Boater Safety Law

Florida has an abundance of water – and boaters. It also has a myriad of boater safety laws in order to prevent collisions, falls, drownings and other dangers associated with waterway recreation.

Vessel Safety Requirements are codified in F.S. 327.01 - 327.804. These regulations cover everything from boating under the influence to reckless or careless operation of a vehicle to how boaters should respond in the event of a collision or accident.

The experienced boat accident lawyers at Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, know all boaters have a general responsibility to ensure their vessels are in good working order and properly equipped, as well as operate those vessels in a reasonable and prudent manner.

Florida boating laws are in place to ensure operators, passengers, nearby swimmers and animals are safe. When these regulations are flouted, serious injury and even death can occur. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission reports there were nearly 740 boating accidents in a recent year, resulting in hundreds of injuries and dozens of deaths.

While boating accidents in Florida have trended downward in recent years, there are still far too many. Reducing these tragedies means all boaters need to obey all state regulations and exercise an abundance of caution.

Florida Boating Laws

Many Florida waterways have restricted speeds to which boaters must adhere. These designations include:

  • Idle Speed, No Wake Zone: This is a designated area where vessels have to be operated at a speed no greater than that necessary to maintain headway and steerage. There should be no wake.
  • Slow Speed, Minimum Wake: Vessels have to be fully off plane and completely settled in the water. Any wake must be very small, and the bow should not be even slightly elevated.
  • Maximum 25 MPH, 30 MPH, 35 MPH: Vessel may not exceed posted speed.
  • Vessel Exclusion Area: All vessels or certain classes of vessels are barred.

In addition to speed regulations, Florida law also governs the following:

Boating Under the Influence

It’s against the law to operate a vessel in Florida while impaired by alcohol or drugs. Per F.S. 327.35, an operator is considered under the influence when his or her normal faculties are affected, as measured by a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more or other field sobriety tests indicating impairment.

An operator under 21 who is in actual physical control of the vessel is considered impaired if he or she has a blood alcohol content of 0.02 percent or higher.

Fines and penalties under this section are on par with those meted out for drinking and driving on the road, allowing for a maximum $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail for a first-time conviction. If one’s blood alcohol level is 0.15 percent or higher, or if he or she is accompanied by someone younger than 18, the penalty is upped to a $2,000 fine and up to 9 months in jail for a first-time conviction.

In the event a BUI incident results in the death of any human being, it’s considered a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. If an operator flees the scene of a boating accident without rendering aid as required, it’s a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Personal Floatation Device

The law requires any child under the age of 6 to wear a U.S.C.G. approved personal floatation device while onboard any vessel under 26 feet at all times, except when the boat is anchored, moored, made fast to the shore or aground.

It is the responsibility of the boat owner and/or operator to carry, maintain, store and use approved safety equipment.

Boater Safety Education Requirements

Florida does not require a “boating license.”

However, it does require boaters born on or after Jan. 1, 1988 to undergo an approved boater safety education course if they wish to operate a motorboat of 10 horsepower or greater.

Those who complete this course will receive a Boater Safety Education Identification Card, issued by the FWC, which they will have to keep onboard with them along with a valid photo ID. The card is valid for life and need not be renewed.

There are exemptions if the operator is licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard as a master of a vessel, is operating on a private lake or pond, is a non-resident with proof of an out-of-state equivalent boater safety course, is operating the vessel within 90 days of purchase, or is accompanied by a person who is at least 18 years old with a valid education ID card or who is exempt from needing to obtain one and who is responsible for safe operation of the vessel.

Personal Watercraft Regulations

The law requires all operators, riders or those being towed on personal watercraft to wear a non-inflatable personal floatation device. Operators must be at least 14 years old to operate such a device and 18 years old to rent one. It’s a second-degree misdemeanor for a person to knowingly allow someone younger than 14 to operate a personal watercraft.

Operators must make sure the engine cutoff switch lanyard is attached to his or her clothing or personal floatation device, so the device won’t continue to run if the driver has fallen off.

Additionally, these devices can’t be operated at night – they are prohibited from half an hour after sunset to half an hour before sunrise.

Reckless & Negligent Operation

All boat operators have a duty by law to regard the safety of all persons and property, and to operate the vehicle with prudence and in consideration of other vessels, posted restrictions, divers-down flags and other circumstances so as not to endanger personal property.

Depending on the circumstance, a violation may be either a noncriminal infraction or a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.

In the event of a collision, accident or casualty involving a vessel, the operator must without delay and by the quickest means available contact emergency responders either with a local division of law enforcement or the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

If someone is hurt or seriously killed as a result of reckless or careless boat operation, this would be grounds for a personal injury lawsuit grounded in theories of negligence. The Fort Myers boating injury attorneys at Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner are here to help.

Contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.

Call 800-646-1210 for a Free Consultation

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