How to Become a Fishing Guide in Florida
May 16, 2019 | 4 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Florida is the biggest market for charter fishing in the world. But, before you get your share of the market, you need to know how to become a fishing guide in Florida. Today, you’ll discover what licenses you need to become a legally operating charter captain in the Sunshine State.

A blonde lady angler holding a big Red Snapper caught on a fishing charter in Florida

Florida is the most popular sport fishing destination in the US, and the world. It’s possibly also the most competitive for charter operators. A lot of customers means that there are a lot of guides who want to make money fishing in Florida. There are currently around 5,000 licensed guides in the Sunshine State.

I’ve written several other articles about how to run a successful fishing charter operation. I’ve emphasized the importance of service, discussed paid online advertising, and urged you to make your own unique trip. This article is about making sure you know which licenses you need to operate your business in Florida.

There are major differences between being a licensed saltwater and freshwater guide in the state of Florida. To legally operate saltwater charters, you need more licenses than for freshwater.

Saltwater

In order to run a legal saltwater fishing charter business in Florida, charter owners and captains must have at least the following three documents:

  • Captain’s License (USCG)
  • Charter/Fishing License
  • Boat Registration

Captain’s License

All saltwater fishing guides in Florida must comply with USCG requirements. This means that you must have a Captain’s license – officially called Merchant Mariner Credential – for saltwater guiding. To find out how to get your USCG captain’s license, check out this article.

Charter/Fishing License

Fishing/Charter licenses are issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. You can find information on how to apply for these licenses on their website.

There are two types of licenses, the Charter Captain License and the Charter Boat License:

  • Charter Captain License. This license allows a USCG licensed captain to go from boat to boat. At the time of writing, it costs $201.50 for 4 or fewer passengers, $401.50 for 10 or fewer passengers, and $801.50 for 11 or more passengers.
  • Charter Boat License. It can only be used on the one boat designated on the license. The costs are the same as for the Charter Captain License. Note that in order to apply for this license, your boat already has to be ‘commercially registered’, which means you need to have the Boat Registration from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. More about that below.

All fishing charter businesses (charter, headboat, and saltwater fishing guide operations) need to have either a Charter Boat License or a charter captain with an FWC Charter Captain license. Either of these licenses covers your customers automatically. Customers never have to buy their own fishing licenses for saltwater charter fishing in Florida (except for specific species such as Snook).

Gulf of Mexico Federal Waters Fishing License

If you want to fish legally in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico (9 miles out or more), you need a Coastal Pelagics permit and/or a Reef Fish permit. Which one depends on which species you’re targeting. Unfortunately, the only way to get such a permit is to buy it from somebody who already has it. This is because the Gulf Council, the organization which manages the Gulf’s federal waters, has not issued these permits since 2003.

Boat Registration

All charter boats must be registered with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Only the vessel owner can apply for this vessel registration at the county tax collector’s office. It’s important to remember that you must always have your boat registration certificate on board your boat when you’re operating it, exactly like you would for your car.

The price of registering your boat depends on its size, and whether or not you are a resident of Florida. It can cost anywhere between around $10 to over $200.

Boat Insurance

As of 2011, boat insurance is not mandatory, but a marina or boatyard may require customers to carry insurance. In any case, we strongly recommend every charter captain to insure their boat.

Freshwater

To be a legal freshwater fishing guide, you don’t need any specific state guide licenses. No Charter Captain License or Charter Boat License from the FWC. Moreover, you only need a USCG captain’s license if you fish in ‘navigable waters’, meaning waterways with (commercial) traffic. This includes, for example, the St. Johns River and its lakes. If you fish in non-navigable freshwaters, you do not need a USCG Merchant Mariner Credential in the Sunshine State.

However, you do need to have your boat registered at the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. To see how to do that, see the section about Boat Registration above.

When it comes to fishing licenses, you as a guide just need to purchase your own annual, 5-year, or lifetime Freshwater Fishing License. In addition, each of your customers needs to purchase their own license and take it with them on the trip.

You can buy freshwater fishing licenses on the Go Outdoors Florida website. A standard annual license costs $17.

Now you know how to become a fishing guide in Florida. You know all the documents and licenses you need, and where to get them. All you need to do now is think up a catchy charter name and get out there!

Comments (48)
  • Scott North

    Feb 14, 2018

    I am in the process of taking the six pack . What else do I need? With the state county, city. I need to put in application for fictuous name for my company?

