Locked & Unloaded

Is carrying a firearm a good idea or recipe for disaster?

FSF Staff June 3, 2011

The days when Black Beard ruled the savage seas are long gone, although modern day marauders do exist in poverty-stricken areas of the world. Not to say that it won’t ever happen to you, but the chances of encountering swashbuckling pirates on the high seas is extremely low. However, crews making long distance treks to exotic angling destinations have certainly encountered some hair-raising situations, so it’s best to never let your guard down. For this reason, many boat owners and/or operators keep a firearm onboard for safety and protection. If you’ve ever been miles over the horizon or visited a foreign country by boat, there’s an eerie feeling that no matter what happens you are ultimately responsible for protecting your property and person. Before you visit your local firearms dealer there are a few things you must take into consideration.

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When selecting a weapon be sure it’s suitable for the marine environment—like this Glock 9MM. Photo: istock.com/jpig

For starters, it appears the law is on your side. Florida law states that it is lawful and in no way a violation of statute 790.01 for a person 18 years of age or older to possess a concealed firearm or other weapon for self-defense within the interior of a private conveyance, without a license. Your boat can certainly be considered a private conveyance. The firearm must be securely encased so it is not readily accessible for immediate use. Securely encased means stored in a glove compartment (whether or not locked), snapped in a holster, gun case (whether or not locked), in a zippered gun case, or in a closed box or container that requires a lid or cover to be opened for access. In other words the firearm cannot be left exposed.

It seems that the countries with the harshest firearm regulations are the ones where you wouldn’t feel safe without one.

Readily accessible for immediate use is defined as a firearm that is carried on the person or within such close proximity and in such a manner that it can be retrieved and used easily and quickly. Do we really need to tell you that leaving a firearm exposed out in the open and within easy reach is simply a bad idea? And don’t forget that while ammunition can lawfully be within easy reach, the firearm cannot be loaded.

The straight up scoop is simple. If a person is 18 years or older, not a convicted felon or otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm, there are pretty liberal possession standards in Florida. However, if a law enforcement officer ever stops you it would be in your best interest to advise the officer that you are in lawful possession of a firearm and you should immediately divulge its location. Never under any circumstance open a glove compartment or drawer to reveal a weapon without letting the officer know it is there ahead of time.

When it comes to international law the regulations are much more stringent and vary greatly depending on the country. Before you attempt to carry a firearm into any foreign country it is highly recommended that you contact the state consulate to make sure you don’t unknowingly break any laws that may lead to severe fines or worse yet, imprisonment.

In The Bahamas, visitors are required to declare firearms, as well as every round of ammunition to Bahamian Customs officials. In addition, your weapon(s) must remain securely stored on the registered vessel for the duration of your visit. If you are unclear about any of these rules or have additional questions, it is highly advised that you contact the Embassy of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas or The Bahamian Consulate for specific information regarding customs regulations.

It seems that the countries with the harshest firearm regulations are the ones where you wouldn’t feel safe without one. If you plan on traveling to Mexico you better take note. All vessels entering Mexican waters with firearms or ammunition on board must have a permit previously issued by the Mexican Embassy or Mexican Consulate. You should also contact Mexican port officials to receive guidance on the specific procedures used to report and secure weapons and ammunition. Even so, mariners are not in the clear and do not fully avoid prosecution by declaring weapons at the port of entry.

Only a couple of years back a captain from Destin found himself in hot water while refueling in Mexico. Captain John Peerson was en route from Costa Rica to the United States and stopped in Isla Mujeras to top off his fuel tanks. Mexican officials boarded the 74 Viking and found several firearms. While it’s not uncommon for captains traveling through Central and South America to keep weapons on board for self-defense, Captain Peerson was taken into custody on charges of introducing guns to Mexico. Penalties for not declaring firearms are severe and he remained behind bars for 127 days.

The fact of the matter is that the choice is yours. The vast majority of boaters who have guns on board never use them. When introduced to a hostile situation guns usually only make the situation worse. Carrying a firearm comes with a lot of responsibility and unless you plan on capitalizing on the nighttime sword bite off the coast of Somalia, you’ll probably be okay without one. Nevertheless, many think of a firearm like an EPIRB or Personal Locator Beacon—they carry one on board in the hopes that they’ll never be forced to use it, but they know that in a real emergency situation it may very well be a lifesaver.

Florida Sport Fishing does not condone the use of firearms. The above recommendations are provided strictly for informational purposes. Be sure to contact your local law enforcement agency for additional information on specific regulations that may be present in your county. Resources for international travel can be found at travel.state.gov

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