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Florida Boating Laws

Boat in the Atlantic Ocean

The following is a summary of boating accident and general Florida boating laws found in Florida Statutes Chapter 327 and Chapter 328. These Chapters are the source of most of Florida’s boating laws.

Vessel Registration

All vessels, with the exception of non-motor-powered vessels less than 16 feet in length, non-motor-powered canoes, kayaks, racing shells, or rowing sculls, regardless of length, must be registered through your local Tax Collector’s Office.

The Certificate of Registration must be on board and available for inspection by an enforcement officer whenever the vessel if operated.

Vessels must be registered and numbered within 30 days of purchase.

Registration numbers must be displayed on the forward half of the vessel on both sides above the waterline.

The numbers must be bold block letters at least 3″ high in a color contrasting to the hull.

The vessel registration decal must be renewed annually and is to be displayed within 6 inches of, either before or after, the registration numbers on the port (left) side.

Documented vessels without a state registration in full force and effect must also obtain a Florida registration and display the validation decal on the port side of the vessel when using Florida waters.

Boating Accidents

The operator of a vessel involved in a boating accident where there is personal injury beyond immediate first-aid, death, disappearance of any person under circumstances which indicate death or injury, or if there is damage to the vessel(s) and/or personal property of at least $2,000, must, by the quickest means possible, give notice to one of the following: the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the sheriff of the county in which the accident occurred, or the police chief of the municipality in which the accident occurred, if applicable.

It is unlawful for any person operating a vessel involved in a boating accident to leave the scene without giving all possible aid to the involved persons and without reporting the accident to the proper authorities.

Reckless and Careless Operation

A throwable life preserver is mandatory on all vessels.

Anyone who operates a vessel with willful disregard for the safety of persons or property will be cited for reckless operation (a first-degree misdemeanor).

All operators are responsible for operating their vessel in a reasonable and prudent manner with regard for other vessel traffic, posted restrictions, the presence of a divers-down flag, and other circumstances so as not to endanger people or property.

Failure to do so is considered careless operation (a non-criminal infraction).

A violation of the Federal Navigation Rules is also a violation of Florida law.

Types of boating accident and violations include:

Collisions with other Boats

Jetski and Waverunner Accidents

Scuba Diving and Snorkeling

Parasailing Accidents

Kite Surfing and Sail Boarding

Waterskiing, Wake Boarding and Tubing Accidents

Boating Under the Influence of Alcohol

Boating Under the Influence

The Rule is the same: .08 BAC is presumed impaired, .02 BAC illegal if under 21.>

It is a violation of Florida law to operate a vessel while impaired by alcohol or other drugs. A vessel operator suspected of boating under the influence must submit to sobriety tests and a physical or chemical test to determine blood- or breath-alcohol content.

In Florida, a vessel operator is presumed to be under the influence if their blood- or breath-alcohol level is at or above .08.

Any person under 21 years of age who is found to have a breath-alcohol level of .02 or higher and operates or is in actual physical control of a vessel is in violation of Florida law.

Water Ski Regulations

Watersports are one of the most frequent causes of accidents and injuries.

The operator of a vessel towing someone on skis or another aquaplaning device must either have an observer, in addition to the operator, on board who is attendant to the actions of the skier or have and use a wide-angle rear-view mirror.

No one may ski or aquaplane between the hours of 1/2 hour past sunset and 1/2 hour before sunrise.

No one may water ski or use another aquaplaning device unless they are wearing a U.S. Coast Guard-approved non-inflatable Type I, II, III or V personal flotation device (PFD). Inflatable personal flotation devices are prohibited for skiing/aquaplaning.

No one may ski or use another aquaplaning device while impaired by alcohol or other drugs.

The operator of a vessel towing a skier may not pull the skier close enough to a fixed object or another vessel that there is risk of collision.

Boat and Personal Watercraft Rental Facilities

Read the fine print for any agreement with a rental facility or water sports vendor.

The facility is prohibited from renting a vessel that does not have proper safety equipment, exceeds the recommended horsepower or load capacity, or is not seaworthy.

The facility must provide pre-rental or pre-ride instruction on the safe operation of the vessel with a motor of 10 horsepower or more.

This instruction must include, at a minimum, operational characteristics of the vessel, safe operation and right-of-way, operator responsibilities, and local waterway characteristics.

The person delivering this information must have completed a NASBLA/state-approved boater safety course.

All renters required by law to have a boater education ID card must have the card or its equivalent before the facility may rent to them.

The livery must display boating safety information in a place visible to the renting public in accordance with FWC guidelines.