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      George

      Feb 20, 2018

      Hi Scott, thanks for your comment. You do not need to provide proof of registration of your company or a company name at the time of applying. The OUPV license is separate from your business registration.
      You do need to register your company with the local Chamber of Commerce if you want to use your six pack license to do charter fishing.
      Hope that helps, let me know if you have more questions!

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  • Justin Clark

    Feb 21, 2018

    Hey George.
    I’m interested in becoming a guide here in Central Florida. Even though I fish St. John’s and Kissimmee chain during bass tournaments, I won’t be guiding in any navagable water ways. What will I need as far as business license, insurance? I’ve researched and called numerous places and still very confused. Thanks for the help.

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      George

      Feb 22, 2018

      Hi Justin,

      As long as you don’t guide in navigable waters, all you need is:
      – Boat registration
      – A personal fishing license from the FWC

      In addition, your guests will have to each purchase their own fishing license, as your license will not cover them.
      You do not need a USCG Captain’s License or FWC Charter License.
      I strongly recommend you get your boat insured, but it is not, at this point, mandatory.

      Hope that helps!
      George

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  • David

    Feb 28, 2018

    Do I need a license to take people fishing in Florida for money, on Freshwater?

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      George

      Mar 1, 2018

      Hi David,
      You do not need a guide license to take people guiding for money on freshwater. You do need your own fishing license, of course, and your customers have to purchase their fishing licenses. Finally, you need to register your boat with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
      Hope that answers your question, thanks for reading and commenting!
      George

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      Angie

      Jun 5, 2018

      When you say to register it doesn’t matter if it’s registered as commercial or as my personal phone? I currently have a boat registered under my name not on my business nor is it listed as a commercial. Can I keep it that way or do I need to change that To a commercial bustle then I will be charging customers for fishing guides and tours?

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      George

      Jun 5, 2018

      Hi Angie,

      Thanks for reading!

      Good question. It has to be commercially registered because you will be selling services to paying customers. You can normally complete the commercial registration at your local Fl Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles / local tax office. You can see where to go in your county on this page.

      Hope that helps! If you do start running charters, I wish you all the best. I’m sure it’ll be fantastic!

      Tight lines,
      George

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  • Blake Valley

    Apr 7, 2018

    Hey! Being that there are so many charter options, what’s the best way to narrow down which is right for somebody? Anybody here really versed in Miami fishing charters??

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      Stefan

      Apr 19, 2018

      Hi, Blake,

      It’s difficult to say what would be the best way to choose a charter.
      It really depends on what you, as a customer, expect and want to experience on your trip.

      Here are just some questions that I use when choosing a charter, hope they can help you too:

      1. What kind of fishing do you want to do? Do you want to stay near the shore and get smaller fish (which can be super strong btw) or head offshore to chase really big fish?
      2. Are your companions all adults or are there kids as well? Generally, first-timers and kids may want to try staying closer to the shore in case of seasickness.
      3. How experienced is the captain and is charter fishing his full-time job?
      4. Is the gear included in the price?
      5. What are the reviews like? Make sure to read recent reviews and learn more about other people’s experience.
      6. What kind of a boat do you want to fish from? Do you mind if there is limited space or not? Do you want a stable vessel with plenty of space, toilet, kitchen, and other amenities?

      Also, have a look at the charter gallery to check out the photos from previous fishing trips.

      My teammates from customer support will reach out via mail to help out choose a charter.
      Let me know if you need more help.

      Tight lines,
      Stefan

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  • Rob

    May 17, 2018

    Odd question, are there very many freshwater fisheries (non navigable) worth building a business on in Florida? Ideal location, an hour or so of Tampa? Not digging for names, just a yay or nay. I’m entertaining a life change and chasing a dream before it’s too late.

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      George

      May 17, 2018

      Hi Rob,

      Thanks for reading, good question.

      Strangely enough, there is no clear ruling on which waters are navigable. However, my impression is that most of the lakes around Lakeland and Winter Haven are not considered navigable. Some of these, like Lake Parker, have excellent fishing. To be sure, you can contact the local FWC office.

      I hope that helps, and I hope you manage to fulfill your dream!

      George

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  • Brooke

    May 25, 2018

    I was wondering when doing kayak fishing guides would you need to provide the fishing license or should the customer have their own fishing license??

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      George

      May 25, 2018

      Hi Brooke,

      Thanks for your comment!

      The customer needs to buy and bring their own fishing license. As a kayak guide, you are not responsible nor able to provide the license for your customers.

