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Guide to Boating Safety Laws in Florida

Oldham & Smith May 25, 2023

With miles of ocean coastline, springs, lakes, and rivers around Florida, it’s no wonder it’s one of the most popular states for boating. Florida leads the nation with boat registrations, with over one million registered boaters. However, more boaters mean more accidents on Florida’s waterways. To ensure the safety of boaters and passengers throughout the state, Florida has enacted many laws to help decrease accidents and collisions. These regulations are detailed in Chapters 327 and 328 of the Florida Statutes and are enforced by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Here are some of the most important regulations boaters must be aware of when operating a motorized vessel in Florida. 

Proper Registration and Training 

All motorized boats that are 16 feet or less long must be registered with the state within 30 days of purchase. This registration should be renewed annually. Every boat must have its certificate of registration available at all times. Vessels need to display their registration numbers prominently above the waterline on both sides of the bow in a color that contrasts the hull. The numbers are also required to be at least three inches high. The boat’s registration decal must be placed within six inches of the registration numbers on the boat’s port side.  

Any boat owner born after January 1, 1988, with a vessel that reaches speeds above ten horsepower is required to pass a boating safety class. You’ll need to keep your boat safety education identification on you when operating your vessel. 

Proper Safety Equipment 

Florida law requires specific safety gear on all vessels. According to Florida law, US Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices must be available and easily accessible for all passengers on board. If you own a boat that’s longer than 16 feet, you’ll need a throwable flotation device available as well. It’s required that children under six years of age wear a Type I, II, or III safety vest while onboard at all times. Other required safety equipment includes a fire extinguisher for vessels with fuel tanks in an enclosed compartment and an efficient alarm sound (such as a whistle or horn). All boats must have at least three distress signals on board. For boats less than 16 feet long, you need three nighttime signals. Boats over 16 feet need three distress signals for day and night operation. Navigational lights are required on all boats from sunset to sunrise.  

Reckless Operation Guidelines 

Careless or reckless boat operation is a first-degree misdemeanor. Reckless boating is classified as the disregard for the safety of others or property. Since it’s one of the leading causes of boating accidents, it’s important to follow regulations for specific waterways, such as speed limits and no wake zones. Florida also has strict laws regarding marine mammal protection, such as manatees and dolphins. Manatees are specifically protected by state and federal law. It’s illegal to hunt, capture, or kill manatees. If you disrupt their natural behavior in any way, you could face a $50,000 fine and up to one year in jail. If you accidentally strike a manatee or dolphin while operating your vessel, you must report the incident to the FWC immediately. You won’t be held responsible as long as it’s proven that you followed all safety regulations at the time of the accident. 

Boating Under the Influence  

In addition to reckless boating operations, being under the influence of alcohol is one of the most common causes of boating accidents. It’s illegal to operate a vessel while under the influence, which is defined as having a Blood Alcohol Level of .08% or above. Penalties for a first-time BUI offense include a fine between $500 and $1,000, up to six months in jail or probation, and mandatory community service.  

Involved in a Boating Accident? Contact Oldham & Smith 

With over 1,000 lakes in Lake County alone, it’s important for boaters to follow necessary safety precautions to keep our waterways safe and enjoyable for everyone. If you’ve been injured or experienced property damage due to a boating accident, contact our personal injury attorneys for a free consultation. We can help you receive compensation to cover medical expenses and repairs.