Miami, Florida is called the boating capital of the world. The majority of registered boats in the US are berthed in Florida. If you want to enjoy the amazing waters of Florida, do you need a boat license? In this article, I’ll describe the boat licensing laws in Florida.
Do you need a license to drive a boat in Florida? If you were born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, to drive a motorboat with greater than 10 horsepower, you need to complete an approved boating safety course. After completing the course, you will get a Boating Safety Identification Card from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
So you don’t require a “boating license” in Florida, instead you get an ID card that is proof of completing the course, and is valid for life.
If you were born before Jan. 1, 1988, you don’t need to take the safety course to drive a boat. If you drive a motorboat with less than 10 horsepower, you don’t need to take the safety course.
Read on to learn more about the boat license laws in Florida, how to take the safety course, and other important tips.
Do You Need a License to Drive a Boat in Florida?
If you were born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, and are planning on operating a boat powered by at least a 10 horsepower, in Florida, you need to carry some sort of a certificate, which indicates that you are indeed qualified to operate a boat in this state. 
There are thousands of boats in different types and sizes sailing in the Florida waters, so unforeseen accidents can likely occur. This has made the requirement for a safety course rather important to ensure the safety of all boaters.
Florida does not require, and therefore, does not issue boating licenses. However, those born on or after Jan. 1, 1988 are required to do either of these two things:
- Successfully complete an approved boating education course from the National Association of State Boating Law Administrations
- Pass an equivalent course or temporary certificate examination
Also, a person who wants to operate a boat in Florida waters must present a boating education ID card from the FWC and a photo ID card before operating a watercraft powered by at least a 10 horsepower motor.
All Florida visitors who want to operate a boat must comply with these requirements. However, if a visitor can show (by way of a certificate or an authorized card) that he or she has successfully passed an equivalent examination or pass an equivalent boating safety education course that meets or even exceeds that of the state, the Florida Boating Safety Identification Card will not be required.
Moreover, those who want to rent a boat while staying in Florida are required to acquire a temporary certificate. Many vendors are offering boating courses with corresponding certificates all over the state. You may want to deal with the approved vendors, though, to be on the safe side.
The certificate is valid for 90 days. This certificate is not a permanent substitute for the Boating Safety Education Identification Card issued by the FWC.
Are There Any Exemptions to This Boating Education Law?
While Florida is very strict in implementing its boating education law, it allows exemptions, depending on the qualifications and conditions of the concerned boater. Here are some of the exemptions:
- The boater is operating a boat within 90 days after purchasing his/her vessel and has presented a bill of sale at the time the boat was inspected, meeting all the requirements as established by the particular Florida Statutes (Chapter 328.46(1).
- A person is accompanied onboard by someone who is at least 18 years old and possesses the required Boating Safety Education Identification Card. The 18-year-old should be the one responsible for the safe operation of the watercraft.
- The person is operating a watercraft within 90 days after completing an approved boating safety course as required in Chapter 327.395 (1) and carries a photo ID. He should also have a boater education course certificate as proof that he has successfully completed the course. The certificate should indicate the first name and last name of the person, his/her birthdate, and the date he/she successfully finished the course.
- If the visitor carries proof or certificate that he or she has successfully completed a boater safety education course approved by the NASBLA or passed an equivalency test from a different state.
- The person is accompanied by someone exempt from the educational boating safety requirements, and that the accompanying person is responsible and attendant to the safe operation of the watercraft.
- If the U.S. Coast Guard licenses the person as master of a watercraft.
- The person is operating his boat on a private lake or pond.
PWC Florida Boating Laws and Regulations
Here are the age and operating restrictions of Florida’s boating laws and regulations regarding the operation of personal watercraft (PWC):
- No person below 14 years old may operate a PWC on Florida waters at any time, even if he/she has obtained a Florida Boating Safety Education ID card.
- No person below 18 years old may rent or lease a PWC.
- It is illegal for an owner of a PWC to knowingly permit a person below 14 years old to operate a PWC.
- Those affected by these regulations should carry a Florida Boating Safety Education ID issued by the FWC and a photo ID while operating a PWC.
Exemptions to This Law
- If the U.S. Coast Guard licenses the person operating the PWC as master of a vessel.
- The person operates the vessel within 90 days after purchasing the PWC and with a bill of sale on board for inspection.
- If the person operating the PWC is accompanied by a someone exempt from the education requirement, or if he is at least 18 years old, has the required identification card, attendant to the operation of the vessel, and is responsible for any violation that will be committed while operating the vessel.
