Fishing charters in Florida and the United States are generally a very safe activity thanks in large due to strict United States Coast Guard (USCG) regulations that govern fishing charter boats. One important thing to ask any fishing charter operator is whether their boats meet Coast Guard regulations and whether their captains are USCG licensed. If the answer to either of these questions is no then the operation is almost certainly operating illegally and you should look elsewhere for a trip. Sadly, there are quite a few unscrupulous, non compliant charter operators so it’s good to get a recommendation from a friend or a service such as ours.
Most fishing charter boats are considered “uninspected vessels”. This is simply a classification based primarily on size and doesn’t mean they are unsafe. In fact, the Coast Guard and other law enforcement agencies regularly board and perform surprise inspections of these vessels, so the word “uninspected” is quite misleading. There are extensive safety regulations in place for uninspected vessels, particularly with regard to fire extinguishers, life jackets, flotation devices, and other safety requirement that is required aboard the vessel.
Some larger fishing boats do have inspected classification. The best way to tell is whether the boat is able to take more than six passengers, as all fishing boats that take more than six passengers must be inspected. Again, if you’re considering going with more than six people, it is important to ask the operator if their vessel is “USCG inspected”.
With regard to captains licenses, the most common license for a fishing charter operator is called an OUPV (Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels) often referred to as a “six pack”. Some captains have higher level licenses called a “Master” that allows the captain to operate larger vessels as well as inspected vessels. Training and testing is very similar for both the OUPV and the Master, so you can feel at ease that a captain with either license is extremely experienced and capable.
With regard to risks, any on-water activity has risks. The risk of falling overboard, while unlikely, is the most significant and those who are not strong swimmers (and even those who are) should consider wearing a life jacket while on board any boat. Life jackets are imperative for children and are required by law for children under 12 in most states, including Florida. Your Captain should have an extensive stock of life jackets on board, but if you’re bringing smaller children, you should speak with the captain ahead of time to make sure he has a life jacket on board that will be appropriate for the age and weight of the child.
Fishing line and fishing hooks are sharp and handing line with your bare hands presents the risk of being cut. If you are not experienced handling fishing line, leave that up to the captain or the mate. If you do handle the line yourself, bring a pair of gloves to prevent the line from cutting you.
So now that I’ve scared you with falling overboard and getting cut by line and hooks, let me share with you the two most common “injuries” on a fishing charter that are also the most overlooked and also the easiest to prevent: dehydration and sun burn.
Fishing is a physical activity and in Florida the heat and humidity cause you to perspire quicker than you may be used to. Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during, or after your trip. If you are drinking soda and alcohol, be sure to mix in water as well, as both of these are diuretics and will cause you to dehydrate more quickly.
Even on cloudy days, the ultraviolet rays from the Florida sun can cause sunburn. Regardless of weather conditions and time of year, apply sunscreen liberally multiple times throughout the trip. Since there’s a good chance you’ll be sweating, be sure to use a waterproof sunscreen that will stay on even when you perspire.
So there you have it, the low down on fishing charter safety. If you have any questions, drop us an e-Mail and we’ll be happy to help you out.