Cuba Travel

Yacht crusing rules and information for boating in Cuba

Posted December 28, 2006 by publisher in Cuba Travel.

Lucy Chabot Reed |

Cuba is all about regulations, and as long as a visiting megayacht knows and understands that, the Caribbean island nation can be a rewarding place to visit.

So was the message from Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich, commodore of the yacht club at Marina Hemingway in Cuba. Escrich conducted the “Cruising in Cuba” seminar at the St. Maarten Charter Yacht Exhibition in December. Through an interpreter, he told the standing-room-only group of more than 50 captains, crew and industry attendees that all megayachts are welcome in Cuba, and he offered several suggestions for making a visit pleasurable.

First, the official rules:

Foreign-owned pleasure craft must enter and leave through an international marina, where they can clear customs and immigration and obtain a cruising permit from the harbormaster. It is best, Escrich said, to file a float plan with the expected itinerary, dates and times. Vessels must clear in at each port of call.

The process of clearing in can take three to four hours, he said. Getting a cruising permit can take two to three days, but it is granted, he said.

Visitors must have a valid passport, but it is not necessary to obtain a visa prior to arrival, Escrich said. (Cuban/Americans, however, are the only group who need a visa to enter.) When entering through a marina, immigration authorities will give each visitor a visa card at a cost of $15 for 30 days. It can be extended for 30 days.

The captain is responsible for notifying the authorities of air travel for a yacht’s arriving guests. In answering a question from a captain, he said that private, foreign aircraft are permitted to land in Cuba.

After arrival, the captain has six hours to clear in and should let customs officials know of the yacht’s intended departure six hours in advance. While in the marina, luggage control will be carried out by customs authorities upon entry and prior to departure. No drugs, pornography, bombs or fire arms are permitted. Yachts carrying guns should deposit them with the coast guard and when the boat leaves, they will be returned, Escrich said.

Authorities will conduct a health survey, checking on the health of crew members and placing pets in quarantine. Yachts must declare provisions and keep all trash onboard, though a garbage disposal can be requested from the harbormaster.

Escrich also suggested these procedures that are not required but which would make a visit easier:

Captains should make radio contact with port office authorities upon crossing into Cuban waters, 12 miles out. Channels 16 and 72 are the Port Authority; Ch. 19 is the Tourist Authority. HF (SSB) 2760 is the National Coast Network, and 2790 is the Tourist Network.

“If you don’t make radio contact, there will be a guard waiting for you at the dock,” Escrich said. “Calling in enables the authorities to organize for your clearing in.”

The dockmaster or harbormaster is on Ch. 16. If the marina doesn’t answer, the coast guard may or may not answer, depending on whether the officer speaks your language.

“Regardless, he knows you are approaching,” he said.

After making radio contact, provide information on the yacht, its registration, last port of call, number of people on board, etc.

Once moored, wait for the authorities. Escrich said yacht crew and guests are not permitted off their vessel until cleared in.

Once cleared in, proceed to the dockmaster’s office with a float plan to get a cruising permit.

“We are well aware of the fact that the megayacht sector of the world is growing,” he said. “In addition to a growing fleet, there are new marinas with slips for megayachts being built very close to Cuba. All these bring, as a consequence, an approach to Cuba, an itinerary.

“There’s also a mystique about Cuba because of the political and social system,” he said. “For some people, that is a good thing, for others doubts. There are people who think if they approach Cuban waters, police will approach them with guns. That’s not true. Cuba knows about international maritime traffic and we stick to international regulations in the protection of human life.”

Escrich also promoted Cuba as a “virgin” cruising ground with pristine coral reefs, calm seas, beautiful beaches and temperate climate. In the past four years, 115 megayachts have visited Cuba, he said; 75 percent of them 40m or larger.

Marina Hemingway in Havana is the most popular megayacht marina with seven slips for large vessels.

Marina Darsena Varadero (about 87 miles east of Havana on the north coast) has two slips for yachts up to 70m. Santiago de Cuba in the southeast has one slip, depending on the draft.

