305-292-8713.  No joy.  The menu went on and on with all the Key West sector departments and no option to talk to anyone other than the Duty Officer.  Choosing that option just got a phone that rang endlessly.  Then I tried calling Customs & Immigration Key West (at the airport).  I told my story and was told to show up at the airport Customs office after 1:30 that same day (supposedly you have 24 hours to complete check-in).

We went to the Customs office, gave our 16 digit confirmation number.  The officer went into the back and returned asking why we were even there?  I told him that I didn’t want to be detained at some future time because we returned from Cuba and didn’t check in correctly.  He looked over our Form 3300, our self-certifying Treasury Dept category letter and our SNAP-R official Commerce Dept permit, and assured us we’re good to go.

DTOPS Sticker

DTOPS Sticker

If you’re not familiar with the Local Boater Option card program, click here for details.  It makes life easy and doesn’t cost anything – what a combination!  We got our LBO cards when we checked in from Mexico in 2010 and had a DTOPS sticker (more on that in a minute) but no LBO card – didn’t know we needed one.  We had to go to Immigration at the Ft Myers International Airport and they issued us LBO cards – good until our passports expire (which is summer 2016 – be interesting to see what we have to do when we get new passports).  No cost, no real hassle.

The other sticker that you’ll need along with your LBO cards is a DTOPS sticker (Decal/Transponder Online Procurement System).  This one costs somewhere around $27/annually and is very much worth the small investment not to have to show up at a Customs office and just call in your arrival back into US waters.  Click here for the US Customs & Border Protection website to get one.  Having said that, it was VERY confusing, but the good news is, they have a very helpful support system that walked me through the process literally step by step.  Here’s the info:  User Fee Help Desk at (317) 298-1245 or via email at The fax number is (317) 290-3219.

Sunset at sea sailing from Cuba back to the US.

Sunset at sea sailing from Cuba back to the US.

The DTOPS sticker and LBO card work great returning from the Bahamas or Mexico too! This information is current as of the date of this post, but is subject to change at the whim of the US Customs and Border Patrol folks.   🙂

Please leave a comment if you have additional (or updated) information!  Cheers!  Jan


  1. Gotta love a bureaucracy! But glad they let you back in. 🙂

  2. Gary and Judy Coppola says:

    Good stuff, thanks. I did not realize that my LBO expired with my passport. Keep on keepin’ on!

    • Me either Gary! I called to check because ours we originally got our LBO cards in May 2010. But our passports don’t expire until 2016… this year… 🙁 Cheers – J

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