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November 29, 2019 3 min read

Boating In Florida: What You Need To Know

Florida’s salt, brackish, and fresh waterways create a unique environment for boaters, fishers and water recreation. Rivers and back-bays, offshore fishing, cruising and sightseeing ventures are all within reach. The subtropical environment is great for water skiing, sailing, diving, shelling or even camping on a boat. In open water and along the scenic byways you can spot manatees, dolphins and tropical birds. Boating is a part of life in Florida, and to make sure your expeditions are as successful as possible, being prepared and knowledgeable before you go will help you clear up problems early and allow you to partake of the advantages Florida has to offer.

What You Need

Types of water environment change depending on where you go, and this often calls for different boat types:

  • Flat or bay boats are both designed for shallow water fishing. While a flatboat can reach shallower areas and be steered with a pole, bay boats are a bit larger and more v-shaped and can go out on calm seas. 
  • Pontoon boats can carry 10 or 12 passengers and are great for river cruising and fishing parties. 
  • For offshore cruising or fishing, sailboats, cabin cruisers or sport fishing yachts are good choices. 

To operate legally and safely, you’ll need to make sure you understand all boating regulations and have whatever permit is required. Florida does have alife vest law you need to know. While the boat is underway, each passenger needs to have a I, II, III or V Type life vest on, including a skier, and any 16” boat or larger will need a throwable personal safety device on board. Operation of rentals or charter excursions also requires a valid boating license, depending on the number of passengers, and the completion of a boat safety course and acquisition of a safety education ID card from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. If you’re visiting and meet requirements, you can get a temporary certificate. You’ll also need to observe additional regulations, such as reckless operation, water skiing requirements and manatee disturbance concerns. Be sure to ask the boat rental service about what you’ll need.

Best Times

Florida experiences a dry and a wet season. December through May is the drier and cooler time and is also a busier time when a lot of people come down to escape winter weather up north. However, animals tend to be active later in the season, and the weather is very agreeable, making this a good time for sightseeing tours. Kayaking and canoeing are also popular activities in November. The rest of the year has more heat and rain. This might be a good time for natural exploring as there are fewer crowds. Wetlands begin to come to life, and alligators move around more, allowing for great adventure photo opportunities.

Boating Safety

Weather is no small concern when boating. Florida has scores of thunderstorms a year and afternoon rain in mid to latter-summer. Potential for lightning strikes is high, which can blow out the hull and sink the boat or leave you in open water without electronics. The best plan is to stay out of the water. Check weather reports to schedule around storms and wait if there is any doubt. Also, check in on VHF radio for weather reports. It’s also best to familiarize yourself with the route and to study charts, whatever the weather, and to look out for matching markers or guides. Getting and registering an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon and wearable personal locator beacons is a wise plan. These operate through satellite communication and help track your location in an emergency rescue event.

From saltwater sportfishing and cruising to diving and inland water kayaking and shallows fishing, Florida offers a wide range of boating options. Check with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on regulations and with the boat rental company about additional safety requirements and get to know the area so you’re set to go on your Florida boating adventures.

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