Several other marinas have bays for anchorage, but no slips because of draft constraints, including Marina Vita, Marina Cayo Largo del Sur and Cienfuegos, which Escrich said has one of the most beautiful, well-protected bays in all of Cuba.

All told, Cuba has 15 marinas with 789 slips, most of them for smaller vessels, he said. Nine of the 15 marinas offer clearing-in/-out capabilities with government officials on site.

He did suggest cruising the south side of the island during winter when the northerlies from the United States make the north shore rough. And he noted that the west end has the best scuba diving, but there is no marina so yachts have to anchor.

“I am one of those people who thinks and dreams of a better future for Cuba and for better development for recreational boating in Cuba,” he said. “We really have the conditions that give us great potential to develop this.”

One captain asked whether charter yachts need a charter license.

“In Europe there are different regulations for commercial or private vessels, licenses for charter, etc.,” he said. “There is no such thing in Cuba.”

Escrich met with representatives of the largest brokerage houses in Europe during the Monaco Yacht Show this fall, he said, and they are working on details for chartering in Cuba. Most likely, there won’t be a license, but a flat fee of about $15 per person per day.

Several captains asked about deviating from the filed float plan.

“If you previously filed a professional float plan, you can deviate from it a little without incident,” Escrich said, leaving those captains a little uncomfortable with the vagueness of the regulations.

A note about American vessels and crew: Escrich noted that Cuba welcomes all visitors; it is the U.S. government that prohibits its citizens from spending money in Cuba or helping the Cuban economy in any way. [For more about American crew traveling to Cuba, even aboard foreign-flagged vessels, visit and search for The Triton’s front-page story in the July 2006 issue.]

“I don’t care about politics,” Escrich said. “The truth is that up until 2003, there was a friendly bridge between Florida and Cuba. I attended the Miami boat show four times, the Ft. Lauderdale show once. We don’t want to do anything that will cause any problems for our friends. There will be better times.”

Member Comments

On October 18, 2008, Grant Reynolds wrote:

I’m curious as to the rates at Marina Hemingway.  Can you tell me?

On October 18, 2008, sailor wrote:

The rates a Marina Hemingway are very good.
35 cents per foot per day for yacht under 45 feet
41 cents per foot per day for yacht over 45 feet
There is a cheaper monthly rate and a cheaper still three monthly rate
If you pay the three month rate up front there is a further 5% reduction.
The three month rate is good for a year ,you come and go until you use up the three months.
Not worth staying home this winter

On October 18, 2008, publisher wrote:


Interesting information. Does it compare in quality, services and rates to other Caribbean ports?

On January 10, 2009, norman dube wrote:

Can anyone give me an accurate cost of entering and clearing customs with a boat in transit to Costa Rica?Also the current price of diesel and gasoline/Thank you

On January 11, 2009, sailor wrote:

The current cost to enter Cuba are;
$15 per person for visa
$20 for entry of the boat
$20 for cruising permit to cruise Cuban waters
Diesel and gasoline ,available at Marina Hemingway run about 20% more than U.S. prices
Don Barr

On February 18, 2009, GGeorge wrote:

I remember the Cuban coast guard as a bunch of guys wearing green military uniforms and armed with AK-47 aboard of a Russian’s vessels named Griffin, they can go up to 30 knots, I saw one griffin about 25 years ago when I was in Cuba. Whether they shoot first and ask questions later may be only a matter of luck, if you are aboard of a mega yacht, then you should have a better luck but if you have a Contender, Mako, SeaRay, Striper etc, you may don’t want to test your luck in Cubans Waters because by the time you find out that that was not your lucky day, it may be too late.

On the other hand, I was informed by the Cuban Consulate in Washington DC that arriving to Cuba aboard of private vessels is restricted for the ones not born in Cuba, so if you don’t have a mega yacht and you have born in Cuba, don’t try your lucky in Cuban’s waters, go Las Vegas instead. Regardless if you are American citizen or not, you were born in Cuba, you can’t arrive by sea, period. You were born in Cuba and you arrive on a mega yacht? I don’t know, I don’t know anyone born in Cuba who owns a mega yacht and wants to try his lucky in that way.

