Charter Boat laws:

Operating a Charter Fishing operation requires more than just a captain and a boat. The Captain must hold a current USCG license with homeland security TWIC card. To be a saltwater Fishing Guide in Florida, you must also comply with U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) requirements.  The U.S. Coast Guard (USGC) requires all operators of for-hire vessels to have a Captain license. Charter vessels must also be commercially registered. Charter, headboat and saltwater fishing guide operations must have an FWC charter captain or boat license to cover their passengers, who are not required to hold a recreational saltwater fishing license.

This license allows the captain and vessel to engage in charter fishing, whale watching, SCUBA diving, and tour cruises. This license is limited to near coastal waters only not more than 100 miles offshore and is not valid for international voyages.  He must be enrolled in a random drug testing program, and carry a current first aid card. The boat must meet USCG – UPV standards (for 6 or less guest). There are many additional safety items required on a charter boat than a recreational boat. Trash and pollution place-cards are required onboard, as well as an emergency plan. Coast Pilot, Tide Charts and Light List for the waters operated are required onboard. Type 1 PFD’s with a whistle, lightened reflective tape are required for everyone on board. A life-ring is also required. This and the PFD’s are required to include either the boats name or registration numbers. Though inspections are not required, it is best if it is done to ensure compliance.

A state fishing license must be provided for all guest fishing on the boat. Federal (NOAA) Fishing Permits are required if the boat will engage in any fishing activity past state lines (3 miles Atlantic – 9 miles Gulf). Although VHF’s nor GPS locators are not required, they should be considered as a very important safety equipment that should be on every boat.  Properly licensed Captains and charter operations spend a good deal of money to be so, and will not mind showing these required licenses and permits. If a charter operator will not show you these, then it may be best to look elsewhere.

Always make sure your boat and captain has these safety items on board:

    1. Working radio.
    2. A correctly fitting life preserver for each passenger.
    3. Signaling devices both visual and audible such as flairs, whistle and/or hand held air horn.
    4. Anchor.
    5. Some type of shade.
    6. Plenty of fresh water.
    7. Fire extinguisher.
    8. A throw-able flotation device.
    9. First aid kit.

You can do your part by:

    1. Wearing proper clothing for a day out in the elements.
    2. Using alcoholic beverages moderately.
    3. Following the instructions of the captain, guide or mate.
    4. Getting plenty of sleep the night before and staying hydrated.
    5. Wear sunscreen and a hat.  The Florida sun can be brutal.
    6. Proper shoes that protect your feet and boat deck.
    7. A life jacket is no substitute for adult supervision of children in and around the water. Children float differently than adults. Because their body weight is distributed differently, children are more likely to float face down in the water.

If you are not sure the boat you are chartering has the necessary equipment ask your captain or guide to show you. If he does not or cannot comply think twice about continuing your charter.  Your safety is your ultimately your responsibility, don’t leave it up to the other guy, insist on good boating safety practices!