Is it your dream to boat in Florida? If the answer is yes, then Cape Coral is your place to be. Read on to hear about my boating experience in the area.
I am by no means an expert boater. In fact, I am just a beginner! My husband and I have only been boating for two summers together. So you can imagine that I was a bit apprehensive about boating in Florida after so little experience. My husband assured me it would be easy. Knowing that it’s not that simple to boat and that I’ve never felt the sport was easy, I wasn’t so sure. You can guess who was right about the easy part.
If you don’t have your own boat, then you will have to look into renting one. You will also need a place to dock your rented boat. For that, the most simple solution is to rent a house with a dock, as what would be easier than starting off from your own back yard?
If this is your plan, then you will have to arrange with your rental company when they will bring the boat to you. You should also make sure that you will be getting a boating course, which should at least mean going over the maps, boating rules and the boat’s features and handling.
You may find my post about renting a holiday house useful, as I address what kind of things you need to think about when renting a house with a dock and a boat to go with it.
A weird thing happened to the first boat we were supposed to rent. The people who rented it had anchored in front of a beach. But the waves were bigger than they’d anticipated. So whilst they were enjoying the island, the waves pushed the boat onto shore. And then the waves filled the boat with water and it capsized. Just two days before arriving in Cape Coral, we got a call telling us that this had happened to the boat we were expecting. We were told that it had actually sunk in the end and no-one had been able to retrieve the boat from it’s location. So you see – there are many things to take into account when boating in Florida!
What surprised me was the fact that no-one wears life jackets. The life jackets on our rental boat were quite useless too. In Finland most people wear them and take this safety precaution seriously.
Also, the ropes on the boat were really flimsy. And there were only two of them. This can really be a problem as you might not be able to secure the boat properly with just two ropes. The boat we rented in Florida was around the same size as the one we have at home and we have at least seven ropes, for different purposes. At least knowing that there would’ve been one extra rope available would’ve made me feel more confident.
Another thing that surprised me was that the boaters weren’t really very interested in using fenders. Back home, we use them a lot. It’s kind of frowned upon, if you don’t. I would be seeing people docking and there wouldn’t be a fender in site. I guess Americans don’t mind that much if the boat gets scratched?
Of course, it’s also different because in Finland we tie the fenders to the boat but in Florida the fenders need to be tied to the dock because of the tides. So you could have to dock first and only after that proceed with the fenders. I think we were a bit of a laughingstock at one restaurant when we carefully assembled the fenders onto the dock when no-one else would’ve dreamed of doing so! Our rented boat had black sides which means even a small scratch will painfully stand out.
Now even if you happen to be a very experienced boater, it’s good to remember that the waters are full of not so experienced boaters. Actually someone who has never boated may and can rent a boat in Florida. Boating experience isn’t obligatory. I would definitely not recommend doing that though.
Even if you are doing everything correctly, it won’t mean that the next person knows it should be done this way. There are also lots of jet skis and kayakers going around which you need to take into account.
You will need maps as you cannot just take a boat and start aimlessly driving around. Our rental company supplied us with many different kinds of maps and we went through them together but not all rental companies do this. I liked the laminated map in the picture below as it was really easy to read. As I was the navigator, I wanted to double check where we were going, so in addition I had Navionics on my iPad. The GPS on the boat was quite old and small, quite useless really, so I wouldn’t count on just that.
The Captain renting the boat also took us through all the materials in the boat and waterway laws and rules.
If you are an European boater, it’s good to know that the lateral signs are the other way round than in Finland. But not always! So for this a good map is essential. They say that in Florida you have the rule “red on right when returning” but it’s only when returning TO SHORE. So this was really confusing as well and I found the local maps absolutely essential.
The birds just loved these lateral signs. There were many of these signs indicating a manatee zone. You must go slow and not make waves. Boaters really have to abide by this rule because in these areas there is a risk of hitting a manatee. Everyone on the boat should keep a lookout for these cute creatures – sometimes a swirl on the surface may be caused a manatee’s tail when diving. If you spot a manatee – don’t drive your boat closer! The manatees may get confused. If the worst happens and you hit a manatee, you must call the Wildlife Alert Hotline, as the manatee’s life may still be saved. If you have obeyed speed restrictions, you will not be prosecuted for accidentally hitting a manatee.
