Dec 1, 2022 - News

Florida boat rentals in jeopardy as new safety law looms

A boat circles back on the Hillsborough River.

Boaters on the Hillsborough River back in 2020. Photo: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Three words in the new Boating Safety Act — passed last legislative session to keep people safer in Florida waters — might doom boat and jet ski rental companies in Miami and statewide when it goes into effect Jan. 1.

What's happening: Boat rental companies will, for the first time, be required to carry insurance on the customers renting out their boats in the event of injury or loss. Insurance companies have balked at the change, Axios Tampa Bay's Ben Montgomery writes.

  • All agree the new requirement would cripple the industry unless insurers come around — or unless the legislature amends the law in the next session.
  • Some insurers estimate that doing so would raise rates from around $1,500 per boat annually to more than $8,000 per boat, Peggy Mathews, lobbyist for American Watercraft Association, told the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) last week.

Why it matters: Miami's rental boat industry could take a big hit in 2023 — and our waterways could look a whole lot emptier — once the new law takes effect as currently written.

  • Industry sources say most insurers operating in Florida refuse to insure renters.

Zoom in: Miami-based rental operator Riva Motorsports, which has locations in Miami and Key Largo, would be forced to lay off employees and halt the expansion of the business due to the new requirements, according to vice president Joe Bamdas.

  • In a November letter to the FWC, Bamdas wrote, "With the new bill, rental operators will not be able to obtain insurance, or if they can, the cost will be so prohibitive that they could not stay in business."

The latest: FWC commissioners voted Wednesday to approve compliance rules for the new law with hopes that new insurers step in or that the legislature excises those three words at its next session.

Meanwhile, FWC will take an educational approach to enforcement for the first six months of 2023 — saying in a Marine Enforcement Alert that violators "should be educated and warned about the new laws."

Flashback: Last session, the state Legislature passed SB 606 to crack down on illegal boat charters after accidents spiked over the years.

  • The bill requires new topics to be covered in livery pre-rental and pre-ride instruction, and requires new content in FWC-approved boating safety education course curriculum.

What they're saying: "Ninety-nine point nine percent of this is all good stuff that's gonna do a lot to improve boater safety in the state of Florida," said David Childs, lobbyist for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.


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