Atlantic South America: Dealing with the Authorities
Having visited the Atlantic side of South America, cruiser Paul Heiney shares his thoughts on the best approach when dealing with the authorities in these South American countries.
Published 10 years ago, updated 4 years ago
I thought I would share my experiences of dealing with the various authorities
in Atlantic South America.
Despite some reports, while cruising in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile I experienced no difficulties and found them all to be polite and often helpful. Of course, they can be slow, and often the procedure seems pointless, but I came across no obstruction; nor was there the slightest hint that a little money might smooth the process.
If you try to understand their rules, be honest with them, and smile a little, then South America should hold no administrative fears. Even in Ushuaia (Argentina), which has had a reputation for being troublesome in the past, I found the officials easy and pleasant to deal with. In Chile, the Armada (Navy) was charm itself. Play straight with them, and they will play straight with you – that seems to be the rule.
I agree with Paul about the officials being pleasant enough. But Argentina is a basket case when it comes to regulations and the knowledge the officials have or don’t have. I cleared in at La Plata, south of Buenos Aires, coming across from Uruguay. It took me 3 days of visits to the customs, immigration and prefectura (coast guard, as close as I can figure the name). Prefectura is where the big problems lie. Right hand does not know there is a left hand. Does not know where the next office is. They have little information to give you as to what you need to do to stay out of bureaucratic trouble. I am Canadian, Canadian flag and solo. My Spanish is adequate. I have studied it 3 years university and visited South America 12 times, staying for weeks or months at a time.
The Chileans know how to do things and know where to direct you. The Argentine prefectura are in the dark ages. I moved from La Plata to Rio Lujan, where all the yacht clubs are and cleared in with prefectura right away. They wanted all papers and really didn’t know which ones were important. It took an hour and 4 officials to clear in this different port. All pleasant. I wanted to motor up the Rio Parana to Asuncion, Paraguay-1000 miles–to the centre of S. America. I got 25 miles. Stopped for the night (anchored at side of river) and was visited by prefectura cutter. All papers. Studied papers, not sure which they needed and then told me, ok. I had called them on CH 16 6-7 times before dropping hook at 5 pm. They awoke me at 10 pm for the paperwork. Next stop was Zarate. Once again called in vain on the various channels the prefectura recommends with no answer. Visited at 9 pm that night (sound asleep) for papers. Same same. Next day was visited 3 more times during the day by the same boat, different crews. They were not aware I had presented all paperwork night before. They asked for the names of the other crews.
I pointed to the chief who asked that question and asked him, ‘where is your name tag’? He did not have one. What idiocy. Pleasant, though. After 5 paperwork checks in 2 days and 25 miles, with 975 miles to go, I gave up. I am dreading the passage to Ushuaia and will visit the prefectura HQ here in San Fernando to get a list of all stations I need to report to and hope they have that information. If anyone knows of all reporting stations and their call signs (I know they have a 3 letter/digit call sign)–hailing ‘prefectura Puerto Madryn’ will get you no answer.
In sum, prefectura are pleasant but challenged in many ways. Immigration and customs no problem, although their computer equipment is dated and often out of service requiring multiple taxi rides and revisiting.
I’ve sailed northern Chile and look forward to their professionalism and competence. I’m an old guy: no drugs, no guns, no pets sailing solo. I will have rounded the world when I hit Beagle Channel.