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Understand Boating Laws & Boating Under the Influence in Florida

For many boaters throughout the country, the wrap up of summer fun means one last boating adventure before fall and winter arrive. While summer is the height of boating season in Florida as well, we’re fortunate to enjoy weather that allows boating throughout most of the year.

Northeast Florida offers miles and miles of waterways. All enjoyed by 59,256 boaters who registered their recreational vessels in Duval, Nassau, St. Johns and Clay counties according to 2017 data reported by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

In addition to recreational boaters, FWC law enforcement officers swarm these waterways. They patrol inshore and offshore areas enforcing boating and waterways laws. In 2017, FWC officers issued over 13,000 boating citations throughout Florida. Violations they find can range from inadequate safety equipment to boating under the influence.

Below, we’ll summarize Florida boating laws. However, if you’re seeking legal guidance on boating laws or a boating citation you’ve received, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Fusco Law Group at (904) 567-3113.

Boating Regulations in Florida and Potential Violation Penalties

When boating in Florida, it’s mandatory that boaters stop when requested to do so by law enforcement officers (FWC or other law enforcement departments).

When can Florida law enforcement officers stop your boat? Anytime and for any reason to check that your boat complies with boating laws and regulations.

That’s anytime unless your boat displays a safety inspection decal issued by a law enforcement officer from a previous stop. If it does, then the Florida law enforcement officer may only stop and search your vessel when they have probable cause.

Keep in mind that the Coast Guard has the legal right to stop and inspect your boat for safety equipment for almost any reason they want regardless if your boat displays a safety inspection decal.

Let’s summarize some of Florida boating laws and regulations.

Boating Under the Influence

Plain and simple: It’s a violation to operate a vessel while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

If the individual driving the boat is suspected of being under the influence, law enforcement officers can demand a sobriety test or physical or chemical test to determine blood or breath alcohol content. Alcohol levels considered under the influence are:

  • At or above .08
  • At or above .02 for an individual under 21 years of age

Vessel Registration

All motored water vessels must be registered through your local Tax Collector’s Office. All vessels must be registered and numbered within 30 days of purchase.

Registration details include:

  • Displayed letters separated from numbers by a hyphen or space equal to the letters
  • Letters & numbers must be displayed in bold block letters at least 3” high in a color contrasting the hull
  • Certificate of Registration on board and available for inspection when vessel is operated
  • Vessel registration decal must be renewed annually and displayed within 6” of registration number on the port side

Boating Accidents

In case of a boating accident with an injury, it’s the law that anyone operating the vessel does not leave the scene without giving all possible aid to the injured party and without reporting the accident to authorities.

If an accident causes at least $2,000 to the vessel and/or personal property, the operator of the vessel must quickly notify one of the following:

  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • Sheriff of the County where Accident Occurred
  • Police in the Municipality where Accident Occurred

Reckless and Careless Operation

It’s a first-degree misdemeanor to operate a vessel with willful disregard for the safety of persons or property.

It’s the responsibility of the operator to operate the vessel in a reasonable and prudent manner in regard to:

  • Other vessel traffic
  • Posted restrictions
  • Presence of divers-down flag
  • Other circumstances as not to endanger people or property

Vessel Speed Restrictions

When encountering a speed zone (posted as “Idle Speed – No Wake”) all operators must operate their vessel at the minimum speed allowed to maintain headway and steerage.

In speed zones posted as “Slow-Down – Minimum Wake,” the vessel must be operated fully off plane and completely settled in the water.

The wake off your vessel must not be excessive or create a hazard to other water traffic.

Life Jackets

It’s required that all recreational vessels carry lifejackets, known as personal floatation devices (PFDs). All PFDs must be U.S. Coast Guard approved and in good, serviceable condition.

Details of the law include:

  • At least one properly-sized PFD per person on board boat
  • Vessels 16 feet or longer must include one “throwable” Type IV PFD
  • Children under six years old must wear PFD at all times
  • All Jet Ski Operators and riders must wear PFDs

Equipment and Lighting

Safety equipment required by U.S. Coast Guards must be carried, stored and maintained on vessels operating in Florida waters.

All vessels must carry a sound-producing device. Vessels under 16 feet long must carry at least three visual distress signals.

All recreational vessels must display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise or during periods of reduced visibility.

Potential Violations of Boating Laws and Regulations

Violators of boating laws and regulations may be subject to:

  • Fines ranging from $50 to $1,000 (depending on first, second and third offenses plus severity of the offense)
  • Arrests for serious violations along with heavier fines and prison time for convictions

Florida also requires mandatory education for:

  • Two non-criminal boating safety infractions within a 12-month period
  • Non-criminal boating infraction resulting in an accident

What to Do if You’re Cited with a Boating Violati


If you’re cited for a boating violation that results in a fine, you have 30 days from the date of the citation to pay it. You can mail the payment without appearing in court.

If you plan to contest the charge, you must appear in court at the time and place recorded on your ticket.

However, if you wish to contest the ticket, be aware that you could be assessed a fine of up to $500 if you lose your case.

That’s a good reason to have an experienced attorney by your side. If you have questions regarding boating law or a citation you’ve received, contact the Fusco Law Group: (904) 567-3113 for a free consultation.