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 The Psychology of Customs and Quarantine

 From TCP # 33, an interesting perspective of what makes these agencies tick from a mental health point of view.

 "In a litigious world, marine regulatory bodies are tempted to protect themselves from liability by wielding the broadaxe of 'safety', thus sparing themselves the trouble of understanding the distinctive characteristics of the maritime activities they are charged with regulating."
Daniel S Parrott, author of Tall Ships Down, Captain of the Pride of Baltimore, Assistant Professor of Marine Transportation at the Maine Maritime Academy.

Australia has a long history of regulation of yachts coming and going from its waters. Joshua Slocum, the first single handed circumnavigator, complained in 1896 about the bureaucracy and fees 'down under' and many others have since concurred. In recent times, especially since 9/11, we have seen increases in both categories. Yachts, foreign and Australian, are compelled to give 96 hours notice to customs before arrival, the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) requires proof of a clean hull and other strict entrance requirements. Over the years, AQIS has also increased its mandatory charge from $80, then $160, and most recently $240. Out-of-hours/overtime increases this figure dramatically. Non-compliance, of course, carries heavy fines and penalties as a few yachts have regrettably discovered.

In the last two years, traveling to and from Australia, I have gathered information from many sources to help understand what is happening and what impact current regulations are having on Australia's reputation in the international yachting community. How a country is viewed affects individual yachts visiting (or not visiting) Australia, and has a broader economic impact.

Before responding to this historical and recent turn of events in Australia, as a boating community, it might be wise to look at a few ideas from the social sciences which might help explain what motivates yachties and how this differs, and sometimes conflicts, with what motivates regulatory organisations and systems such as Australian Customs and AQIS.
Unlike the popular Mel Gibson film What Women Want, it doesn't take a mind reader to come up with "What Yachties Want." The answers would be many and varied. Dr William Glasser, the eminent psychiatrist, has condensed the myriad of answers into what motivates human behaviour as action to satisfy one or more of five basic needs. Below I've listed these five needs and illustrated with some typical yachtie behaviour that may be aimed at satisfying a particular need. Not all of what we do may fit neatly into one category. I'm sure you will come up with other examples.

Glasser's five needs that motivate human behaviour:

1. Survival: purchase/construction of a strong hull, safety gear (e.g. life raft, flares, EPIRBs), bilge pumps, food, etc.
2. Belonging/love: sundowners, cruising in company, matching boat shirts, radio scheds, regattas etc.
3. Power : racing, big boats
4. Fun: sundowners, yachting stories, snorkeling, exploring, reading, photography, etc
5. Freedom: leaving home, choosing and fitting out a boat, escape from routine and regulation, changing plans on a whim, making detailed plans as to where to go and when, etc.

Although we all find different ways of fulfilling our five needs, we know intuitively and emotionally when they are satisfied.

Now, if we ask what motivates the behaviour of organisations and systems we can see clearly that the five human needs don't fit. Although particular customs and AQIS officers have a great sense of humour, I don't think fun is written up as part of their mission statement! Indeed, other regulatory bodies such as the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), seem particularly adverse to not only fun but a few other human needs as well. Nevertheless, these regulatory organisations have an important job to do and we might well ask; 'What does the organisation need to get the job done?' Human needs don't fit well but something entirely different does: Success.

Organisational success, without access to intuition and emotional satisfaction, is most often measured, one way or another, by statistics and, ultimately, comparison with other like organisations. The OECD is an obvious example of how countries measure their economic success by comparison.

If organisations are developed and managed well, human and organisational needs are both taken into account and all is well. But all too often organisations are too willing to sacrifice human needs for the appearance of organisational success. Of course, individuals in the organisation are, somewhere in the background, getting their personal needs for belonging, power, etc. met by being part of the organisational success. By the way, Glasser defines 'abuse' as when someone gets their needs met by denying the needs of others.

At least in some measure, the spread of organisational practices can be seen not as 'best practice' but rather as keeping up the appearance of 'Success.' Australia, has a large and influential role in the South Pacific area and casts a long shadow. Since instating the 96 hour advanced notice requirement in Australia, other nations have followed: New Zealand 48 hours, Fiji 48 hours, Tonga 24 hours, and most recently, Samoa.

