How do they prevent border crossings on the Great Lakes?

I live near Lake Ontario and I was recently having a discussion about illegal border crossings at work. We realized we had no idea how they prevented people or goods from being smuggled across the border over water. There’s lots of recreational boating both the American and Canadian shores so it would appear to be pretty easy for somebody to take a boat out on a day cruise from Toronto and another out from Rochester and arrange for the two boats to meet out on the lake where they could exchange passengers or packages and then sail back to their homeport.

Are there procedures (on public record) explaining how this is prevented?

You don’t remember that classic 1950s TV series, “Lake Patrol!”? (Each week, they would bust someone for waterskiing after dusk or not displaying proper running lights.)

During prohibition rum runners used the frozen lakes to bring liquor into the U.S. The History Channel had a great show on rum runners and their high speed boats.

We’ve never had to worry much about the Canadian border. Our Canuck buddy’s to the North are great people. Although, I guess in this ugly world of terrorism we will have to monitor that border more carefully.

For the most part there is no control to stop traffic from Canada and the USA via the lakes.

Damn drybacks, coming over here, taking our jobs and women…

It’s not really possible to monitor every inch of our coasts and borders. The fact that there is little economic difference between the US and Canada makes the northern border less of an issue, as opposed to all the poor people coming over from (and through) Mexico to find work.

I live on an island which is just inside the American border–Canadian waters are only three feet off the coast, so I see a lot of border protection services here on the river.

The short answer is: they can’t stop everyone. But not that many people try to cross the river. The Niagara River is one of the fastest-moving rivers in North America, and it’s over a quarter-mile wide. Even in good conditions, it’s not an easy trip. Now, the Border Patrol people have helicopters and boats out sometimes, but in my experience they’re mainly called out for rescue purposes, not border protection.

In the seven or so years I’ve lived here I can only remember about two attempts to cross the river (apart from over the bridges, of course) illegally. One was a Costa Rican immigrant who swam across the river to the US. He went one night over the Lower Niagara near Lake Ontario, and local opinion was that he was lucky to make it. He eluded authorities for a day or so, then surrendered. The other was a rather dunderheaded drug runner who tried to zoom across the Upper Niagara. Few people boat the section he went across, and even fewer go straight across without sightseeing, so he attracted the attention of Border Patrol pretty quickly.

Not to mention the Pike with frigin’ lasers on their heads.

There is alot of smuggling of liquor, cigarettes, and drugs that occurs between Canada and the US so there are numerous agencies who regularly patrol the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway such as the RCMP, Coast Guards, Border patrols and Custom agents from both countries as well as Provincial, First Nation and State police departments. They deploy various sea and air units and may utilize radar, satellite, and/or aerial surveillance so they might not be visible but they are there.
That said, the Great Lakes are probably more secure and easier to patrol than the rest of the ~9000km border between the two countries.

The border services like to make sure they do their job.

There are lots of under-guarded points along the (non-marine) Canada-US border, presumably because they are a lot less populated.

A trip along the 49th parallel.

There’s actually a land crossing via road that isn’t really staffed at all.

A few years back I indulged in a life-long curiosity and [del]hijacked[/del] packed up the wife and kid with me to see the Northwest Angle (that “little hat” on top of Minnesota) - being a border geek (I subscribe to a Yahoo group of similar freaks of nature that talk about nothing but border posts, signs, crossings, and loads of pictures that have two (or sometimes more) countries in them) it’s long been a fascination of mine, what’s there. When I went (this was after 9/11 too, I think it was 2002 or 2003) at the actual border there’s just a sign welcoming you to the US/Minnesota/Northwest Angle/Red Lake indian lands and to check in with the relevant border authorities at the video phone 6 miles up the road in the only town on the Angle. According to the locals, people rarely do, but I did it just to see what using a video phone was like! (And because I’m an honest person, oh yes.) Didn’t see too much presence of border officials from either nation when we were exploring around town, but one would think that crossing illegally into either country wouldn’t be too hard from there (except that it’s hard to reach the rest of the US from the NW Angle without a boat or going through actual customs)

Some interesting stuff here:

Well how do they even prevent illegal crossings over land?
I don’t think there is any fence or wall that runs along the Canada/US border.
Of course you may have a problem getting a vehicle across but it seems like an easy thing to do if you’re going by foot.

Pot used to get smuggled in using a similar method, but with small planes. You get two small planes, one registered in Canada, the other US. Then you paint them the same, with the same tail numbers. A sight-seeing tourist plane takes off from Canada while an identical sight-seeing plane takes off from the US. The two planes do a little circle, then the planes land in the other’s country.

LE is on to this nowadays, though.

I have family along the St. Lawrence on the Canada side. During the summer whilst out on their boats, they freely travel between Canada and the US. Border patrol boats are there and I imagine they watch out for suspicious activity. A boat from New York stopping off in Brockville for some Don’s Fish and Chips is not considered suspect, nor is a Canadian boat stopping at a New York riverside bar for some grub. Technically, you are supposed to check in with the proper authorities when docking, but I imagine it is really only enforced for overnight stays.

We don’t take our passports out with us out on the boat, never have. The locals don’t seem to get hassled all that much.

You’re probably also making the (mistaken) assumption that the sticks operate like a big city, where nobody knows anything about anything. Too close to the big city, there are too many prying eyes who don’t mind calling the authorities. In the rural areas, strangers probably stand out because everyone knows each other. In the areas between Quebec and Vermont where people try land crossings, I understand it’s quite common for the locals to call about people they think are suspicious.

I assume that boats have to have registration numbers on them, so the autorities are going to wonder if you just zipped up an down the Detroit river like everyone else and eventually pulled up to an American dock with Canadian registration numbers. Going the other way, the Canadians are looking for smugglers bringing things like handguns in, and there is a strong cooperation between the two forces. If you put ashore in the middle of nowhere, then you also have to drive to and away from your journey points unnoticed.

I’m sure the border patrol loves to test any nifty new gadgets in the high traffic areas too - rumour has it the areas most used by smugglers (drugs and illegal immigrants, typically) are flooded with the footfall sensors and other toys developed for the Vietnam war.

In fact, the biggest problem with this is the Mohawk reserve between Canada and the USA where tensons with authorities run high, and smuggling is a legitimate and lucrative form of protest.

I wish to thank you, EH, for drawing my attention to the wonderfully-named Pig War. I don’t know why these things aren’t taught in school.

That type of thing happens in northern New England as well but 9/11 screwed things over for some people. I am pretty sure I have this right although it is from memory. The border town library of St. Albans, Vermont used to serve both U.S. and Canadian citizens. U.S. citizens used the front door and Canadians the back door and people were expected to leave through the same door they came in to go back home but I don’t think that is allowed anymore. There are also some people whose property spans the international border including at least one whose driveway does. That causes problems these days. I couldn’t find these cases on the web but I know they were reported at one time.

St Albans is ten miles south of the border so there’s no border line in the town itself.

It’s a HUGE library.

The Coast Guard has a presence on the Great Lakes.
Both American and Canadian Coast Guards patrol the lakes.