I am American citizen but I was born in Cuba, last year I sailed from Key West to Cancun, about 400 miles. Right after leaving Key West, the US Coast Guard stopped me and searched my vessel, they saw two extra tanks of gasoline and they asked me why do I need that much gas and I responded that I was to Cancun and I can’t stop in Cuba for gas, the US Coast Guard officer stated that carrying gasoline on that way wasn’t safe and I responded –NO, more unsafe will be stopping in Cuba for gas. The officer laughs and stated, that’s not unsafe, -That will be stupid jajaja, he asked me to continue with care and do not approach to Cuban waters.

Now, the day when Cuba officially inform that anyone can go to Cuba by vessel and must comply with certain rules etc, I will be the first. For now, I think is better to carry two huge tanks of gasoline.

On February 18, 2009, George wrote:

As of today, 02/18/2009 there are 902,964 vessels registered in the state of Florida. According to this, only 151 vessels have been in the Hemingway’s Marina last year.
Assuming that all 151 vessels are from Florida, what matters is not the small percentage; it is how many of those 151 have returned.

What a multimillionaire will find in Cuba that can’t find anywhere else, poor quality of service, decadent installations etc, the only ones who have a reason for enjoying visiting Cuba in the same way as it is are the Cubans and actually are the only ones who have many reasons to return to Cuba not matter what are the Cubans but the government insists in the apartheid practices against anyone who was born in Cuba so the embargo doesn’t come from US because I don’t see a US Navy guy pointing me with a M16 to my head and asking me where I go each time I launch my boat to the water, the real embargo comes from Cuba.

Now the question is, how comfortable you would be in a 3rd world country where the only people who can arrive by sea are the ones who were not born in there

I wish I can be talking good things about the Hemingway Marina, etc instead of this, once you are there you are at the mercy of what Castro decided that morning, the visa, gasoline and all these charges may change from $10 to $100 the same day and during Clinton’s government they shoot a civilian plane in international waters. Is that the place you want to go?

In any case, don’t rely in the Internet or try to hear it from the grape vines, call the Cuban Consulate in DC before you approach Cuban Waters.

On August 09, 2009, SEA TOW / SEA SPILL CUBA wrote:

I am the owner of Sea Tow Cuba. I have purchased the rights 15 years ago to Cuba. I belive it will be the diamond of the Carribean once again. I look forward to Saftey at Sea for all going there.


I believe it will be in the next year of so.

GeeGee Morgan Beatty
President of Sea Tow/ Sea Spill Cuba

On August 10, 2009, publisher wrote:

Sea Tow,

What rights to Cuba did you purchase?

On August 10, 2009, SEA TOW / SEA SPILL CUBA wrote:

Sea Tow/ Sea Spill is an U.S. company and have franchises all over the world.  Such as Bahamas, Miami, Key West, Savanna Georgia, Cancun Mexico, and P. Rica etc.
I purchased the rights to franchise Sea Tows in Cuba. The embargo still prohibits doing business there for now, but I have done environmental lectures, seminars and awareness programs in Cuba.
Go to this website if you want to know more about Sea Tow/ Sea Spill International.

On August 10, 2009, publisher wrote:

Thanks for the information. Good luck.

See you there grin

On August 10, 2009, George wrote:

Well, it is good to know that SeaTow is in Cuba, I am a member of SeaTow and I learned how good was to have it the day I blew my motor.

The day Cuba’s goverment allow Cuban-Americans to sail from Miami to Cuba and US do not prevent a vessel that has been on a Cuban Port to enter into the US waters for 6 months, I will be very benefit from the SeaTow franchise in Cuba.

On August 10, 2009, SEA TOW / SEA SPILL CUBA wrote:

Thank you for being a member of Sea Tow we are # 1 for your
boating needs.

Sea Tow Cuba will be in Cuba as soon as the Embargo is lifted.
I know Cuban -Americans cant sail ( boat)  to Cuba…. but that is a Cuban ruling not U.S.  Also I do not know about a vessel entering back into the U.S. waters for 6 months? I have always gone over with a license, but had other Americans come back with their boat.

