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Three words in a new law threaten Florida's rental boat industry

Bobbie O'Brien
WUSF Public Media

Three words in the Boating Safety Act passed by the Florida Legislature this year are causing a lot of anxiety in the rental watercraft industry. It's all about insurance.

The words in question are "and the renter." That basically requires that not only the rental watercraft be insured, but also the person renting it.

Insurance companies are saying they don't want to take on that additional risk. That puts the entire watercraft rental industry in Florida — everything from jet skies to pontoon boats — in jeopardy.

Peggy Matthews, Florida's representative for the American Watercraft Association, said it's an unintended consequence of the legislation. " 'And the renter' is almost redundant in the fact that the insurance companies for the livery covers the renter in most cases, any way — even if they're found at fault," Matthews said.

Matthews said it's very likely the legislature will pass what's called a "glitch" bill next session to correct the problem by amending the legislation and removing the renter insurance language.

"So we're trying to make sure we have some kind of stopgap measure between now and the 2023 session, and actually when the glitch bill passes, to cover all these liveries and boat rentals until then," Matthews said.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission plans only an education campaign about the law through the first six months of the year. The key will be if insurance companies are willing to reissue the standard insurance to watercraft rental businesses until the legislature amends the Boating Safety Act.

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Craig Kopp