Are There Specific Boat Safety Laws in Florida?

While Florida is one of the most lightly regulated states in terms of boating laws, there are still a number of laws and requirements that operators and their passengers should be aware of. 

life jacket on boat

Foremost, there is the requirement to generally operate vessels in a “reasonable and prudent manner” and without “willful disregard for the safety of persons or property”. Failure to obey these guidelines or any Federal Navigation Rules could result in a criminal citation under Florida law. There are also specific boat safety requirements related to the proper equipment, operation, and outfitting of each vessel. 

Failure to follow Florida boat safety laws can not only result in vessel damage and criminal citations, but it could also lead to serious injuries. In fact, Florida is the state with the most boating-related fatalities in the U.S., and there were 534 reported serious injuries in 2020 alone. Any injuries or deaths that can be traced back to the negligence of a boat operator or boat owner can be grounds for a personal injury settlement. Refer to a Tampa boating accident lawyer for guidance and representation in the event you are seriously injured on a boat or by a boat operator.

Florida Requires Operators to Be Certified in Boat Safety Rules

Boating in Florida does not require a specific license, but it does require proof of certification for boat safety. Florida recommends the standard boater safety education course provided by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA). It also recognizes certificates earned under a similarly accredited program. Anyone can also obtain a temporary safety certification, which is valid for 90 days and can be used for boat rental purposes.

Certification is required for any boater born on or after 1988. Prior state rules only required education for operators under 22 years of age, but those laws were amended in 2010. 

All Vessels Must Be Registered and Have the Needed Safety Equipment

Every motor-powered vessel in Florida must be registered with the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC). Registrants must keep their registration paperwork onboard in the event of an inspection by a law enforcement officer. 

Registrants will receive a registration number for their vessel, which should be displayed in clear, uniform letters on the port (left) side of the vessel near the bow (front). 

Additionally, all vessels must have the following safety equipment available:

  • One life jacket per-occupant (includes riders of personal watercraft/PWCs)
  • Navigation lights (red/green) and night lights
  • A sound-producing device, such as a horn, whistle, or bell
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Visual Distress signal (only on marine waters)
  • Backfire flame control
  • Proper ventilation
  • Muffling device

Review Florida’s required boating equipment on the FWC website for more information.

The FWC also recommends that all vessels be equipped with a bilge pump, an anchor, and a paddle and/or trawling motor.

All Operators Must Follow Safe Navigation Rules

As mentioned above, there are generalized expectations for safe boat operation in the state of Florida. FWC, Coast Guard, and local law enforcement all have the authority to interpret boating actions and determine if the operator has engaged in the reckless operation. It is especially common for an individual to be given a citation in the aftermath of a collision, accident, injury, or another safety-related incident.

Operators should be familiar with navigational signage, symbols, and objects. One of the most important of these is a “no wake” sign or buoy. Operators in these areas should go as slowly as possible while still maintaining headway and steerageway. Speed zones posted as “Slow Down – Minimum Wake” indicate that vessels should be operating slowly enough to be completely settled in the water, with no prow lift.

Interfering with other boats’ ability to navigate or any navigation markings/signage can result in citations and criminal prosecution.

Boating Under the Influence Is a Crime

Any individual found to be operating a vessel while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol will be subject to criminal prosecution. Florida has a per-se blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of .08, and a limit of .02 for operators under age 21.

Boaters Must Protect Florida’s Manatees

Boating collisions with Florida’s indigenous manatees are a major reason for the species’ decline. 593 manatees were killed in 2020 alone, and the state attributes at least 90 of these deaths to boat strikes.

Boating operators are expected to observe caution, particularly in posted manatee protection zones. Reckless behavior or intentional harassment/mutilation of manatees can result in violations of state and federal protected species laws. Penalties for violations include fines up to $50,000 and up to one year of imprisonment. Accidental manatee strikes are forgivable, but the state implores boaters to report any incidents to the FWC so they can keep accurate records.

Of note, seagrass beds are also protected. “Boaters should make all available attempts to avoid running through seagrass beds,” according to FWC guidelines.

“Divers Down” Warning Devices

When individuals are diving, snorkeling, or otherwise submerged, they should present a “divers-down” symbol on their vessel, on a buoy, or otherwise on some form of nearby signage.

Any boat operators in the area are required to “make reasonable efforts to stay at least 300 feet away from divers-down warning devices in open water and at least 100 feet away in rivers, inlets, or navigation channels.”

Other Florida Boating Safety Laws and Regulations

You can view more information about applicable Florida and U.S. vessel operation laws on the FWC boating regulation web page.

Talk to Tampa Boating Accident Lawyers When You Are Injured

No matter how safe we try to be on the water, others can spoil the moment by being reckless and ignoring Florida boating safety rules.

Any time you are hurt by someone else’s reckless behavior, negligence, failure to provide the needed equipment, or by a defective vessel, Tampa’s boating accident lawyers at Darrigo & Diaz are available for you. Our firm has decades of experience representing injured claimants and helping them seek all available damages after their accident.

Schedule a free phone consultation with a Tampa boat injury lawyer near you today when you call (813) 774-3341 or contact us online.


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