On August 10, 2009, George wrote:

Yes, the law says that ships which have called in a Cuban port may not dock in the U.S. for six months after visiting Cuba.

As in the same way as the speed limit in the Florida’s Turnpike is 65 MPH but people drive at 100 until a trooper catch them. People can sail to Cuba until the USGC catch them, the only difference may be the amount of the ticket. JAJJAJA

It has been like that since 1963, the U.S. Government issued the Cuban Assets Control Regulations under the Trading with the Enemy Act. They remain in force, and were strengthened in 1992 by the Cuban Democracy Act.

No vessel carrying goods or passengers to or from Cuba, or carrying goods in which Cuba or a Cuban national has any interest, may enter a U.S. Port.  Ships which have called in a Cuban port may not dock in the U.S. for six months after visiting Cuba.

On August 10, 2009, SEA TOW / SEA SPILL CUBA GEEGEE MORGAN wrote:

Thank you for that information. As I said, I have always gone there legally with a license.
I pray Obama with open the waters between Cuba and the USA. Florida is losing over $10 Million dollars a DAY, by having this Embargo in places.
That is income from tourism, hotels, flights, restaurants, marina’s etc.

Write your Government representatives to end the Embargo.
It will happen if enough people make a stand and let OUR


On August 10, 2009, SEA TOW / SEA SPILL CUBA GEEGEE MORGAN wrote:


Where did you get this website or information? I am looking for statistics of the estimated numbers of boaters, the size of boats, yachts etc., that will be heading for Cuba when the Embargo is lifted. Also I am looking for the exact loss of revenue the Embargo is costing the US and Florida. I want to make
this information puplished and more puplic for Americans to know the real facts.

I have an old report that was done in 1994 by the Florida Sea grant College Program. I wanted to see if there is anything out there more current.
I have called 8 different goverment departments and could not get to first base. “We dont have that kind of INFORMATION”.  I could not believe my ears. Any information is appreciated from any of the readers

Thank You

On August 11, 2009, George wrote:

Unfortunately, the end of the embargo is not going to help me that much since the one who is preventing me from arriving to Cuba on my own vessel is the Cuban’s government.  The day when the Cuban’s government officially lift his embargo against the ones born in Cuba, would be a good idea to ask our congress representatives to lift the embargo. On the other hand, for those who haven’t born in Cuba, the lift of the embargo may open many business opportunities as in the same way as they exists on the rest of the Caribbean Sea such Jamaica, Haiti, Dominic Republic etc

The lift of the embargo may make available many business opportunities for many companies around the world, same opportunities that they already have across the entire Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea in Belize, Mexico, Bahamas, Jamaica, Cayman Island etc, How much the travel industry that is actually doing business with these countries today is interested on the lift of the embargo?  New hotels and casinos may even affect Las Vegas and when it comes to paper and ink, these businesses have much more than I for writing letters to our congress representatives and many millions for supporting Obama, McCain or anyone else

The embargo doesn’t seems to be affecting the Cuban trade with the rest of Canada, Mexico, Spain, Germany, Russia etc, actually it is not preventing Dubai Ports from spending $250 million container terminal in Mariel that would start operating in 2012 so the embargo doesn’t even affects Cuba at all and for that reason I believe that all about the embargo is a big lie because there should be a hidden agreement between US and Cuba’s government

The embargo exists because it is convenient for US and Cuba and not matter how many do I want to cry about it, it will exists until both countries want to have it in place. In the time it be, Americans can’t invest on any business or properties in Cuba, it will be so convenient for you to buy a retirement vacations or retirement property in Cuba but that’s American money that went overseas and US may not be able to collect property tax for a house in Cuba. On the other hand, Fidel Castro is not interested on having Americans buying properties in Cuba so the embargo is very convenient to both governments.

Unfortunately, I was born in Cuba but thanks god, Cuba is not the only one place in the world that I can go and for much less than I can spent in Cuba, I can have a much better time on Nassau, Cancun, Jamaica, Kat Key etc and in the time it be, me and the rest of Cuban Americans, spent our US $ in anywhere but Cuba. Please, don’t get me wrong, Cuba is the first place I want to go but it is forbidden to all Cuban-Americans.

