Florida Boater Safety Requirements, Laws and Regulations
“Everything that happens on the street, happens out here,” Florida Fish and Wildlife captain Joe Brooks told the Lakeland Ledger in their article, “Boat better, boat safer, area law enforcement says.” It’s easy to get out on the water and forget about important, and possibly life-saving safety measures for boating. In reality, boating or jet skiing is not so different from driving on the highway. And neither are the risks. According to statistics from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida led the country in boating fatalities in 2018. With over 500 lakes in Polk County, boating and personal watercraft injuries and deaths are no stranger to us. Winter Haven alone has over 50 lakes. Just like people who use the public roadways, people who use the water for reactional boating and jet skiing must obey the boating laws for safety on the water. Yet many are still unaware of regulations that could protect us from these accidents. Every summer we hear and read about a tragic death or serious injury that occurs in a water accident. The Chain of Lakes, which is a collection of lakes connected by canals with over 115-boat ramps throughout the community of Winter Haven, offers an abundance of boating activity where accidents happen each year. These freshwater lakes provide the perfect place for fishing, water skiing, tubing, pontoon boating, sight-seeing, and kayaking. People who use our lakes should know the boating safety requirements, laws and regulations. See visitcentralflorida.org for more detail on the various types and places for water recreational activities in Central Florida.
While all these activities are fun, safety must always be kept first in mind. For a boater there are rules requiring what must be kept onboard the boat like the number of lifejackets per person, a horn and a fire-extinguisher. Then there are the requirements, rules and laws dealing with day and night operation, including navigation, speed, distance from others, and night running lights. Over time these laws have been put in place to protect the public because of the overwhelming number of people seriously hurt and injured in boating accidents.
Florida safety regulations by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission state that, “Anyone born on or after January 1, 1988, 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.” This boater safety course discusses who can drive a boat, under what conditions.
For Example, while commonplace, it is still illegal to drink and drive on the water just like on the road: “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.”
Additionally, “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 to other vessel traffic, posted restrictions, the presence of a divers-down flag, and other circumstances so as not to endanger people outside of the vessel or property. Failure to do so is considered careless operation (a non-criminal infraction).”
Proper regard for safety includes having all necessary safety measures aboard your boat whenever you set sail. Specifically, having an adequate number of life jackets (the number of passengers aboard the vessel plus one extra) is an important safety parameter for boaters to follow, especially as most injuries and deaths on the water are the result of passengers falling overboard. For more specifics on Florida boating regulations visit: myfwc.com/boating regulations. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has done an excellent job providing a summary of important provisions of Chapter 327 and Chapter 328 Florida Statutes which provide Florida’s state law on boating. You can access the specific law in the Florida Statutes that pertains to your circumstances by visiting: leg.state.fl.us or please know we at Moody Law will be happy to advise you and find the specific law or regulation that pertains to your circumstances if you or a family member have been injured in a boating or water accident.
For example, Section 327.33 Florida Statute, provides (1) It is unlawful to operate a vessel in a reckless manner. A person is guilty of reckless operation of a vessel who operates any vessel, or manipulates any water skis, aquaplane or similar device, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property at a speed or in a manner as to endanger, or likely to endanger, life or limb, or damage the property of, or injure any person. Reckless operation of a vessel includes, but is not limited to, a violation of s. 327.331(6). Any person who violates a provision of this subsection commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
(2) Any person operating a vessel upon the waters of this state shall operate the vessel in a reasonable and prudent manner, having regard for other waterborne traffic, posted speed and wake restrictions, and all other attendant circumstances so as not to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person. The failure to operate a vessel in a manner described in this subsection constitutes careless operation. However, vessel wake and shoreline wash resulting from the reasonable and prudent operation of a vessel shall, absent negligence, not constitute damage or endangerment to property. Any person who violates the provisions of this subsection commits a noncriminal violation as defined in s. 775.08.
(3) Each person operating a vessel upon the waters of this state shall comply with the navigation rules.
(a) A person who violates the navigation rules and the violation results in a boating accident causing serious bodily injury as defined in s. 327.353 or death, but the violation does not constitute reckless operation of a vessel, commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
(b) A person who violates the navigation rules and the violation does not constitute reckless operation of a vessel commits a noncriminal violation as defined in s. 775.08, punishable as provided in s. 327.73.
(c) Law enforcement vessels may deviate from the navigational rules when such diversion is necessary to the performance of their duties and when such deviation may be safely accomplished.
(4) Unless otherwise provided in this chapter, the ascertainment of fault in vessel operations and boating accidents shall be determined according to the navigation rules.
In addition, pursuant to Section 327.30(1) Florida Statutes, “It is the duty of the operator of a vessel involved in a collision, accident or other casualty, so far as he or she can do so with serious danger to the operator’s own vessel, crew, and passengers, if any, to render to other persons affected by the collision, accident, or other casualty such assistance as is practicable and necessary in order to save them from or minimize any danger caused by the collision, accident, or other casualty…. And in Section 327.30(2) … the operator shall without delay, by the quickest means available give notice of the accident to one of the following agencies: the Division of Law Enforcement of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; the sheriff of the county within which the accident occurred; or the police chief of the municipality within which the accident occurred, if applicable.” Chapters 327 & 328 in the Florida Statutes cover a broad topic water related activities, including general vessel or boating operation, water skiing, parasails, aquaplanes, kiteboarding, kitesurfing, moored ballooning, boating safety regulation, waterway markers, water safety zones, navigation markers, regattas, races, marine parades, tournaments, maximum loading and horsepower of boats on the waterway.
So, if you or a loved one are involved in an accident and injury due to negligent boating, the lawyers at Moody will be honored to investigate our claim by providing a free initial consultation. We charge no fee or cost unless we win your case for you. If a fellow boater is in violation of a Florida law or regulation under Chapters 327 or 328 Florida Statutes, or FFWCC, this may be a per se negligence case and the violator should be liable to compensate you for your injuries or damages. Here’s how: First, notify law enforcement and then contact Moody Law. A lawyer should be present with you if you plan to give statement to authorities, including your insurance company about the events of the accident. Our investigative response team is available to take witness statements, document the scene and advise of appropriate action on your behalf to help and protect you. Law enforcement should be able to get the other person’s registration information. However, if no law enforcement appears, remember everyone is required by law to have on their boat or jet ski, a marking of registration when he or she hits the waters. You should note this registration, if able. You may also find it helpful to have a dashcam for your boat as well as your car to back you up in case of an accident. For more information, visit our blog about how dashcams can protect you in an accident here. Next, an investigation into the accident will need to be conducted by law enforcement and our legal team. Lastly, remember our team can negotiate fair compensation for you after gathering all the information. Some examples were you should clearly be able to prove negligence is when the other driver appears to be; clearly intoxicated by some substance, breaking the waterway speed limit, driving an overcrowded vessel, or if they have hit another boat, its passengers or persons in the water.