So you want to rent a boat but have no experience? Here’s what you need to know.

People who have never rented a boat before often have a lot of questions. It’s an easy process for the first-time renter. Here are some tips and recommendations to help answer some of your questions and best prepare you to enjoy the water and have a great time.

Family on a pontoon boat in the middle of the waters of Crab Island, Destin, Florida.
Courtesy of Destin Vacation Boat Rentals

Destin has become quite the popular vacation spot for tourists from all over the world. The Emerald Coast is known for its fluffy white sand beaches and crystal-clear emerald waters. However, if you only stay on dry land, you’re going to miss half of the fun and beauty of Destin.

Here’s a look at what a novice boater will need to know to get out on the water and have a great time.

Pontoon boat in the middle of the waters of Crab Island, Destin, Florida.
Courtesy of

Imagine you are anchored out in the emerald green waters of Destin, sunbathing, picnicking, swimming, or just sitting back relaxing as you take in all the breathtaking views. If you are curious to see what’s under the water, grab your snorkel gear and head to the Gulf Islands National Seashore. You will usually see a large variety of tropical fish and maybe even spot some dolphins.

Pontoon boat in the middle of the waters of Crab Island, Destin, Florida.

No Boating License? No Problem.

Florida does not have a “boating license.” In order to operate a motorboat of ten (10) horsepower or greater, 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.

For tourists and out of state guests, the boating safety course is administered by the boat rental vendor and in many cases can be taken online. If you choose to take the course at the rental company’s location, it can take 15-20 minutes. Be sure and allow enough time for this so you are not late for your reservation departure time. After taking the open-book, multiple-choice test, you will receive a temporary certificate. You must have the certificate with you (along with a photo ID) while operating the boat. For more information, click here.

Red pontoon boat in the middle of the waters of Crab Island, Destin, Florida.

Ease of Use

If you are looking for a truly relaxing and comfortable way to experience Destin, pontoon boats are known for their stability and a balanced ride. In comparison to other boats, pontoon boats are easy to handle, especially for people who have never rented a boat before. 

The lower speeds and stability help novice and inexperienced boaters to easily maneuver across the water. Thanks to the unique shape of the boat, weight distribution is not necessarily an issue in most cases. Once anchored, you will be able to walk around whenever you like. There are no threats of tipping or rocking the boat in a single direction. Watch video for safety features.

Family on a pontoon boat in the middle of the waters of Crab Island, Destin, Florida.
Courtesy of Destin Vacation Boat Rentals

More about the process

Boat rental companies require renters to sign a waiver acknowledging responsibility for the boat and the people on board. Renters are responsible for damage they cause to the boat and injuries suffered.

Rental companies may require a deposit or hold a credit card upon rental and can keep all or part of that deposit, if they determine the renter is negligent in damaging the boat.

Before you head out on your adventure for the day, the rental agent will review the agreement and walk around the boat with you to note any existing damage and complete an inventory check as well as go over the safety precautions. You will also be instructed on use of the boat and will be provided with a phone number to call with any concerns during your rental period. You should arrive at least 30 minutes before your reservation departure time to ensure you have ample time for this process.

Pontoon boat docked at the marina in Destin, Florida
Courtesy of Destin Vacation Boat Rentals

Important Things to Remember

Sun protection

Nothing ruins a day on the water quicker than a sunburn. If you bring extra layers, you can always take them off if needed. Better safe than sorry when it comes to taking care of your skin. Have plenty of sunscreen with you and apply often, especially if you are in and out of the water a lot.

Bring a Waterproof Bag

It’s best to keep a cell phone with you on your boating adventure because it can help you find your way back to the boat ramp or serve as an emergency communication device. The importance of a waterproof bag cannot be understated because it protects your identification, money, and electronics from water damage.

Advanced Reservations:

Peak season runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day. If you wait until the day you would like to get out on the water to make your reservations, you may very well experience great anxiety or not be able to go at all, as boats book up quickly during the summer months.

Please be sure to check reviews for several rental companies to find the one that best suits your needs.

Recommended Items to Bring:

  • Waterproof camera
  • Picnic Items (No grills are allowed)
  • Water toys
  • Towels
  • Sunglasses
  • Ice chest
  • Lots of fresh water

Safety First!!

Drink responsibly. Don’t drink and boat or act foolishly.

Be respectful of other boaters and those in the water.

Always wear a life jacket. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Olympic swimmer – wearing a life jacket is one of the most important safety precautions for riding a boat.

Family on a pontoon boat in the middle of the waters of Crab Island, Destin, Florida.

If you’re ready for something a bit more adventurous, there is no better way to explore the beautiful waters of Destin, or take a trip to Crab Island, than to rent a pontoon boat for a day! Pontoon boats will accommodate up to 12 people. So, grab your friends and family and make it an adventure.

For information more information on Destin boat rental companies, check out or call them at (850) 650-BOAT

Grab your family & friends and head out on the water for some fun in the sun!

Co-authored by Heather Thomas of 

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