As you can see, the lateral signs are numbered. This made navigation simple (well, as simple as it can be in a foreign place!) because you could easily see that you were going the right way by following the numbers.
Of course, you will need to fuel up, most likely more than once. This is much easier than in Finland. The fueling docks have really good fenders, so in this situation we didn’t have to worry about scratches. Also, there is staff to help you out, so you don’t have to stress about tying up the boat – just do what the guys tell you to. Of course, tips are expected. Our rental company wanted us to only fill up in places where there was no ethanol in the fuel. Oh, and another surprise here – there was no extra fuel container on our boat, so it was essential that we be very careful of not running out of fuel.
Fishing is a big thing in Florida. I am not big on fishing, so we didn’t try any of that. All I know is that you have to have a licence to fish.
In Finland we have to be careful when boating because of all the underwater rocks in the sea. In Florida, you need to be aware of the sandbanks. The water can go from deep to shallow in seconds. You can get stuck in these, so this is one reason you need to carefully follow your maps and observe your surroundings!
Cape Coral weather can be unpredictable. Be weather wise. Look at the weather forecasts, not just out the window. What you need to be looking at is wind speed, waves and rain. In addition you need to look at tide charts. Well, temperature too of course, so you know how to dress for your boating adventure. It’s not always warm if Florida, even though it’s the Sunshine State.
The tides are important to take into account when docking. Our boat rental captain secured the ropes onto our home dock so all we had to do was slip them on the pull up cleats. He had made sure the length of the ropes attached to the docks were such that they were suitable for the water level rising and falling. This was an easy way to do it in a canal but if you were to secure your boat at a windy and wavy place, you might have to think of another way.
You might encounter the coastguard or sheriff when on the water. If they stop you, it’s best to be very polite and not to panic. Yes, sir! Know where your registration papers are and also things life fire extinguisher, life vests and so on, as you may be asked to show them to the officers. Even if you are following speed limits, you may be subject to spot-checks.
Every time we went out on the water, we saw this funny looking house boat and wondered what it was.
It’s actually Jasper’s Bait Boat.
After driving past so often, we finally decided to dock and see it for ourselves. We bought some ice cream and drinks.
Of course, there’s fishing gear and baits for sale – it’s a bait shop after all.
Our son was excited by the parrot Charlie who seemed quite friendly. If I were you, I wouldn’t go too near, just in case. It does say he might bite!
The best thing about boating in Florida is the possibility of seeing dolphins. I think it’s quite impossible not to see them as we spotted some every time we went out. We didn’t see any manatees unfortunately.
One day we were lucky that the dolphins happened to be in a playful mood and came to swim near our boat.
I was so excited about seeing them so close up that I kind of forgot about the camera. The dolphin mama and it’s baby came so close to our boat that we could’ve easily touched them. Amazing!
At the end of the day, there might be a traffic jam of sorts on the waterways when people return back to their docks, especially during school holiday times.
Every evening the boat had to be washed as the saltwater is super corrosive. No wonder everyone seemed to have a boat lift. In Finland I have only seen one boat lift on our boating adventures! And that was in an area where waves could cause the boat to hit the shore. The water in the Baltic Sea is very low in salinity, as it’s mixed with freshwater from the rivers, so boat lifts aren’t essential in that sense.
Still not sure about boating in Cape Coral? Personally, I think chartering is good idea too – that way you will be able to sit back and relax as the captain designated to you will take care of everything. You won’t even have to research what to see or where to eat, as the captain is sure to have a plan.
At the end of the day, boating in Cape Coral was a fun experience and it was very interesting to see how things can differ from boating at home. However, I found that it was also a tad stressful because of the bad weather we encountered and the foreign waters. My favourite part was – of course – seeing the dolphins so close up.
If you are interested in boating in the area, you might want to check out my other posts regarding that:
Have you ever rented a boat overseas or are you a regular boater in Cape Coral? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.