Do You Need a Boating License in Destin, FL? 2023 Rules & Regulations

November 30th 2023
Mike Fisher
Do You Need a Boating License in Destin, FL? 2023 Rules & Regulations

Boating in Destin is a favorite pass-time for both locals and tourists. Destin’s emerald-green waters are inarguably the #1 reason people visit the beach town. But for many, the rules surrounding boating are foggy.

One of the questions we hear all the time at TripShock is, “Do you need a boating license in Destin?” The answer isn’t cut and dry, which is why we created this guide to address all concerns around boating in Destin in 2023.

Because most of the laws regarding boating apply state-to-state, a lot of the information covered here applies to not only Destin, but other major destinations in Florida including Panama City Beach, Miami, Tampa, and Pensacola!

Table of Contents



Do I Need a Boating License in Destin?


rental pontoon boat in the destin harbor

A rental pontoon from Luther’s Watersports cruises the Destin Harbor


So you made it to Destin and now you want to experience the beautiful water you witnessed on your way into town?! You’re not alone... Here at, we fulfilled just under 2,000 pontoon boat rentals in Destin in 2018 alone.

The most frustrating part of renting a boat is not knowing all the rules. Do you need a license? Can you fish on a rental boat? How do you purchase fuel? We’ll answer all these questions and more, starting with the reason for this article... do you need a boating license in Destin, FL?

Boaters License, Yes or No?

So there isn’t really a boaters “license”, but rather a Boating Safety Education Identification Card awarded after completing an approved boating safety course (we’ll get into this in the section below titled, How to Get a Florida Boating License).


boater safety card in florida

Boater Safety Education I.D. Card courtesy of


There are several factors to consider when figuring out if you need a boaters license while visiting Florida. Age is most important. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission , if you were born before Jan. 1, 1988, you will be able to drive a boat in Florida without a license.

There are more age restrictions, as well as several other circumstances that may require you, your friends, or your family to get a Florida boating license.


When is a Florida Boating License Necessary? 2023 Rules & Requirements


visiting crab island on a rental pontoon

One of the top reasons travelers rent a boat in Destin is to visit Crab Island - Pictured Above


The first thing you should know is that a boaters license isn’t necessary in Destin to have fun on the water. There are plenty of adventures to be had on the emerald waters of Destin that don’t require renting a boat or getting a boating license. These all-ages activities include:

  • Dolphin Sightseeing Cruises & Tours
  • Fishing Trips
  • Pirate Cruises
  • Dining Cruises
  • Parasailing


destin dolphin cruise at sunset

Cruises like the Dolphin Watch and Destin History Cruise by Olin Marler Charters offer passengers stunning views of the coast, and of course dolphins!


{Read Reviews & Book Destin Water Activities Online}

If you have plans to chart your own course in the Destin waters on a personal watercraft, you may still need a Florida boaters license. Refer to the table below to figure out if you need a boating license on your next trip to Destin.


Yes, You Need a Boating License if Born After 1/1/88 AND... No, You Don’t Need a Boating License if Born Before 1/1/88 OR...
Have not completed a NASBLA-approved boater safety course in Florida Have a course completion certificate from an approved Florida boating safety course (valid 90 days)
Operating a 10+ horsepower motorboat Operating a less than 10 horsepower motorboat
Operating in state or federal waters With a person licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard
Have not completed a NASBLA-approved boater safety course in another state Operating on a private lake or pond
Not accompanied by 18+ y/o with boating license/safety ID card Accompanied by 18+ y/o with boating license/safety ID card
Not accompanied by person born before Jan. 1, 1988 Accompanied by person born before Jan. 1, 1988
Have not completed a NASBLA-approved boater safety course in Florida Completed a NASBLA-approved boater safety course in another state (must have proof)


Info for this table provided by


How Much is a Boaters License?


destin x pontoon rental in destin

Like most rental providers in Destin, Destin X Watersports offers on-site boater safety courses for only $3 (with rental of a pontoon)


I’ve got some good news if you’re looking to hit the water in a personal watercraft in Destin. The cost of a Florida boating license ranges from free to $50. The cost is based on your method of testing, and how official you want your Florida Boating Safety Education ID Card (aka. boating license) to look.