Although the rationale in Australia most often given for advance notice of arrival is security, I suspect (and respect) that organisational planning and convenience are unmentioned considerations as well. It is sometimes hard to see how security concerns are such a priority in Fiji and Tonga where one might see the internal threat as of greater concern. Perhaps the appearance of success is the real issue.
Elsewhere in the world the situation is very different. Using Noonsite.com as a source, I found that Spain, the United Kingdom and the USA (all of which have experienced terrorist attacks) do not require a yacht to give advanced notice of arrival. In fact Noonsite reports for the USA:
" that non-US flagged yachts had to submit an Advance Notice Of Arrival (ANOA) 96 hours before arrival. However, the National Vessel Movement Center (NVMC) have confirmed that non-commercial pleasure vessels, under 300 gross tons, are exempted from this regulation."
Recently Australian politics and security regulatory organisations have aligned closely with American models of success. It might be interesting to ask Australian authorities to explain how Australian requirements are cost justified when the same requirement is exempted (not worth the time and effort) in the USA!
Some years ago New Zealand implemented its infamous Section 21 requirement. After a long legal battle and some very negative yachting press, the government yielded to a court decision holding the New Zealand requirement on foreign vessels illegal. As the opposite of Success'', this was a regulatory organisation's worst nightmare. The court challenge may have had the side benefit of uncovering a much better approach. Although New Zealand, following Australia's lead, has a mandatory advanced notice of arrival requirement and strict quarantine requirements, there are no charges for entry, even on weekends. It has been estimated that the average visiting yacht spends between $20, 000 to $30,000 in New Zealand and provides employment for many local workers. Many yachts cruising the Pacific make a point of slipping and fitting out in Whangarei, Opua , or Nelson before moving on. As an incentive the New Zealand government allows visiting yachts GST exemption (a saving of 12 ½ %) for all yacht gear, including slipping and mooring fees. Upon arrival in Opua, the customs officers welcome all arriving yachts with a 'gift basket' full of local information, including contacts for local businesses.
In Fiji the Interim Prime Minister recently said, "Owners of yachts and their fellow sailors spend the most in real terms on our shores. They buy food directly from local shops and markets, eat out, go to the movies, and pay for other goods and services such as health checkups, spare parts, boat repairs and maintenance and fuel supply thus contributing directly to the local economy. …the interim government is very much aware that the yachting industry is a particular niche market in the tourism industry that requires special attention in terms of service delivery, support services…." (Fiji Times Online September 16, 2008) In contrast to Australia, other countries in the Pacific are increasingly recognizing, encouraging, and benefiting from yacht tourism.
Many foreign yachts are avoiding Australia because of what is seen as unfriendly, intrusive and hostile, regulatory requirements. In Glasser speak, some yachties see Australia as a place where it would be difficult to have their 'needs,' especially freedom, met. Not only is this a false and uncomplimentary image of Australia, the local economy also misses out - 20 to 30 thousand dollars per yacht. Perhaps the question needs to be asked of Australian authorities; how do Australian Customs and AQIS practices, compared to say New Zealand, enhance our reputation and encourage cruising yachts to visit our shores?
There is a balance to be struck in meeting human and organisational needs and our recent political history leads me to believe that in Australia we have moved too far into the cocoon rationale of 'safety' and neglected the individual needs for which the systems in place exist. The adversarial, uncompromising demands of some regulatory authorities needs to change to be more in line with the needs of the boating public. In a time of increasing globalisation when nations, including Australia, are removing trade barriers, travel restrictions, and encouraging tourism, yacht entrance into Australia has become more difficult and expensive than any other country in the region, perhaps the developed world. This is not something we should be proud of.
Changing the situation
The Quarantine Program Clients, 2006 Satisfaction Survey, available at the AQIS website, illustrates how AQIS confirms its need for success and also how yachts arriving from overseas might influence AQIS decisions. AQIS uses this survey to assess its performance and 'success.' Incoming yachts are only a very small part of AQIS activity. Nevertheless their particular interest should be represented in any authoritative research. I found that the survey was conducted some time after clients cleared quarantine and solely on the basis of a phone number given to AQIS at the time of the quarantine inspection. Since it is very unlikely a yacht would arrive from overseas with an Australian phone number, most yachts would be eliminated from any follow up survey. Indeed, of the 2738 phone numbers given to the researchers, only 1189 were usable for contact. Of the 1020 clients who agreed to participate in the survey, 82% reported that they regularly visited the AQIS website (p33), 39% regularly received the AQIS bulletin (p33), and 32% (325 clients) belonged to the peak industry organisations (p37). These statistics seem to suggest that many of the respondents to the satisfaction survey were regular and ongoing clients of AQIS. Despite very little or no input from the yachting community (A peak cruising body seems like an oxymoron), the report states that "AQIS is 'on track' and understands client needs, knows what is important, and generally provides it to them."(p 12)
Even though AQIS received an overall satisfaction rating of 7.3 (10= extremely satisfied, 1= extremely dissatisfied), 58% of those surveyed thought charge rates too high (p21). The recommendations at the conclusion of the report did not only neglect to mention reducing charges but also sidestepped the 'value for money' issue by changing the topic to 'consulting with industry……".
Obliviously AQIS has a problem accessing clients for its satisfaction surveys. I suggest yachts clearing into Australia insist on giving AQIS officers client satisfaction survey data that might be used in future reports. If only fifty yachts expressed dissatisfaction that would be a significant (5%) voice in survey participants. If AQIS refuses to acknowledge the feed back, questions need to be asked about the integrity and fairness of the process. I would also suggest that since exemption from quarantine fees is an accepted option (see AQIS fees policy on website), that we push for an exemption on the basis that current practice is a disincentive and disadvantages the maritime and tourism industries in Australia.
Late last year I sailed from PNG to Townsville to discover that the 'designated international arrival facility' was the fuel jetty at the Breakwater marina, inaccessible at low tide.(see Coastal Passage letters …) The system in place seemed fine to the marina management and Customs, Immigration and AQIS. No one seemed interested in how the system met the needs of the yachties who tried to comply. Others have had similar experiences that typify organisational blindness. It is time customs and AQIS heard about human needs and how other systems are more successful.
When I return to Australia later this year I plan to clear in and after I've completed formalities, hand the AQIS and Customs officers letters to be forwarded on to their superiors, requesting acknowledgement and reply. Attached are copies of those letters. Feel free to copy, change, or add to as you wish. I encourage you to have a voice, if not for your own benefit, for Australia and for those who follow in your wake.
Isaac Williamson s/v Bon Accord

