Do I Need a License to Rent a Boat in Florida?

kids on a boat

“Do I need a license to rent a boat in Florida?”

If you’re thinking of traveling to Florida, it’s natural that you’d be interested in spending some of your holiday on a boat. Florida’s reputation as a seafaring destination is, after all, indisputable both in the states and abroad. The Sunshine State is known for its world-class beaches, but also its emerald swamps, national parks, and popular cities (e.g. Fort Lauderdale, known as the “Venice of America”) which have made Florida synonymous with boat life.  

You dont need a license to rent a boat in Flöorida, but a Boating Safety Education Identification Card

But getting on a boat isn’t as easy as hopping on a bumper car at a local carnival (though, it’s honestly just as, if not more, fun.)

Here, we’ve outlined everything you need to know if you’re interested in renting a boat, including whether you need a license, how to get one, and every other frequently asked question you may have around the topic of getting a license to rent a boat in Florida. 

“Do I need a license to rent a boat in Florida?”

The answer is a little yes and a little no. The state of Florida doesn’t exactly have “boating licenses,” but it does offer Boating Safety Education Identification Cards, and they are absolutely mandatory for anyone born on or after January 1, 1988 who wants to rent a boat of 10 horsepower or more.

And if you’re 18 years of age or younger, then tough luck — in Florida, it’s illegal to lease, hire, or rent a personal watercraft to anyone under 18 years old.

“How do I get a Boating Safety Education Identification Card (aka, a ‘boating license’)?”

To get one, you’ll first have to complete an approved Boating Safety Course. There are several classroom AND online courses you can choose from in this list published by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). The cost of the courses range from completely free to up to $50. 

Excluding the quizzes and exams you may need to study for and take, the course should take you a few hours to complete. And don’t worry if you fail on the first try: You can retake the exam as many times as you need.

Once you pass and complete the course, you have up to 90 days to obtain a FWC-issued Boating Safety Education Identification Card (which, as mentioned, is Florida’s equivalent of a boating license and what is actually meant when people refer to their boating license there), which you can easily get by sending in your Proof of Completion along with some additional identifying information. You can read all the details on how to obtain your card in this article.  

Once you get the card — congratulations! You can now legally rent a boat in Florida. This card won’t ever expire but just to reiterate, this is NOT a boating license, and simply proof that you’ve successfully completed the required boating safety course. Thankfully, that’s all the state of Florida requires for you to rent and operate a boat.

And by the way, you’re also allowed to rent a boat in the interim period between completing the course and waiting to receive the card. Just make sure your course completion certificate has your first and last name, your date of birth, and the date you completed the course. The certificate can be used for up to 90 days as a temporary substitute for the Boating Safety Education ID card. After that, you better make sure you have your card on you at all times. 

“What is the legal minimum age to have a boating ‘license’ and rent a boat in Florida?”

You must be at least 14 years of age to have a boating “license” and operate a personal watercraft in Florida. That number goes up to 18 years of age if you want to rent one. The age requirement differs from state to state, but Florida’s is pretty much on the average side.

“Well, is anyone exempt from these rules?”

There ARE several exceptions, but for the most part, it’s safe to say that most people do need a Boating Safety Education Identification Card to rent a boat. Read on to find out if you’re one of the chosen few who falls into any of the following exempt categories

  • A person licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard as a master of a vessel.
  • A person operating on a private lake or pond.
  • An operator who is accompanied onboard by a person who is at least 18 years old and possesses the required Boating Safety Education Identification Card, provided that person is attendant to and responsible for the safe operation of the vessel.
  • An operator who is accompanied onboard by a person who is exempt from the educational requirements, provided that person is attendant to and responsible for the safe operation of the vessel.
  • A nonresident who has in his or her possession proof that he or she has completed a NASBLA-approved boater safety course or equivalency examination from another state.
  • A person is operating a vessel within 90 days after the purchase of that vessel and has available for inspection aboard that vessel a bill of sale meeting all the requirements as established in Chapter 328.46(1), Florida Statutes.
  • A person operating a vessel within 90 days after completing an approved boating safety course, as required in Chapter 327.395(1), and has a photographic I.D. and a boater education course completion certificate showing proof of having completed the required boating safety education course. The course completion certificate must provide the student’s first and last name, date of birth, and the date the course was successfully completed.  (Effective Oct. 1, 2011.)

“Can I drink and drive a boat in Florida? Can I drink as a passenger on a boat in Florida?”

rent a boat in florida
It is allowed to drink alcohol on a boat in Florida.

If you’re of legal drinking age, then it IS legal (though honestly, not recommended) for you to operate a motor boat while drinking in Florida. This might come as a shock to anyone who’s been educated on the dangers of driving while under the influence.

It is NOT legal, however, to operate a motor boat while drunk, or with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher. And legal officers will make sure this is enforced, especially in Florida, where there are more registered boats than in any other state and Boating under the influence, or BUIs, pose a serious problem. If an officer finds that you are boating under the influence, you may be fined, jailed, have your boat impounded, and possibly lose your boating privileges for life. All of those come second to the shame you should feel for having possibly put someone else’s life in danger!

And while we’re on the subject of boating while drinking, also take note that many of the effects of alcohol feel a bit blunted when you’re on the water. Your boat’s rocking sensation combined with the feeling of wind, splashes, and a running motor can all dull the sensation of inebriation, while dehydration and sunny weather can intensify it rather quickly. So, if you do choose to drink on a boat in Florida, be even more vigilant than average for how alcohol might be affecting your cognitive functions. 

If you’re simply a passenger, it is also legal for you to drink on a boat in Florida. However, take note that inebriation can prove dangerous even if you’re not the one doing the actual boating. Drunken boat passengers can distract a skipper, fall offboard, or even into the gear. For this and many other reasons, it’s always safer to abstain or remain on the very conservative side of your usual drinking limit, and always bring more drinking water than you think you’ll need. 

In summary…

The waters may not be outfitted with stoplights and highways, but there are rules you must adhere to to guarantee the general safety of everyone out there, including your own. 

  • In Florida, anyone 18 years of age or older must obtain a Boating Safety Education Identification Card to operate a watercraft aka a boat of 10 horsepower or more. 
  • This card is basically Florida’s version of a boating license, and you can get by passing a boating education course. 
  • You CAN legally drink and drive on a boat, but you should exercise extreme caution both for your safety and for others’. 
  • You are NOT allowed to be drunk and operate a watercraft. 

If you want to be a responsible boat holidayer, you can always rent a Zizoo boat with a skipper in the Caribbean. Start planning your holiday by filling out the request form on the right sidebar, or browse all our boats with skippers directly on our site!