PWC liveries must provide on-the-water demonstration and a check ride to evaluate the proficiency of renters.

PWC liveries may not enter into rental agreement with anyone under the age of 18.

PWC liveries must display safety information on the proper operation of a PWC.

The information must include: propulsion, steering and stopping characteristics of jet pump vessels, the location and content of warning labels, how to re-board a PWC, the applicability of the Navigation Rules to PWC operation, problems with seeing and being seen by other boaters, reckless operation, and noise, nuisance and environmental concerns.

Mandatory Violator Education

Florida law requires that anyone convicted of 2 non-criminal boating safety infractions within a 12-month period must enroll in, attend, and successfully complete any NASBLA/State of Florida approved boater education course. This course must be completed following the date of the second violation, and proof of completion must be filed with the Commission’s Boating and Waterways Section.

Any person convicted of a boating infraction which resulted in a reportable boating accident or convicted of any criminal boating violation must complete any NASBLA/State of Florida approved boating safety course and also complete an approved safe boating course for violators. Violator courses require approximately 4 hours to complete and must be taken through a specified State of Florida approved online course.

A violator’s privilege to operate a vessel in Florida is suspended until proof of course completion is filed with FWC.

Airboat Regulations

Airboats are required to fly a safety flag at least 10 feet above the boat.

The exhaust of every engine used on any airboat operated in Florida must use an automotive-style factory muffler, underwater exhaust, or other manufactured device capable of adequately muffling the sound of the engine exhaust. The use of cutouts or flex pipe as the sole source of muffling is prohibited.

Airboats must be equipped with a mast or flagpole displaying a flag that is at least 10 feet above the lowest part of the boat. The flag must be square or rectangular, at least 10 inches by 12 inches in size, international orange in color, and displayed so it is visible from any direction.

Vessel Speed Restrictions

All Florida inland waterways and lakes have speed limits.

Any vessel operating in a speed zone posted as “Idle Speed – No Wake” must operate at the minimum speed that allows the vessel to maintain headway and steerageway.

Any vessel operating in a speed zone posted as “Slow Down — Minimum Wake” must operate fully off plane and completely settled in water.

The vessel’s wake must not be excessive nor create a hazard to other vessels.

Personal Watercraft Regulations

Due to their high speeds, and often operator inexperience, PWC’s have a high rate of being involved in boating accidents.

Each person operating, riding on, or being towed behind a personal watercraft must wear an approved non-inflatable Type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device (PFD).

Inflatable PFDs are prohibited for personal watercraft use.

The operator of a personal watercraft must attach the engine cutoff switch lanyard (if equipped by the manufacturer) to his/her person, clothing or PFD.

Personal watercraft may not be operated from 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 hour before sunrise, even if navigation lights are used. Remember, both federal and state law requires the use of navigation lights from sunset to sunrise.

Maneuvering a personal watercraft by weaving through congested vessel traffic, jumping the wake of another vessel unreasonably close or when visibility around the vessel is obstructed, or swerving at the last possible moment to avoid collision is classified as reckless operation of a vessel (a first-degree misdemeanor).

A person must be at least 14 years of age to operate a personal watercraft in Florida.

A person must be at least 18 years of age to rent a personal watercraft in Florida.

It is unlawful for a person to knowingly allow a person under 14 years of age to operate a personal watercraft (a second-degree misdemeanor).

Anyone 21 years of age or younger is required to either have successfully completed a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) approved boating education course or have passed a course equivalency or temporary certificate examination and have in their possession a boating education ID card and a photo identification card before operating a vessel with a motor of 10 HP or more in Florida. Identification cards for persons completing the course or the equivalency exam are good for a lifetime. Temporary Certificate exams are made available to the public through contractors. The temporary certificate is valid for 12 months from the issue date.

Mooring to Markers or Buoys

Except in the event of an emergency, it is unlawful to moor or fasten to any lawfully placed navigation aid or regulatory maker.

Boating Safety Education Requirements

Anyone 21 years of age and under who operates a vessel powered by 10 horsepower or more must pass an approved boater safety course and have in his/her possession photographic identification and a boating safety education identification card issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

A person is exempt from this requirement if there is a person on board who is not affected by this law or is at least 18 years of age and holds a boater education I.D. card. This person must be attendant to and take responsibility for the safe operation of the vessel.

Diving Regulations

Boaters are required to stay at least 100 feet from a Dive Flag.