      Hope that helps, let us know if there’s anything else we can do for you!

      Best,
      George

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      Charlie Warner

      Apr 1, 2019

      As a kayak fishing guide do you need a captins license?

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      Sean

      Apr 8, 2019

      Hello Charlie,

      Thanks for reading.

      For kayak fishing in freshwater, you’ll just need your fishing license, no captain’s license is required. You will need to have a captain’s license if you’re guiding trips in saltwater.

      I hope this helps.

      Tight lines!

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  • Scott

    May 28, 2018

    I am a charter boat captain.. We have all the licenses for our boat.. I have been hired to take a group out fishing on a personally owned boat. I will need to buy the charter captains license.. Will that cover all four customers even if I go into federal waters and the boat is not a registered charter boat?

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      George

      May 29, 2018

      Hi Scott,

      Thank you for reading!

      If I understand your question correctly, you will take people fishing on their own boat, a boat that is not commercially registered. From what I can tell, I believe you are not allowed to do this, because you would be taking money for a fishing charter on a non-registered boat. So while the cheapest option of the Captain’s License would normally cover up to four customers, it is my impression that you need to take them out on a commercially registered boat.

      Hope that helps, let me know if I misunderstood your question.

      Tight lines,
      George

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  • natalie

    Jun 8, 2018

    Hello,
    Wondering if someone can help, I’m wanting to crab tour /fishing in back waters. concept is to drop a few (2) pots. then let kids fish and release for a bit. come back get pots . cook a couple crabs up for kids all in a 2 .5 window. what license would i need? would i still need captain license? Thank you in advance,
    Natalie

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      George

      Jun 8, 2018

      Hi Natalie,

      Thanks for reading!

      That’s an excellent question. I’m afraid you do need a captain’s license for all services you sell, including crabbing and backwater fishing. For recreational purposes, you only need a saltwater fishing license. For more information on crabbing regulations, you can look at this page on the FWC website.

      Tight lines,
      George

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  • Gabor

    Jun 11, 2018

    Hi George!

    I’m Gabor from Hungary, Europe! I wonder a lot, how I become a freshwater fishing guide in Florida, so I don’t know it is possible to a european guy? Legally work in the US is so difficult to a foreigner. I do anything to make my dream come true 🙂

    Have you got any suggest for me?

    Kind regards,

    Gabor

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      George

      Jun 20, 2018

      Hi Gabor,

      Thank you for reading! Nice to know someone in Hungary is reading my stuff.

      Good question. To be honest, the first step is always to get a valid work permit in the US. After that, nothing stops you from becoming a licensed fishing guide in Florida, although some licenses can be a bit more expensive if you don’t permanently live in Florida.

      Hope that helps, and good luck with pursuing your dream!
      George

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  • Kevin

    Jun 20, 2018

    My grandson loves fishing and wants to make it is occupation. Are you aware of any schools that teach knots, baits, seamanship – all (or some) of the basic skills he would need? Thanks in advance.

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      George

      Jun 20, 2018

      Hello Kevin,

      Thanks for reading, and thanks for the question.

      There sure are. It depends on how old your grandson is and how serious he is about pursuing this path. For adults (18+) who want to become professional fishing guides there are plenty of options. Sea School is a reliable institution with locations in Fort Lauderdale, St. Petersburg, and Jacksonville, as well as several other places in the country.

      I hope that answers your question, please let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you!

      Tight lines,
      George

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  • TOM SCHETTLER

    Jul 8, 2018

    Hi, If I want to guide, and not be a captain, can I go in shallow 2-10 feet around Crystal River Florida?

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      George

      Jul 9, 2018

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the question. Unfortunately, you need a captain’s license for all saltwater fishing.

      Let me know if I can help with anything else. Thanks for reading!

      George

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  • Matthew McNew

    Jul 12, 2018

    Trying to get started in charter fishing but it would be mainly inshore and bay fishing. Doubt there would be much fishing in the offshore region for what I’m wanting to do. Going to be living around the Orlando area. Is there someone I can contact for help with questions on getting started or an organization? Also what license would be needed for operating a charter boat that is going to be about a 22′ or so size center console boat for inshore and bay fishing. Just trying to get started and see what is required and needed to get this ball rolling for myself. Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks again

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      George

      Jul 12, 2018

      Hi Matthew,

      Thanks for reading, good question!

      You’ll need a six-pack license, formally known as the USCG Merchant Mariner’s Credential. You can find more information on how to do so here. In addition, you’ll need a Charter Boat License from the FWC. Finally, you’ll need to have your boat registered at the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. You can find the appropriate links in the article above.