Amazingly, people just don’t learn. In the North of Camaguey there were a lot of citrus farms owed by Americans before Castro. Around 1962, Castro took it from its owners. Now, in August 11, 2009 do you believe that if the embargo is lifted, Castro will allow you to by land and plant citrus in Cuba? It doesn’t make any sense right? This is why I don’t do political campaigns for one thing or the other.

It is so weird at the point that this Government Issue licenses for breaching the law. If the law says that you can’t go to Cuba, how comes you can get a license for taking your vessel to Cuba? Can I get a license for bank robbery?

On August 11, 2009, George wrote:

Greetings Sea Tow, I appologize for not responding to your question about where I have obtained such information.

The information about vessels registered in the State of Florida comes from the Tax Collector’s Office, such information is considered public under the Florida’s Statutes (Sunchine Law)

The “Cuban Assets Control Regulations”, “Trading with the Enemy Act” and the “Cuban Democracy Act” were sent to me by a student from the University of Texas, however, I believe that it may be also found at any public library or Governement web site.

On August 11, 2009, SEA TOW / SEA SPILL CUBA GEEGEE MORGAN wrote:

Thank you for the information.
Cuban Americans can go to Cuba, but I as an American cant go to Cuba.
You can go and visit your familly and take money.
My license was for an eviromental exchange with Cuba and US.
Thank you again for the information and suggestions.


On January 29, 2011, George wrote:

....wonder, if I can leave my boat in Cuba all year round ? Gibara !?

On January 29, 2011, Don wrote:

You can leave a boat in Cuba year round. But, after 12 months in Cuba the boat is dutiable. The 12 month rule is acumlative .

On January 30, 2011, George wrote:

I just confirmed with the Cuban Consulate in Washington DC. Travel to Cuba in a vessel is restricted to “Non Born in Cuba”, if you have been born in Cuba. You are not allowed to travel to Cuba on a vessel. If you do it, you will get arrested. On the other hand, no vessel can enter to US territory for a period of not less than 6 months after leaving Cuba’s port. That has been the biggest problem with the Mariel’s terminal and PNO Ports. Ask Donald Tromp how much he has to pay for the fine for going to Cuba on his yacht, he stated that were cheaper than sail to Italy JAJAJA.

Believe me, I am the first person who wants to go to Cuba on my own boat because the Child Support illegally revoked my passport so I can’t take the plane (that’s another history) and all my family is in Cuba. I want to go Cuba to visit my family, especially my mother and my brother but that’s their law and I will respect all laws from all countries for all my life

On January 30, 2011, George wrote:

!Sorry, he didn’t set Italy, he set Monaco

On February 01, 2011, George wrote: after 12 month I have to pay duty for the boat….where can I find out how much that is ?!...and is it a one time duty or a repeating one >?
Thank,s a lot guys !

On February 01, 2011, Don Barr wrote:

The duty for a boat in Cuba is a one time thing.
The duty is currently 5% of value.
The valuation is very vague. The few boats that have imported were able to keep the valuation very low by claiming that there is no market in Cuba and most buyers could not go there so very little market hence low valuation.

On July 07, 2011, tranmkp wrote:

Just of the phone with the state dept - bottom line is a US citizen cannot take his boat to Cuba. The CG District 7 has a form on what is required - simple:

get the OFAC licence
all the paperwork on your boat and crew
get an export(BIS)licence from the commerce dept:

and submit to District 7

Here is the catch - a individual that is not in the bulk cargo business will be denied a permit (temporary sorjurn) in to Cuba - PERIOD. Permits are denied. Thats it. Its over. NOw that does not explain all the big sport fishers and Beneteaus I saw in Hemmingway last year. Sure, you could do the paperwork submit it (with the denied BIS form, file your float plan and go. When you are intercepted by the CG in route you show them all the paperwork. Its up to them to decide. you did a “best efforts” to follow the rules. Likewise, if you come back and check in, you show them the paperwork. They could just read you the riot act and let you go or really screw you up. Its a toss up. Is there any other angle besides using a foreign boat?