In Which We Go to Ucluelet, B.C.

Today we did our part for the local economy in Ucluelet, and we’ll get to telling you about that, but first let’s talk about checking into Canada from a boat. Because this is where the story begins. We didn’t even plan to come to Ucluelet. Why? Because we have a Nexus pass. Let’s talk about that first.

The Nexus Pass is a special card that allegedly allows you to go across the U.S/Canada border without hassle. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to do. You apply, pay a $50 fee for the card (each), wait for an application number, then schedule an in-person interview at Boeing Field or another location that may or may not be convenient to you. We waited several months for our interviews to avoid driving to Blaine.

Really cool garden art in Ucluelet.

The interview is really pretty easy since they already know everything about you down to the size of your hair follicles before you even appear. Basically they probably just want to make sure you are not a robot or an obvious drug mule. So then you get your approval and the card comes in the mail. You call and activate your card as though it’s actually going to make things dead easy. But why would anyone believe that?

We left Seiku in the morning about 8:00 and motored all the live long day. It was pretty calm on the rolling Pacific and we had many miles to travel with no safe place to anchor. We either had to motor or we would be facing an overnight passage. We figured we would check in by phone, get our number, then anchor at the south end of Barkley Sound. Having already visited Ucluelet 5 years ago on Moonrise, we didn’t feel the need to go there again. It’s a nice enough area, but we thought we’d stop there later. Such naiveté.

Mike phoned the Nexus number when we got to Trevor Channel at the south end of the sound. The customs man wanted to know when we would get to Ucluelet. Um, never? Mike thought fast. He said we’d be there in a couple of hours. This was not an adequate answer for the gentleman on the phone. He instructed us to travel to Uclulet and call from there. We would be given a number and then we were to wait 15 minutes. If no one came to the boat to clear us in, we could go. Confused, but not wanting to thwart big authority and thereby call attention to ourselves because we feel a goodly amount of protestant guilt about things even when we aren’t doing anything wrong and are leery of possible punishment, we motored onward to Ucluelet.

Fog rolling into Ucluelet from the sea. This is from our anchorage.

In Ucluelet we found there was no room at the dock. Sure, we could possibly squeeze in between two very large and very metal fishing boats, but why should we? Tired and cranky is no way to try that kind of docking maneuver. The rest of the dock was full of other boats that appeared to be staying the night. I idled Galapagos in the bay and Mike called customs.

Mike explained the predicament to the much more helpful and reasonable woman who answered the phone. She asked all the usual questions about what we were bringing into Canada and if we had any illegal aliens on our boat. She gave us our clearance number and we were good to go. But Mike wanted to know exactly why having this Nexus card was beneficial to us when checking into Canada? Here is what she said and I will tell you right now I am not making this up. I could never make this shit up because it is not even logical in my own free thinking mind. When you call in, you must tell them exactly what time you will be in Ucluelet, the only check in port on the west coast of Vancouver Island. (Never mind that we are a sailboat and don’t know exactly when we will actually get there. Just make up anything, apparently.) Give them an exact ETA, even if it’s wrong. They will then give you your clearance number. You’d think that would be the end of it, but it isn’t. Once you get your clearance number you then GO TO UCLUELET and dock at the customs dock. You wait 15 minutes and if nobody comes to check you in, which they won’t, then you leave and go on your merry way.

Squeezed in between fishing boats on the public dock the following day.

Again, totally not making up anything here. For those who don’t live here or travel these parts, many check in places in Canada are unmanned. There is a phone at the customs dock which you use to call customs. You answer your questions, they give you your clearance number, and you post the number in the window on your boat. Done. The whole thing generally only takes a few minutes and we have never had a bad check-in experience coming to Canada. We were somehow convinced that having a Nexus card would shortcut this activity but apparently all it really does is allow you to call from your boat, which you can do anyhow. You still have to show up at an unmanned dock, wait 15 minutes, then go wherever. One has to wonder if Customs has some kind of deal with the economies of the local areas where these docks are located because sure as the world, our being in Ucluelet led to our spending money in Ucluelet. At least they had free water at the dock.

Look who came to visit while we were anchored in Ucluelet.

So we anchored in 20 feet of dead calm water near the head of the bay and had an excellent night’s sleep. In the morning we awoke to a lovely black bear bumbling around the shore about 20 yards from our stern. That was worth the trip, just those 5 minutes of bear watching. We had our breakfast then motored over to the public dock where all of the exact same boats were still tied up. Mike maneuvered Galapagos like a boss, we slipped in between the monstrous steel boats, and tied up. I only lost 2 years of my life to anxiety during that docking, rather than the usual 5, so things are looking up.