      For assistance in the Orlando area, you can call the local FWC office at: 352-732-1225.

      Hope that helps, let me know if we can do anything else for you!

      George

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  • Cindy Brown

    Jul 26, 2018

    I am looking into starting my own kayak fishing charter. Do you have any information what is needed to do this?

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      George

      Jul 27, 2018

      Hi Cindy,

      Thanks for reading, good question.

      It depends on where you want to guide. In most cases you will need a USCG license. Only if you’re fishing on non-navigable streams or lakes, you don’t need a USCG license. In general, the rules are the same as for motorized fishing charters.

      Hope that helps, thanks again.

      George

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  • Joe

    Aug 11, 2018

    Wondering what licenses I need to start an airboat tour company in south Florida? It would
    Be a small private boat with 5 passengers max.

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      George

      Aug 20, 2018

      Hi Joe,

      Thanks for the question and my apologies for the late reply.

      This is slightly outside my area of expertise, but you can find most requirements in this article. As you’ll see, the rules have recently changed. Mind you, these are only the rules for operating an airboat for your own use, so you will also have to open an LLC or other type of business in order to operate an airboat for commercial use.

      Finally, if you also want to take customers fishing on your airboat, you will need a USCG 6-pack license in order to do so in salt water.

      Hope that helps,
      George

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  • Jason

    Aug 31, 2018

    Greetings,

    Are the FWC licenses listed below annual? I assume they are, but cannot find any information that states duration of Charter Captain/Charter Boat license. Thank you

    Charter Captain License (allows a licensed captain to go from boat to boat)
    A Current Coast Guard License to Operate or Navigate Passenger Carrying Vessel License must be provided in order to purchase these licenses.

    License Type

    Price

    Charter Captain – 4 or fewer customers

    $201.50*

    Charter Captain – 10 or fewer customers

    $401.50*

    Charter Captain – 11 or more customers

    $801.50*

    Charter Snook Permit

    $10.00

    Charter Lobster Permit

    $5.00

    *Note: Prices include $1.50 administrative fee.

    Charter Boat License (may only be used on the boat designated on the license)
    These licenses are only available to vessels that are commercially registered. A commercial vessel registration or U.S. Coast Guard Certificate of Documentation (with a commercial designation) must be provided in order to purchase these licenses.

    License Type

    Price

    Charter Boat – 4 or fewer customers

    $201.50

    Charter Boat – 6 or fewer customers

    $401.50

    Charter Boat – 10 or fewer customers*

    $401.50

    Charter Boat – 11 or more customers*

    $801.50

    Charter Snook Permit
    $10.00

    Charter Lobster Permit

    $5.00

    *Issued to Coast Guard inspected vessels only.

    Note: Prices include $1.50 administrative fee.

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      George

      Sep 4, 2018

      Hi Jason,

      Yes, that’s correct, they’re annual fees.

      Thanks for reading!

      George

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  • Tony DuPree

    Sep 24, 2018

    George,
    I have recently passed my exam for my 6 pack license and currently jumping through all the other hoops to get my credentials. I was excited to finally get to a point that I could take customers fishing in the Gulf, only to get my bubble busted with this federal charter vessel/headboat permit. I am trying to understand what all this entails but it is a bit overwhelming. I understand that if I get the permit. it has to come from someone that already has one and is trying to sell it, because no permits have been issued since 2003 for the Gulf. The FWC site states that: If you are operating a for-hire vessel in federal waters (outside of 9 nautical miles on the Gulf and 3 nautical miles on the Atlantic), you may need a federal charter vessel/headboat permit before fishing for certain species. So, does this mean I can’t take anyone fishing in federal waters without this permit, or does the permit allow the catch of certain species? And if the permit is only for certain species what are they? Confused.

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      George

      Sep 25, 2018

      Hi Tony,

      I totally get that you’re confused, as it it very confusing.

      There are three main types of permits for chartering in federal waters:
      1. Charter vessel/headboat coastal pelagics permit
      2. Charter vessel/headboat reef fish permit
      3. Highly migratory species (HMS) charter/headboat permit

      The first 2 are not being issued, as you mentioned. The only way to get one of those is by buying or inheriting it from someone who already has this permit.

      The 3rd type, the HMS permit, you can buy. It costs $20 a year (see here). You can buy this permit on the NOAA website, here. You want to buy the one that is called ‘Atlantic HMS Charter/Headboat Permit’, that one is valid for the Gulf as well. With this license, you can target sharks, tuna, swordfish, and marlin, following all regulations surrounding these fish.

