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.
Who needs to take a Florida Boater Safety Course?
In Florida, 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 boater safety 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.
- A person operating a vessel within 90 days after completing an approved boating safety course, as required in Chapter 327.395(1), and has a photographic I.D. and a boater education course completion certificate showing proof of having completed the required boating safety education course. The course completion certificate must provide the student’s first and last name, date of birth, and the date the course was successfully completed. (Effective Oct. 1, 2011.)
What are the Boating Age Requirements?
- A person is exempt from this law if there is a person on board who is not affected by this law or is at least 18 years of age and holds a boater education identification card and is attendant to the safe operation of the vessel.
- Minors may become certified as there is no minimum certification age.
- No one under the age of 14 years old may operate a PWC.
- Boaters in Florida can operate a vessel on Florida waters without restrictions if they are older than 21 years of age.
What are the Personal Watercraft Laws & Regulations ?
Do not underestimate Personal Watercrafts (PWC)—they are very powerful for their small size and demand the same respect as any boat. In fact, PWC operation must adhere to the same rules and regulations as any other powerboat, including registration with the state and a B-1 class fire extinguisher aboard.
Personal Watercraft (PWC) Age Requirements:
All PWC operators must be at least 14 years of age. It is unlawful for a person to knowingly allow a person less than 14 years of age to operate a PWC (a second-degree misdemeanor).
- Each person operating, riding on, or being towed behind a personal watercraft must wear an approved non-inflatable wearable 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.
PWC’s have some additional requirements:
- Each person operating, riding on, or being towed behind a PWC must wear an approved non-inflatable Type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device (PFD). Inflatable personal flotation devices cannot be used for PWC operation.
- When towing skiers or someone riding a tube, etc, it is mandatory that an observer other than the operator be aboard the PWC or that a wide angle mirror is mounted on the PWC.
- In the state of Florida, all PWC operators are required to attach the engine cut off switch lanyard (if equipped by the manufacturer) to his/her person, clothing, or PFD.
- Maneuvering a PWC 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 are classified as reckless operation of a vessel (a first-degree misdemeanor).
- Operators should be aware of local ordinances; i.e., some zones on the waterways restrict PWC operation.
What are the Hours of Operation for Personal Watercraft (PWC)
Personal watercraft (PWC) cannot be operated from ½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise in Florida, even if navigation lights are used.
Remember, both federal and state law requires the use of navigation lights from sunset to sunrise. All those renting a PWC are required to be at least 18 years of age.
What are the Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs aka Life Jackets) requirements?
- The State of Florida requires one wearable Type I, II, III, or V PFD for each person aboard any vessel.
- Ensure PFDs are readily accessible.
- At least one Type IV (throwable device) PFD must be kept on board any vessel 16 feet or longer.
- Someone being towed behind a vessel must wear a PFD.
- All PWC occupants must be wearing their PFD while underway (not anchored or moored).
Children and Life Jacket Rules:
In Florida, all boaters or passengers under 6 years of age onboard any vessel less than 26 feet in length must be wearing a U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, or III PFD while the vessel is underway in state waters. “Underway” is defined as anytime except when the vessel is anchored, moored, made fast to the shore, or aground.
Florida law requires the owner and/or operator of a vessel is responsible to carry, store, maintain, and use the safety equipment required by the federal safety equipment requirements adopted by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Alcohol & Boating Under the Influence (BUI)
In Florida, it is against the 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.
A vessel operator with a blood- or breath-alcohol level at or above .08% is presumed to be under the influence.
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.
Florida Boat Registration Requirements:
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is responsible for regulating the state boating laws in Florida.
All boats propelled by machinery, including gasoline, diesel and electric motors, and principally operated on Florida waters must be registered and issued a Florida Certificate of Number (Registration) by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Vessels currently registered in another state and not kept in Florida for more than 90 consecutive days are not required to be registered in Florida.
Florida Vessel Registration Regulations
- 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 is 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.
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. (“Attend” means you must attend a classroom course or take the course on-line.)
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. Correspondence courses do not meet this requirement.
A violator’s privilege to operate a vessel in Florida is suspended until proof of course completion is filed with the FWC.
Boating Accidents reporting requirements
- 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 outside of the vessel 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.
Florida Airboat Regulations
- 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 the water.
- The vessel’s wake must not be excessive nor create a hazard to other vessels.
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 wearable personal flotation device (PFD). Inflatable PFDs 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.
Mooring to Markers or Bouys
Except in the event of an emergency, it is unlawful to moor or fasten to any lawfully placed navigation aid or regulatory maker.
Divers-down Warning Devices rules
The following regulations apply whenever someone is wholly or partially submerged and is using a face mask and snorkel or underwater breathing apparatus. A divers-down warning device may be a divers-down flag, buoy, or other similar warning device. These devices are designed for, and used by, divers and dive vessels as a way to notify nearby boaters that divers are in the water in the immediate area. The device must be displayed prominently when in use. The divers-down warning device must meet the following requirements.
- The divers-down warning device must contain a divers-down symbol. The symbol is a red rectangle or square with a white diagonal stripe. If the symbol is a rectangle, the length may not be less than the height or more than 25% longer than the height. The width of the stripe must be 25% of the height of the symbol. If multiple stripes are displayed, all of the stripes must be oriented in the same direction.
- The size of the divers-down symbol depends on whether the divers-down warning device is displayed from the water or from a vessel. On the water, the divers-down symbol must be at least 12 x 12 inches in size. On a vessel, the symbol must be at least 20 x 24 inches in size.
- When displayed on a boat, the divers-down warning device also must be displayed at the highest point of the vessel so that its visibility is not obstructed in any direction.
- If the divers-down warning device is a flag, the divers-down symbol must be on each face and have a wire stiffener or be otherwise constructed to ensure it remains fully unfurled and extended, even when there is no wind or breeze.
- If the divers-down symbol is a buoy, the buoy must have three or four sides with the divers-down symbol displayed on each of the flat sides. The buoy must be prominently visible on the water’s surface and can’t displayed on the vessel.
- Boaters must 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. Boaters approaching divers-down warning devices closer than 300 feet in open water and 100 feet in rivers, inlets, or navigation channels must slow down to idle speed.
- Divers-must make a reasonable effort to stay within 100 feet of a divers-down flag or a buoy within rivers, inlets, or navigation channels and within 300 feet on open water.
- A divers-down warning device may not be displayed when divers are out of the water.
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
What are the 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 underway. “Underway” 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.
Maximum Horsepower and Loading
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/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, sheriffs’ deputies of the various counties, municipal police officers, and all other law enforcement officers, as defined in section 943.10, Florida Statutes, have the authority to order the removal or relocation of vessels deemed to be an interference with navigation or a hazard to public safety; to enforce all boating safety laws; and to conduct vessel inspections in accordance with state law.
- A law enforcement officer may stop any vessel to check for compliance with boating safety equipment and registration requirements and to conduct resource inspections in accordance with state law.
- 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.
- Seagrasses 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 seagrass beds.
- Navigation charts identify seagrass 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 seagrass beds to avoid causing propeller scars.
- It is a violation of Florida law to damage seagrass beds in some areas within state waters.
Note: This information is accurate as of February 2022 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.