Here are the average prices based on how you acquire your license:

  1. Online - $0 to $50. Can be more if you choose to order a professionaly printed or laminated ID card as opposed to printing the certificate of completion. The higher-priced online programs offer more in-depth schooling and resources, but as long as the course is approved by NASBLA, the ID card will be valid.
  2. From a Watersports Company - $3. This is the going rate, but can vary depending on the company. You will only be able to get your license from one of these tour companies if you are reserving a rental or booking a tour from them.


How to Get a Florida Boating License

There are several ways to go about acquiring your very own Florida Boating Safety Education ID Card. From online courses to on-site testing administered by watersport companies, a Florida boating license is easy to get.


destin x jet ski rental story

In this Destin Traveler Story, an 18 year old first-time jet skier completes the boating safety course at the office of the watersport company


From Your Watersport Provider - For individuals 16 and older, most watersport companies in Destin offer on-site testing. This test usually takes about 45min to 1hr. Most TripShock partners in Destin offer this service for a minimal cost as an add-on to a rental or guided tour.

Online - There are several online Florida boating safety courses. These range from DIY-style programs, to interactive courses with dedicated support. Every course is different, so be sure to review your choices carefully before choosing a program for yourself or a friend or family member.

Though there are several options for an online boating test, we recommend With a simple interface and easy signup, takemyboattest is the online test of choice for many of Destin’s watersport operators.

A few reasons why we recommend takemyboattest:

  1. Course available by computer, tablet or smartphone through the website
  2. Interactive course with images to a friendly learning experience
  3. 30 sections to prepare for the test

CLICK HERE to take the test online.


Types of Watercraft That Require a License to Operate

As we stated before, not all watercraft require a license to operate. The law says that a boating license is only required in Florida when operating a watersport vehicle that exceeds 10 horsepower. If you’re not sure which boats exceed 10 horsepower, refer to the table below:


Type of Boat Average Horsepower Does it Require a Boating License
Pontoon 60-175 Yes
Jet Ski/Waverunner 55-150 Yes
Sportboat, Runabout, Deckboat 115-150 Yes
Center Console 200-350 Yes
“John” Boat w/ Outboard Motor 5-20 Depends on Motor Size
Kayak or Canoe N/A No
Paddleboard N/A No


Table data collected from various sources including,, and


As you can see, most of the boats you can drive in Destin require a license (that is if you don’t meet the requirements to operate safety ID-free of course). But now that you know everything there is to know about boating licenses in Destin, FL, you should have no problem getting behind the wheel (or handlebars) of a high-powered watercraft, right?


pontoon boat overlooking the destin harbor

There are so many places to explore with Crab Island boat rentals including Crab Island, the Choctawhatchee Bay, and the Destin Harbor and Pass (Pictured Above)


Before you start chilaxin in your boat rental, you should make yourself aware of any other important rules & requirements for boating in Destin, Florida. The section below covers important safety and legal issues related to boating including wildlife, boating at night, and navigating no wake zones.


Other Rules & Requirements for Boating in Destin

Millions of beach-goers flock to Destin each year for the beaches, seafood dining, nightlife, and of course, the water. From high-sea adventures in the emerald-green Gulf of Mexico, to anchoring down at fun-filled Crab Island Sandbar, Destin travelers can play the days away splishing and splashing with the ones they love.

But it’s not always fun and games out on the water... Even experienced boaters can get themselves into trouble if not educated and prepared. Here are a few important rules to remember while boating in Destin, FL.



child catches redfish in destin florida

Young angler catches a prized Redfish, a popular species in Destin, while fishing in the bay - Image from Coastal Life


Fishing is a favorite past time for Destinites, with the city holding the title of the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village”. Besides booking a bay fishing charter, the best way to catch the best inshore fish in Destin is to rent a boat!

While some select shops rent fishing poles, it’s best to bring your own if you have it. Rods and reels used in fresh and inshore saltwater are typically very similar. Also, make sure to stop by a fishing shop in Destin like Half Hitch for all your gear and bait needs from local pros.

