For many visitors, boating is the ultimate way to experience Florida’s turquoise waters and exotic little islands. Luckily, with a little preparation, anybody can drive a boat in Florida. In some cases, you do not even need a special license. In this article you will learn how the boating regulations work and what you should know before starting your trip on Florida’s waterways.
Do I need a Boat License in Florida?
The good news first: Persons who were born before January 1 1988 do not need a special boat or jet ski license in Florida. A regular driver’s license is sufficient. If you are younger, do not despair, however. In this case you have to get the “Boater Safety Education ID Card” (short: Boater ID). This ID card is issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and proves that you know the safety regulations on Florida’s waters.
You do not have to take driving lessons or on-site examination. Instead, just apply for the safety training and the boat license online. The costs range from 15 to 50 USD, with 29,95 USD being the norm. The Boat US Foundation (boatus.org) even offers courses for US citizens for free. You have to decide for yourself whether aesthetically pleasing course materials and training videos are worth paying more. The important criterion is that the provider is licensed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The online lessons usually take 3 to 4 hours to complete. When you have studied the material, it is time for the exam that consists of around 70 multiple choice questions. The exam should not offer too much of a challenge, especially because you can take it as often as necessary. Most providers give you 3 months to take the test before the course expires. After passing the exam with a score of at least 80% correct answers, you will receive an Email with the Temporary Boater Education Certificate that you can print out. Your physical ID card will be sent by mail a few weeks later. Now you are allowed to legally rent and operate a boat in Florida. Noteworthy detail for groups: As long as you are 18 or older and possess the ID card, you can let other persons (over 14 years old) drive the boat.
In case your boat is stopped by the police, you have to present the appropriate permit (either driver’s license or Boater ID). So best store your permit safely on the boat. If you have not received your ID card yet, a printed version of the Temporary Boater Education Certificate together with personal ID is sufficient. The temporary license is valid for 90 days, while the Boater ID does not expire. However, it can be suspended if you show illegal or reckless behavior while boating.
What Boats am I allowed to drive in Florida?
The aforementioned documents (driver’s license or Boater ID) are mandatory if you want to operate a boat with 10 HP or more. This includes all motorboats and speedboats as well as jet skis, which mostly possess more than 100 HP. As mentioned before, the driver’s license serves as a boat license for people born before 1988. However, notwithstanding legal requirements, many boat rentals require customers to present a proof of safety training. This is especially common for inexperienced customers who want to rent large and powerful luxury yachts.
No respectable rental company would let beginners take a boat to open waters without showing them the ropes first. A 30 minute instruction is part and parcel of the rental process at most places. These instructions are highly valuable, but not everybody can digest that much information in such a short time. Therefore, it does not hurt to undergo safety training beforehand. Most importantly, one should know the meaning of signs and markers, so as not to enter restricted or protected areas by accident. Of course, if you possess Boater Safety Education ID Card, you have learned those things already and can fall back on your course materials if need be.
In the case of an accident on the water, insurance is paramount – especially if the damaged boat is worth tens of thousands of dollars and you are at fault. For this reason, insurance is mandatory at most boat rentals. Some companies will charge you less if you can present proof of your safety training, so it always pays to ask.
Losing your Boat License in Florida
A boat license might be easy to obtain in Florida. However, skippers who show bad conduct while boating have to face consequences.
There are a number of offenses that can lead to your boat license being suspended, among them:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (alcohol limit: 0.08 percent; minimum age: 21)
- unlawfully leaving the scene and failure to report a boating accident
- reckless behavior that is putting others at risks (such as speeding)
- mooring to or damaging signs, markers or buoys.
- driving in safety/security zones
- allowing minors under 14 to operate the boat.
Persons guilty of these offenses are required to undergo additional safety training. This also applies to persons involved in boating accidents resulting in severe injuries or property damages.