Any vessel other than a law enforcement or rescue vessel that approaches within 100 feet of a divers-down flag on a river, inlet, or navigation channel, or within 300 feet of a divers-down flag on waters other than a river, inlet, or navigation channel, must proceed no faster than is necessary to maintain headway and steerageway, i.e. idle speed. The size of divers-down flags displayed on vessels must be at least 20 inches by 24 inches, and a stiffener is required to keep the flag unfurled. Dive flags carried on floats must be at least 12 inches by 12 inches. Also, divers-down flags on vessels must be displayed above the vessel’s highest point so that the flag’s visibility is not obstructed in any direction.

Divers must make reasonable efforts to stay within 300 feet of a divers-down flag on open waters (all waterways other than rivers, inlets, or navigation channels) and within 100 feet of a flag within rivers, inlets, or navigation channels.

Interference with Navigation

Except in the event of an emergency, it is unlawful for any person to anchor or operate a vessel in a manner that will unreasonably interfere with the navigation of other vessels.

Equipment and Lighting Requirements

Proper equipment is essential to boating safety.

The owner and/or operator of a vessel is responsible to carry, store, maintain and use the safety equipment required by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).

All vessels are required to have onboard a wearable USCG-approved personal flotation device (PFD) for each person. The PFDs must be of the appropriate size for the intended wearer, be in serviceable condition, and within easy access. The State of Florida urges all people onboard a boat to wear a life jacket.

Vessels 16 feet in length or longer must also have at least one USCG-approved throwable Type IV PFD that is immediately available in case of a fall overboard.

A child under the age of 6 must wear a USCG-approved Type I, II or III personal flotation device while onboard a vessel under 26 feet in length while the vessel is under way. “Under way” is defined as anytime except when the vessel is anchored, moored, made fast to the shore or aground.

Vessels with built-in fuel tanks or enclosed compartments where gasoline fumes can accumulate are required to carry at least one fire extinguisher (depending upon vessel length) which is approved for marine use.

All vessels are required to carry an efficient sound-producing device, such as a referee’s whistle.

Vessels less than 16 feet in length are required to carry at least 3 visual distress signals approved for nighttime use when on coastal waters from sunset to sunrise. Vessels 16 feet or longer must carry at least 3 daytime and three nighttime visual distress signals (or 3 combination daytime/nighttime signals) at all times when on coastal waters.

The use of sirens or flashing, occulting or revolving lights is prohibited except where expressly allowed by law.

Recreational vessels are required to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and during periods of reduced visibility (fog, rain, haze, etc.). The U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Rules specify lighting requirements for every description of watercraft.

Maximum Loading and Horsepower

No person may operate a monohull boat of less than 20 feet in length while exceeding the maximum weight, persons, or horsepower capacity as displayed on the manufacturer’s capacity plate.

Boating Safety Education Requirements

Rental facilities are prohibited from renting a vessel that does not have proper safety equipment, exceeds the recommended horsepower or load capacity, or is not seaworthy.

The facility must provide pre-rental or pre-ride instruction on the safe operation of the vessel with a motor of 10 horsepower or more.

This instruction must include, at a minimum, operational characteristics of the vessel, safe operation and right-of-way, operator responsibilities, and local waterway characteristics.

The person delivering this information must have completed a NASBLA/state-approved boater safety course.

All renters required by law to have a boater education ID card must have the card or its equivalent before the facility may rent to them.

The livery must display boating safety information in a place visible to the renting public in accordance with FWC guidelines.

PWC liveries must provide on-the-water demonstration and a check ride to evaluate the proficiency of renters.

PWC liveries may not enter into rental agreement with anyone under the age of 18.

PWC liveries must display safety information on the proper operation of a PWC.

The information must include: propulsion, steering and stopping characteristics of jet pump vessels, the location and content of warning labels, how to re-board a PWC, the applicability of the Navigation Rules to PWC operation, problems with seeing and being seen by other boaters, reckless operation, and noise, nuisance and environmental concerns.

Muffling Devices

All vessels must be equipped with an effective muffling device.

The use of cutouts is prohibited, except for vessels competing in a regatta or official boat race and such vessels while on trial runs.

Law Enforcement Authority

Most Florida Counties are patrolled by City and County marine law enforcement, and the Coast Guard.

Law enforcement officers of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, sheriff’s deputies of the various counties, and any other authorized enforcement officer, shall have the authority to order the removal of vessels deemed to be an interference or hazard to public safety, enforce all boating safety laws, or cause any inspection to be made of all vessels in accordance to state law.

A law enforcement officer may stop any vessel for the purpose of checking for compliance with boating safety equipment requirements.

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