Expensive, but worth it. About 32$ Canadian for us to both have fish and chips and a drink. Yep.

It was a pleasure to get in a good long, brisk walk around town. If you get to Ucluelet, please have some cash ready to spend at the fish and chips food truck between town and the marina. It’s pricey, but worth every penny. Sorry Scotland, this fish and chips beats the hell out of yours. Mike got a 2 piece and I got a 1 piece, and our bill came to about 32$ American. I told you it was pricey. And for a good cup of coffee and a locally made dessert cookie of something figgy with oats, big enough for two, try the Cap’n Hook coffee place down by the marina. They also sell fishing supplies, an interesting combination. Mike got a fishing license, we bought beer, and minor groceries. We’ve done our part.


9 thoughts on “In Which We Go to Ucluelet, B.C.

  1. Nexus check in going into the states is much simpler as you can check in anywhere. To come into Canada you need to go to a specific bay and yes you need to give them an ETA. You can arrive 15 mins before or after the time you give…and if that changes you are supposed to call back. We are Canadian but keep our boat at Point Roberts so Nexus makes boating possible for us as we don’t have to go all the way to Bedwell or Sidney. I have attached a link to a map that shows all the check in points.

  2. Love it. Raw. Edgy…appropriate. Thanks for sharing. I’m imagining that those beers tasted quite good despite unreasonable expense! Sometimes all you have is the little oasis of your own boat. Thanks for sharing.


    • Thanks, David. I went back and corrected it after getting back to the land of unlimited interwebs. I hate when I do that. And oh yes, we are so very, very secure. Makes me feel so incredibly safe. i could go on.

  3. Your explanation of the CDN customs process with NEXUS is exactly the way it was explained to us during the interview over 8 years ago. And its what we’ve been doing ever since. Its still easier than not having Nexus.

    A couple of updates to your explanation – you have to arrive within 15 minutes of your ETA. If outside that ETA, you need to call them back and update your ETA. – you only have to wait 5 minutes upon your arrival, not 15.

    Your entry back into the US will be as you typically expected – call once your are in US waters, answer a few questions, and you’ll get your clearance number and be on your way. You do have to give your destination, but that’s it. No ETA.

  4. Your Nexus experience is the same as our CANPASS experience. Without the CANPASS, we would have to go into a main Canadian customs location; Sydney, Bedwell, Victoria. With CANPASS, there are other designated locations, like Canoe Cove, Oak Bay and sometimes just a bay. Give the operator a ETA, get there on time, wait 15 minutes and if no one shows, press on.

    I don’t recall how I got the other location list, but worth looking for it. shows 32 locations in the Salish Sea. I don’t see Uclulet on the map….

    BC list from the website:
    Bedwell Harbour
    Cabbage Island
    Campbell River Coast Marina
    Campbell River, Discovery Harbour Marina
    Canadian Forces Sailing Association
    Canoe Cove
    Crescent Beach Marina
    Delta Marina
    False Creek Fisherman’s Wharf
    Harbour Green Dock (Coal Harbour Marina)
    Hortons Bay
    Lightering Dock
    Miners Bay
    Montague Harbour
    Nanaimo Boat Basin – E Dock
    Oak Bay Marina
    Osoyoos Starlite Marina
    Port Browning
    Port of Sidney
    Prince Rupert Yacht Club
    Prince Rupert-Fairview Govt. Dock
    Raymur Point CBSA Boat Dock
    Royal Vancouver Yacht Club Scott Point Outstation
    Royal Vancouver Yacht Club Coal Harbour
    Royal Vancouver Yacht Club Jericho Dock
    Royal Victoria Yacht Club
    Rushbrook Government Dock
    Saltspring RVYC Outstation
    Sidney RVYC Outstation
    Steveston Harbour Authority
    Telegraph Creek
    Townsite Marina
    Tsehum Harbour
    Van Isle Marina
    White Rock Government Dock

  5. So now you’ve discovered how the Nexus card works for boats entering Canada. It does not exempt you from appearing in person at the “closest” Customs dock. I’ve even had agents on the phone (from Toronto, ON!) get sassy when I’ve varied more than 15 minutes on my ETA. Entering the States is pretty much the same; CPB officials reserve the right to require a landing and the option of an inspection at a Customs dock, although I have experienced more exceptions to that rule, especially if you have a “Romeo Bravo” number, a US arrangement which links your Nexus card(s) with your boat registration.

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