There are many requirements to start a fishing charter company in the State of Florida for fishing guides who operate here. This includes requirements by both the FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission) and the USCG (U.S. Coast Guard). There may also be further requirements by the individual cities and counties where the charter fishing business operates from. I will attempt to list these requirements below so you can make an informed decision on which charter companies to hire for your next fishing trip. Remember, if it’s a legitimate operation, the Captain will have no problem providing you with documentation regarding these requirements.
FWC Requirements for Fishing Charter Companies – Freshwater
The freshwater fishing charter regulations are much simpler than what is required for saltwater operations. As a matter of fact, for freshwater fishing guides the FWC does not require any specific licensees regarding operating the business with just a couple of exceptions. The only requirement here is that both the fishing guide and the clients possess their own freshwater fishing licenses.
That being said, the fishing charter vessels themselves do have to have a minimum of safety related equipment that must be onboard, just as a recreational boater. This includes:
- A USCG approved Class 1 personal flotation device for each passenger
- One USCG-approved B-1 type fire extinguisher (in some cases)
- An audible distress signal device (such as a whistle or a horn)
- Properly ventilated cabins (if equipped)
- Required Navigation Lights
Also, Florida law requires anyone who was born on or after Jan. 1, 1988 to successfully complete an approved boating safety course and obtain a Boating Safety Education Identification Card issued by the FWC.
Note: If the freshwater charter vessel travels into “navigable waterways,” then a USCG Captain’s license will be required. However, this is not usually the case.
FWC and USCG Requirements for Fishing Charter Companies – Saltwater
Saltwater fishing guide service regulations are far more complex. There is one exception, surf fishing guides. Surf fishing guides are only required to meet the same regulations as the freshwater fishing guide details above, and since there isn’t a vessel for this service – those requirements are not applicable. However, the safety equipment and Boating Safety courses mentioned above are also applicable here for saltwater fishing charter companies, with additions to each.
The FWC and USCG guidelines work hand in hand. Without meeting the requirements of the USCG, FWC cannot process the final fishing charter company requirements. The USCG requires that all fishing charter company guides pass and hold a valid Captain’s License. There are varying levels of USCG Captain’s licenses, but the OUPV (6-Pack) will be the most common which limits the vessel to 6 passengers. While offshore fishing charter will most likely serve more than 6 passengers and will require a Master level license, though any charter craft fitting this criteria will require it. Another note is that while 6-Pack charter boats do not require a USCG inspection, a Master level charter boat must have passed a USCG inspection. An offshore charter company may also require varying NOAA Federal permits if traveling out of state waters (detailed at the bottom of this page). Also, even though a 6-Pack Captains license holder does not need a USCG inspected boat, they must be prepared to be spot checked while on the water – this is a fairly common occurrence. In that, these companies are prepared to meet compliance at all times as well.
Any captain must be able to meet all regulations set forth by the Coastguard, FWC, and all local law enforcement. All laws – no matter how redundant.
The FWC requires licensing as well, but only issues those licenses once the above criteria is met for a Captain’s license. There are two main types from FWC:
- Charter Captain License (allows a licensed captain to go from boat to boat)
- Charter Boat License (may only be used on the boat designated on the license)
These are each then also broken down by the amount of clients the boat will host during a charter. And those who hold a “4 or less” passenger license, can carry up to 6- if two of the passengers are not fishing. The charter company also has the option to add both Snook and Lobster stamps to add those services to their business, but is only required if those are to be harvested. Once the fishing charter company has these licenses, the client (unlike in freshwater regulations) is not required to hold a personal fishing license. The fishing charter Captain’s licenses cover all of the guests onboard for the duration of the fishing charter.
Insurance on fishing charters is not required by Florida law. However, some companies do choose to do so in the form of liability insurance.
Expanded USCG safety equipment for saltwater operations include everything in the list at the top of the page (including navigation light requirements), plus visual distress signals, throwable floatation device, and in some cases a Ship Radio Station License.
Some charter services do make use of additional licensing requirements. An example would be the Federal permits for reef fish (CHG-1717), pelagic species (RCG-1627), and other Federal NOAA permits.
TWIC cards from DHS are required for initial applications.
Municipality requirements may include a business or occupational license.
Backfire Flame Arrestors for inboard engines.
And more depending on the exact purpose and set up of the charter boat and business. What we detailed above is the most common, but if you are not sure- just ask your Captain prior to the trip.