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Selecting an Outfitter and Guide
A. We do not make any claims to the quality of the vendors listed. Florida does not license or permit guides nor have minimum requirements for them. This listing is provided solely as a convenience. We urge you to be careful and thorough in selecting a guide to enhance your outdoor recreational time in Florida and offer the following advice to help you make your selections wisely.
B. If you have a bad experience with a guide we list, please contact us. We are not responsible for their activities but will remove any guides from our list that have multiple verified complaints against them. You can also file a complaint with the Florida Division of Consumer Services (www.800helpfla.com/index.html).
II. Choosing a Guide
A. Certifications and Professional Memberships
1. Safety is paramount.
a) Guides operating for-hire boats on navigable waters as defined by the federal government require a Coast Guard Captain's License and special equipment. Asking if they have such a license and calling the Coast Guard to verify it is a good idea. However, there are many freshwater bodies in Florida where such a license is not technically required.
b) Red Cross first aid training and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training are good indicators of their commitment to your safety.
c) Whatever vehicles and equipment they use for transporting you and facilitating your recreational experience (e.g., boats, four-wheelers, kayaks, fishing tackle, firearms or personal-floatation devices) should all be in good shape.
2. Business-related: Although the state does not certify or permit outdoor guides, there are several business associations that provide guidance to their members. Again, this can be a way of determining their commitment. Some representative groups are:
a) Florida Guides Association (www.florida-guides.com) - primarily saltwater fishing.
b) Paddlesports Association.
3. Expertise-related: e.g., American Birding Association (www.americanbirding.org/).
4. Civic/environmental: e.g., CCA, Audubon (www.audubonofflorida.org/).
B. Years Experience - For many the adage that "with experience comes wisdom" holds true. Consequently, it is always good to ask how long the company and your individual guide have been in the business, and how long they have been guiding locally.
C. References from pleased customers/Awards - Ask them for references and call to see how others enjoyed their trips. Check and see if they've received any awards (to verify the award you can often go to the website of the group that issued the award, to ensure that it was legitimate). The Division of Consumer Services tracks complaints against businesses (www.800helpfla.com/index.html). You can check with them to see if a complaint against a business has been reported. The Secretary of State's office also tracks complaints against some businesses (http://dlis.dos.state.fl.us/fgils/consumer1.html).
D. What to expect from trip?
1. Duration of trip.
2. What do you need to bring with you?
3. What safety equipment is provided (PFDs, first-aid kits, radio/cell phone...)?
4. What recreational equipment is provided (binoculars, fishing rods, tackle, bait, foul weather gear, etc.)?
5. Inclement weather plans.
6. Refund policy.
7. Skill level necessary (physical skill and expertise).
8. Group size (will you be joining an existing group, or will it be your own tour?)
E. Environmental ethics - Good ecotour providers know that minimizing their impacts protects the environment, and accordingly is an investment in the longevity of their business.
1. Does this vendor participate in environmental philanthropy, like cleanups or wildlife surveys?
2. Does this vendor feed wildlife? At worst (in the cases of alligators, sandhill cranes, etc.), it is illegal and punishable by a fine under state law. Even legal feeding of wildlife isn't good for wildlife. If animals associate people with food, they eventually lose their healthy fear of humans and may later approach people who find them threatening, or are not as appreciative of wildlife as you are.
3. Fishing ethics? Monofilament, catch-and-release, knowledge of fishing sizes/limits.