- The person is operating the PWC in a private lake or pond.
Who Enforces Boating Laws and Regulations in Florida?
The law enforcement officers assigned to patrol the waters of Florida are responsible for enforcing these boating laws. They ensure that residents and non-residents will enjoy their boating experiences in a safe and pleasant environment.
All boaters must cooperate with these law enforcement officers to avoid getting into trouble. In this regard, all boaters on the water should always carry their Boater Education Card or its equivalent. They should always be ready to show these cards if an officer is inspecting their vessel. Those who do not have these cards while on the water will have to pay a fine.
Florida’s law enforcement officers will recognize boating education cards of visitors if they meet NASBLA requirements. In the same vein, Canadian Pleasure Craft Operator Cards will also be recognized if they meet Canada’s transport requirements. It is considered as ‘reciprocity.’
How to Get a License to Drive a Boat in Florida?
Florida is so attractive to recreational boaters that at least 100,000 sail in these parts on any given day.
All kinds of boaters would love to go sightseeing and fishing in Jacksonville/St. Augustine. Some would like to enjoy the beaches, boat shows, and diving in Fort Lauderdale/Miami, while others would like to experience island cruising in the Florida Keys/Tampa Bay. The more adventurous would go deep-sea fishing in Pensacola Bay.
So we’ve answered the question ‘do you need a license to drive a boat in Florida?’ Next, let’s take a look at how to get a license to drive a boat in Florida.
Technically, Florida does not require a person to get a license to drive a boat on its waters. However, the state requires every boater born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, to get a Boating Safety Education Identification Card if he or she is going to drive a boat with a motor of at least 10 horsepower.
To obtain this card, you have to pass a Florida-approved boating safety course. After completing this course, you have to request an ID card from the FWC. In reality, there are three simple and easy steps on how to get a boat license in Florida. They are as follows:
- Study, complete, and pass an online boating and safety course. The average cost of this course is $34.95.
- Once you pass the online boating course, print the certificate of completion. This certificate is valid for 90 days after completing the course.
- Present this certificate and apply for an ID at the FWC. Once you have your ID card, you can present it to any Florida enforcement agency when asked. If you can’t provide it when asked, you will be fined or even be prosecuted by the law.
Applying for an FWC ID Card
Here’s how you can apply for an FWC ID card. Submit a letter to the FWC and supply the following information:
- Full name
- Current address
- Your contact or phone number
- Include the certificate that you got after you have completed the boating course
Send your letter to the following address:
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Division of Law Enforcement Boating Safety Section 620 South Meridian Street Tallahassee, FL 32399 – 1600
Online boating courses in Florida do not have a minimum age requirement. Also, you don’t have to be a state resident to be eligible to take the course.
Visitors in Florida can apply for a temporary boating safety certificate if they can show that they are eligible and qualified to operate a watercraft in Florida waters. This certificate is valid for one year.
Do You Need to Renew Your Florida Boating License?
If you have an FWC ID card (also functions as a boating license), there is no need for you to renew it every year. This safety education card is valid for life. You can use the course certificate and the temporary ID card while waiting for your permanent FWC ID card.
What Courses Can You Take to Get this FWC I.D.?
This boating education safety course is available online or in person. Many organizations are offering this course. When enrolling, be sure that Florida approves the institution that is offering this course. Some of these institutions charge a course fee ranging from $10 to $40. Other organizations even teach some elements of this course for free. Here are some of your options:
1. Free Boating Outdoor Courses
Younger boaters ages 12 to 18 years old who want to learn the required boating skills and get their certifications can take advantage of these free courses. One option that they can choose is the free course offered by the Florida Virtual School Outdoor Education.
2. Online Courses
Currently, 12 organizations are offering online courses. Their prices vary. Before signing up, check if the course is Florida-approved.
3. Classroom Courses
Three groups offer classroom boating courses. They are the Best Boat Club (available in Broward County), the United States Power Squadrons, and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary – both offered statewide.
Conclusion – Do You Need a License to Drive a Boat in Florida?
So to recap, do you need a license to drive a boat in Florida? Technically, Florida does not require a “boating license” to drive a boat within its state waters.
Anyone who desires to operate a boat is required to complete and pass an approved boating safety course and get a Boating Safety Identification Card from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
Additionally, those who want to operate a boat with 10 horsepower or more in Florida waterways and those born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, are eligible to get this ‘license.’