Float Your Boat to Florida

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Every year, thousands of boating enthusiasts transport their vessels down to the Sunshine State. VISIT FLORIDA's former Boating & Fishing expert shares hints and tips for getting your boat here safely.

Boating is everywhere in Florida. With some 900,000 registered recreational boats and hundreds of thousands more smaller ones, Florida reigns as the No. 1 boating state in the nation.

And no wonder. The state’s long coastline, numerous freshwater lakes, rivers and streams and year-round boater-friendly weather encourage residents and visitors to spend time on the water.

It’s easy for enthusiasts visiting Florida to rent a boat by the day, week or month. Kayaks, runabouts, pontoon boats and everything in between can be rented at numerous marinas across the state. And fishing charters and guides offer local knowledge for almost any budget.

But some visitors prefer to bring their own boats, large and small, whether for a week-long vacation or a winter-long escape from snow and ice.

Most boats arrive on trailers behind their owners’ cars and trucks. Trailering is convenient and gives a boater access to an enormous variety of lakes and other waterways. Wherever you are in Florida, you’re never very far from a public access boat ramp.

Bigger boats, a spectator sport for everyone on the water, pose more of a logistical challenge. Some arrive on specialized trucks and are delivered directly to the marinas where they will be berthed during their owners’ stay.

But thousands arrive, most on their own bottoms, piloted by owners or hired captains. Indeed, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, which stretches from Fernandina Beach in north Florida all the way to Miami, is a virtual parade of sailboats and powerboats each spring and fall as boaters make the annual migration to and from points north.

Some cross over to the state’s west coast through the Okeechobee Waterway, a 100-mile trip that runs from Stuart to Fort Myers and either crosses or skirts the edge of Lake Okeechobee, the nation’s largest freshwater lake after the Great Lakes. (Attention, sailboaters: The maximum clearance for bridges is 49 feet when water level is at its normal 14.5 feet; actual water level will affect clearance.)

Others hole up in various locations along the Intracoastal Waterway, while the more adventurous make their way down to the Florida Keys.

If you’re thinking about bringing your boat for either a short visit or a prolonged stay, think ahead. If the boat can’t be kept on a trailer or at a private dock, call ahead to reserve a slip in a marina. Space can get especially tight in the winter.

If you’re a member of a boating club, check to see if your club has reciprocal privileges with one of the many clubs based in Florida. If you’re not already familiar with the waters you’ll be navigating, get a cruising guide and the appropriate nautical charts and do a little pre-arrival study.

If you don’t already have a boat, Florida is the single best place to find one, new, used or charter. With approximately 343 boat manufacturers in the state, the range of vessels is enormous, from zippy little runabouts to magnificent yachts that can cruise anywhere in the world. The docks in Fort Lauderdale are one of the premier venues in the world for buying and selling megayachts, and the marine services industry there can provide you with just about anything you can imagine and afford, from world-class electronics to spiffy crew uniforms.

If you time your Florida visit for mid-February, you’ll want to catch the Miami International Boat Show, an amazing display, both indoors and in-the-water, of boats and equipment.

Whether for a prolonged winter respite or a quick summertime vacation when the kids are out of school, Florida is a boater’s dream come true.

Based on a your birth date, and the type of boat you rent or use, there are requirements you may want to know about before you arrive in Florida. For more information, click here.

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3 comments
John Sprague
John Sprague September 14, 2011 12:00 AM
The article is good but could go further on enjoying Florida in a boat. The Ft lauderdale International Boat show is the largest in the water boat show in the world, but it mentioned Miami Boat show, it should have both, and even though further information on boating can be clicked on the information on marinas guides etc is greatly lacking in the website that assists boaters and tourists coming to Florida.