Though saltwater fishing may be intimidating to unfamiliar anglers, the bay fish in Destin are not totally unlike some of the larger fresh water fish including bass, pike, and carp. If you throw out the right bait, typically such tasty treats as pin fish, finger mullet, and shrimp, the fish will bite!


differences between bay fishing and deep sea fishing

Fishing inshore may not land you that giant red snapper, but plenty of inshore species not only put up a good fight, but are tasty to eat


When planning a fishing trip aboard a rental boat, the first thing you should be concerned with is... “Do I need a fishing license?”. The answer is most likely, YES! Luckily, we’ve created this incredible and informative guide to fishing licenses in Destin, FL, for everything you need to know about fishing in the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village!”

{Read Reviews & Book Destin Fishing Charters Online}

Encountering Wildlife


dolphins seen on destin dolphin cruise

Curious dolphins are notorious for following ships in the gulf and harbor in search of food and attention


Destin is home to a diverse marine environment. From dolphins to gators to sharks to manatees, almost any kind of incredible marine animal is found here in Destin, Florida.

Discreetness around these sea creatures is paramount. Remember, we are invading THEIR evironment, not the other way around. Check out a list of some of the animals you should LEAVE ALONE in the ocean:

  1. Dolphins - Dolphins and porpoises may seem hungry, but feeding a dolphin even once can greatly effect their ability to gather and consume food in the wild. Feeding or touching wild dolphins in Destin can also result in a hefty fine. If you want to meet, encounter, feed, and swim with dolphins, the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park offers shows and experiences.
  2. Sea Turtles - As many of us know, sea turtles come to shore to nest on beaches along the Destin and northwest Florida coast. If you come in contact with a sea turtle in the water or on land, it’s best to gently observe from a distance. This applies to sea turtle nests as well!
  3. Sharks - By now, it’s obvious to most that sharks really aren’t the dangerous man-eaters they were once made out to be. But these creatures do grow large (hammerheads, commonly seen around Destin, can grow to 20 feet), and pack quite a bite.
  4. Jellyfish - It’s all fun and games until somebody gets stung! Jellyfish, even the household variety typically found in Destin, can send you screaming out of the water with one tentacle-touch. If you see a Purple Flag at the beach, it most likely means that the jellyfish are invading!
  5. Crabs - It’s easy to chuckle at the curmudgeon that is a crab. These fiesty, clawed marine creates live mostly in shallow waters surrounding Destin, but aren’t afraid to fight if need be. While crabs are super cute, you and your family should keep your distance to avoid a tight pincer to the nose!


boy catches a blue crab on destin beach

A young traveler captures a spcies of crab known as the “Blue Crab” whle exploring a Destin Beach


Operating a Boat at Night


destin harbor crab island at night

Boats traveling the Destin Harbor and pass as night approaches - Image by Martin Clark from Pixabay


Nighttime on the water is a magical thing. While activities like swimming and watersports aren’t encouraged after dark, things like fishing and star gazing are fun as well as family-friendly! Several popular Destin events including the 4th of July fireworks celebration are best viewed from the water. That’s why knowing how to operate your boat at night safely and legally can really help maximize your Emerald Coast experience!

Here are the two most important rules regarding nighttime boating (from

1. Boat Driving Lights - There are 4 common lights used in night navigation. The masthead light, sidelights, sternlight, and all-round white light. The masthead light, sidelights, and sternlight should always be used at night. The absence of a masthead light is only allowed on a sailboat under sail. The all-round white light can be used in place of a masthead light and sternlight on vessels less than 39.4 ft in length.


nighttime navigation lights on powerboat

Most rental boats in Destin including pontoons and center-console boats will use only the sidelights and all-round white light (image courtesy of


2. How to Pass a Boat at Night - There are several rules regarding passing a boat at night. offers a great guide on how to properly pass both powered vessels and sailboats at night - CLICK HERE TO CHECK IT OUT.

Boating While Intoxicated (BWI)

Yes, BWI’s are a real thing. And yes, they are just as serious as a DWI. In the state of Florida, the operator of a boat may not do so with more than a .08 breath-alocohol level or above. This applies to drivers 21 years old or older.

If under the age of 21, a person may not operate a watercraft vessel with a breath-alcohol level of .02 or above. For any age, an individual may not operate a watercraft vessel under the influence of drugs.