      I hope that helps. Congrats on getting your 6 pack, I wish you an awesome fishing career.

      George

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  • Everett

    Dec 29, 2018

    Is Lake Okeechobee consider as navigable waters and what do I need to be a freshwater guide on Lakes Okeechobee?

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      George

      Jan 3, 2019

      Hi Everett,

      Thanks for reading, Happy New Year.

      Yes, Okeechobee is navigable, so you will need a Captain’s License. You will also need boat registration, plus you and your customers need to buy personal fishing licenses.

      Hope that helps,
      George

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  • nate

    Jan 6, 2019

    im wanting to start taking people fishing for money in my boat , what I want to know is what is required for me to do so, ill be fishing inshore in the creeks and rivers of north east florida , hoping someone could help me learn where to start if anyone has any info id greatly appreciate

    thanks
    Nate

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      Sean

      Jan 8, 2019

      Hello Nate,

      Thank you for reading the blog.

      I’d be happy to help. You would need to do the following:

      1. Get a USCG captain’s license. This is called a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) and you can fill your application here.
      2. Have your boat registered at the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
      3. Get a valid fishing license. You can get your license here.

      Once you’re finished with the paperwork, feel free to contact us and list your boat with FishingBooker.

      Have a great day!

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  • STEVE

    Jan 29, 2019

    What requirements are their for guiding via kayak? Both single and tandem kayaks, is a captains license required for this type of charter? Any direction on where I could find this information of FWC would be appreciated, thanks!

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      Sean

      Feb 4, 2019

      Hello Steve,

      Thank you for reading the blog.

      According to the FWC, if you’re running trips for paying customers, you will need a valid Captain’s license. I’m afraid that the related FWC web page is no longer up, but you can contact FWC directly through this link.

      As far as kayaks are concerned, a boat registration document is only required if your kayak is powered by a motor. Otherwise, you’re good to go.

      I hope you’ll find this helpful.

      Have a great day!

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  • earl maier

    Mar 6, 2019

    Is there a way where a guide can take people in non-navigable waters without them having to have a licence like it is done in salt water?

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      Sean

      Mar 8, 2019

      Hello Earl,

      Thank you for reading the blog.

      I’m afraid that as long as your guests are fishing, they would need to have a valid Florida fishing license. You won’t need a USCG Merchant Mariner Credential but you’ll need to have your boat registration certificate.

      I hope you’ll find this helpful.

      Tight lines!

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  • Angel L Melendez

    Mar 18, 2019

    I’m looking at starting a beach / surf guide service is there a difference in what licences I need in order to do this?

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      Sean

      Mar 22, 2019

      Hello Angel,

      Thank you for reading the blog.

      Yes, there is a difference in the licenses you’ll need. First of all, you will not need the Merchant Mariner Credential, as you will not be running your trips from a boat.

      For surf and freshwater fishing, you and your customers will both need separate fishing licenses, in accordance with Florida’s recreational fishing license requirements.

      However, according to the FWC, you are not required to have any additional guide licenses.

      I hope you’ll find this helpful.

      Tight lines!

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  • Matt

    May 7, 2019

    Great post! I’m interested in offering jet ski fishing charters. Do the same rules for a boat apply to jet skis, aka personal water craft? Obviously unlike a boat the customer would be operating the jet ski themselves, I would just be their guide getting them to the fishing hot spots on the jet skis. It’s almost like jet ski rentals but the skis are rigged up for fishing and the customers can fish from their own individual jet skis as a group. So for example I may have three customers on three individual jet skis set up for fishing which I provide. I would be on my own jet ski and they would follow me to the fishing hotspots for the day. Any thoughts on this? It seems to be undiscovered territory as far as a business model goes in Florida so there’s not much info about this that I could find. Thanks much!

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      Sean

      May 17, 2019

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks for reading.

      Jet ski fishing trips sound like a great idea!

      According to the USCG, as long as you are taking paying customers on a vessel, and in navigable waters, you would need to apply for some sort of a credential.

      Now, the exact type of license you’ll need depends on which waters you’ll be fishing. To find out exactly which documents you need to obtain, please go to the Homeport website. Here, you should select your “Port Directory” from the drop-down menu. You’ll be presented with contact details for the location you need.

      Best of luck with setting things up.

      I bet people will love fishing from a jet ski!

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