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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!