Along with the obvious danger involved in boating under the influence, it may surprise you to find that penalties and fines from BWI are equivalent to a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated). So please, for the sake of yourself and others, designate a sober driver while boating in Destin, FL.

Wake Zones


jet ski making waves in destin florida

High-speed jet skis are notorious for creating unlawful waves


“Wake Zones” essentially mean... Wave Zones. Creating wake in a marked no wake zone can damage property and result in a fine. You will likely see a buoy or sign attached to a dock or boat slip designating the area as a “Idle Speed - No Wake” or “Slow Down - Minimum Wake” zone.

Upon entering these zones, it is expected to slow your vessel to maintain headway and steerageway. You will likely see these zones in areas of high boat traffic, swimming, or low-set structures like docks and boat slips. Expect to see plenty of these zones while exploring the Destin Harbor, Crab Island, and the many bayous around Choctawhatchee Bay.

Equipment & Safety Requirements


dog with life jacket

This happy dog is safe on the water with a pup-friendly life preserver - courtesy of A.Davey on Flickr


There are lots of important equipment and safety requirements for boats operating in the Destin waters. A boating license may give you the knowledge to operate your boat safely, but these additional requirements are required by law to assure the safest possible time on the water.

Luckily, any place that rents watercraft vessels in Destin is required to meet all standards of safety. Safety instruction is commonly included with every rental of a jet ski, pontoon, kayak, or other popular vessel.

Florida equipment and safety requirements include all vessels, kayaks to cruise ships. For a complete list of equipment and safety requirements for recreational vessels in Florida, visit the Equipment Guide at


Renting a Boat in Destin (Photos, Rates, and Info)


tripshock boat rentals in destin


If you are ready to rent a personal watercraft in Destin, you’ve come to the right place! At, we offer rentals in Destin, Florida, from the top watersport operators.


boating at crab island in destin

Crab Island is one of the hottest destinations for boat renters in Destin


If you’re interested in renting a boat in Destin, we can help you find the right rental to fit your needs, budget, and style. From a family-size pontoon, to a kayak fit for one, check out which rentals are available right here in Destin!

Pontoon Boat Rental


pontoon rental in destin parked at the beach in the harbor

Pontoon boats, like this one from Gilligan’s Watersports, can be parked right on the beach in the Destin Harbor and throughout the bay area


Renting a pontoon boat is easily one of the most popular things to do in Destin. The average rental pontoon can hold up to 12, and is great for activities like swimming, tubing, and fishing. Pontoons are easy to operate and have plenty of space for coolers, swim gear, and even the family dog (if the renters allow it).

Rates for pontoon boats can vary based on season, availability, and offers/deals. The average rate for a pontoon boat rental in Destin is:


Size of Pontoon Length of Rental Average Rate
20ft 4hr $250
22ft 4hr $250
22ft 8hr $350
24ft 4hr $250
24ft 8hr $400
Double Decker 4hr $500


Based on rates for pontoon rentals in Destin


{Read Reviews & Book Destin Pontoon Boat Rentals Online}

Jet Ski/Waverunner Rental


rental waverunners in destin from a destin harbor watersport company

Many jet ski rental providers offer a Destin Harbor departure point


If you’re looking for more action than comfort, a jet ski rental may be for you! Reach high speeds on a one, two, or three-person jet ski. Like pontoon boats, jet skis are easy to operate and available from many providers in the Destin area. Jet ski rental providers can be found in the Destin Harbor, on the beach, and even at the base of the Destin Bridge.

{Read Reviews & Book Destin Jet Ski Rentals Online}



More Destin Watersports Info


friends parasailing on a destin parasail tour


The Emerald Coast is home to the most beautiful water on earth, so why not experience it with an unforgettable watersport activity in Destin?! I would personally recommend the following tours and activities on your next visit.

  • Parasailing
  • Kayaking
  • Paddleboarding
  • Flyboarding
  • Sailing
  • Charter Fishing
  • Banana Boats

There is so much fun in the sun to be had when in beautiful Destin, Florida! From unforgettable high-flying parasailing trips, to a slow and steady paddle aboard a kayak in the bay, there is something for everyone along the Emerald Coast. Luckily, TripShock offers the best prices on tours, attractions, and rentals in Destin, FL, and beyond, for your booking convenience!



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