To download a printable PDF of the letter for Customs click here.

To download a printable PDF of the letter for AQIS (Quarantine) click here.

To read the content of the letters in html, see below. It may be difficult to print from the text below but you can copy/paste onto your own text doc if you like.

 Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS)
Deputy Secretary and Executive Director, Dr Cliff Samson
Quarantine Operations Division
Executive Manager, Tim Chapman (A/g)

Dear Dr Samson, date………….

I have just arrived in Australia by yacht and completed quarantine formalities in the port of …………….
I would like to take this opportunity to express my concerns about AQIS regulations and charges. My understanding is that there are clean hull requirements because of concerns about biosecurity and that these requirements are under review.

Please understand that most yachts arrive in Australia not as commercial ventures but rather as tourists and can make a valuable contribution to the Australian economy. It is estimated that each visiting yacht may spend approximately $30.000 while in Australia.

At the present time many foreign yachts are avoiding Australia because of what is seen as draconian and inflexible regulation. Yachts have a vested interest in having a clean hull and even without regulation would assume responsibility. Most yachtsmen routinely (annually) renew antifouling paint and inspect the underwater portion of their vessel before a long passage. This is, of course, in stark contrast to commercial ship practice. My understanding is that large ships are exempt from the same 'clean bottom' policy enforced on yachts.
AQIS charges for quarantine clearance are also in contrast to other nations. New Zealand quarantine service also very closely guards its fragile ecosystem but there is no fee. Because the current charge of $240 may be a disincentive to tourism and disadvantage Australian commercial interests, an exemption is requested for yachts.

Please understand that many in the yachting community feel that AQIS does a good and valuable job safe guarding Australia but is out of touch with the needs of the yachting public.

Since visiting yachts are difficult, if not impossible to contact by telephone for feed back, below is client satisfaction data that may be useful.

Each attribute of AQIS service is rated with a number between 1 (extremely dissatisfied) to 10 (extremely satisfied)

¢ ______Staff professionalism
¢ ______Expectations are clear
¢ ______Staff technical competence
¢ ______Responsive to needs
¢ ______Understands needs of business
¢ ______Timely and accurate invoices
¢ ______Adopting team approach
¢ ______Flexible
¢ ______Value for money

I would very much appreciate an acknowledgement of receipt of this letter and any information that would further clarify the issue.


Yours truly,


Yacht …………….
Email contact:

Postal contact:

 To: Mr. Michael Carmody
Chief Executive Officer
and to: Ms Jenny Eutick
Queensland Regional Director
Australian Customs Service




Dear Mr Carmody, date…………….

I have just arrived in Australia by yacht and completed customs formalities in the port of …………….
I would like to take this opportunity to express my concerns about customs regulations requiring 96 hours notice prior to arriving in an Australian port of entry. My understanding is that this requirement is because of concerns about security, specifically terrorist activity. Have yachts been involved in terrorist activities in Australian waters? Is there evidence of thwarted terrorist yacht activity? Please understand that members of the yachting community are very law abiding and respect Australian sovereignty but the very nature of sailing and the unreliability of electronic communication sometimes makes advance notice difficult; sometimes impossible. The present situation does not seem to allow for special circumstances.

Please also appreciate that almost all yachts arrive in Australia not as commercial ventures but rather as tourists and can make a valuable contribution to the Australian economy. For example, it is estimated that each yacht visiting New Zealand may spend approximately $30.000 during their time there.
At the present time many foreign yachts are avoiding Australia because of what is seen as draconian and inflexible regulation. The USA, UK and Spain (all of which have suffered terrorist attacks) do not require advance notice of arrival. Is Australia more at risk?

No doubt customs officers are very busy and advance notice may help in planning and logistics. I think most yachts people, would understand and respect that perspective.

I would very much appreciate an acknowledgement of receipt of this letter and any information that would further clarify the issue.


Yours truly,



Yacht …………….

Email contact:
Postal contact: