The following is a summary of Florida's boating laws, found in Ch. 327 and Ch. 328, Florida Statutes. This information is included in all certified boating safety courses taught in Florida.
Note: This information is accurate as of January 2010 and is subject to change in May of each year. Please call the FWC's Boating Safety Section at 850-488-5600 for annual updates to this information or questions regarding boating safety course requirements.
Click on the links below to access a particular portion of this summary.
- 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.
- Letters must be separated from the numbers by a hyphen or space equal to letter width.
- 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.
- Also see: www.flhsmv.gov/dmv/faqboat.html
- 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
- 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.
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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.
- Frequently Asked Questions
- 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
- 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.
Boating Under the Influence
- 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
- 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.
Personal Watercraft Regulations
- 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 born on or after January 1, 1988 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.
"Updated" Boating Safety Education Requirements
- 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.
- The following operators are exempt:
- A person licensed by the U. S. Coast Guard as a master of a vessel.
- A person operating on a private lake or pond.
- An operator who is accompanied onboard by a person who is least 18 years old and possesses the required Boating Safety Education Identification Card, provided that person is attendant to and responsible for the safe operation of the vessel.
- An operator who is accompanied onboard by a person who is exempt from the educational requirements, provided that person is attendant to and responsible for the safe operation of the vessel.
- A non-resident who has in his or her possession proof that he or she has completed a NASBLA-approved boater safety course or equivalency examination from another state.
- A person who is operating a vessel within 90 days after the purchase of that vessel, provided they have available for inspection aboard that vessel, a bill of sale meeting all the requirements as established in Chapter 328.46(1), Florida Statutes.
Please read our Frequently Asked Questions.
See also Boat Safety Equipment.
- 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.
- Vessel operators must make a reasonable effort to maintain a distance of at least 300 feet from divers-down flags on open waters and at least 100 feet from flags on rivers, inlets or navigation channels. Vessels approaching divers-down flags closer than 300 feet in open water and 100 feet in rivers, inlets and navigation channels must slow to idle speed.
- When divers are out of the water, a dive flag may not be displayed.
- FWC Divers-Down Flag Safety Video
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
- 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. The information provided in the following link is for vessels less than 65.5 feet/20 meters in length: http://boat-ed.com/fl/course/p4-9_navlights.htm.
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.
Liveries (Boat/PWC rental facilities)
- 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.
Marine Sanitation Devices
- Vessels operating in Florida waters must comply with the U.S. Coast Guard requirements relating to marine sanitation devices, where applicable.
- 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
- 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.
- Manatees are protected by state and federal law.
- It is illegal to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal, including manatees.
- Anything that disrupts a manatee's normal behavior is a violation of law, punishable under federal law up to a $50,000 fine, one-year imprisonment, or both.
- Boaters must observe all manatee protection zone requirements.
- Boaters who accidentally strike a manatee are urged to report the strike to the FWC and may not be subject to prosecution, provided they were operating in accordance with any applicable vessel speed restrictions at the time of the strike.
Sea Grass Awareness
- Sea grasses are the principal food for endangered marine herbivores such as manatees and green sea turtles, act as natural filters to help purify the water, and provide a suitable environment for a wide variety of marine life.
- Boaters should make all available attempts to avoid running through sea grass beds.
- Navigation charts identify sea grass beds as light green or marked as "grs" on the chart.
- Boaters should make all possible attempts to stay within channels when unfamiliar with a waterway.
- Avoid taking shortcuts through sea grass beds to avoid causing propeller scars.
- It is a violation of Florida law to damage sea grass beds in some areas within state waters.