The FTL Drive is the propulsion system used by human and Cylon ships to achieve faster-than-light travel through space. Prior to a jump, the drive is "spooled up" and then the ship "jumps" to another point in space.
The FTL Drive uses a dimensional transport effect. The ships instantaneously teleport from one point in space to another. On human ships, the FTL Drives are powered by refined tylium. When a ship jumps, it distorts the space around it and can damage other vessels that are too close. This can be seen in Someone to Watch Over Me when Boomer jumps away from the fleet just outside of Galactica's flight pod. The spatial disruption tears holes in the outer hull of the ship, causing major damage to the ship.
Navigation is very complex when using the FTLs. Speed, trajectory and jump duration must be carefully calculated before a successful jump can be made. Making a jump without these calculations, can take the ship into dangerous locations such as asteroid belts, singularities, or a planet's atmosphere.
Properly calculated jumps can be used to arrive in planetary orbit or to jump a formation of ships. The latter is used most often by the Colonial fleet. Jumping without calculations is possible. It is known as a "blind-jump". Such a jump is made by Admiral Helena Cain as an effort to save her ship (Battlestar Pegasus (RDM)) from the Cylon attack on the Scorpion Fleet Shipyards.
Jump coordinates must be updated constantly to account for ship movement and stellar drift.
Colonial ships have a jump limit known as the "Red Line." Any ship making a jump across this line risks unknown navigational hazards and possibly running off course due to compound errors in the calculations.
When going to disable the FTL during Felix Gaeta's mutiny, Galen Tyrol notices some stress fractures and damage resulting from age and the number of jumps the ship has made. He brings this to the attention of Admiral William Adama and repairs begin immediately.
Cylon ships are capable of much more accurate jumps than the Colonials. They are also able to make much longer jumps than Colonial vessels. For example, a Cylon Heavy Raider can jump from the Fleet to Caprica in 10 jumps, whereas Galactica would need over 200.
After the Rebel Basestar joins the fleet, they offer to upgrade the Colonial FTL Drives. This work would be done entirely by Cylon work crews, but would potentially triple the Fleet's jump accuracy and distance.