Boating is one of the largest recreational sports in the Florida. In a state surrounded almost entirely by warm water – not to mention the longest coastline of the lower 48 — visitors from around the world come to Florida for boating and fishing. This is especially true in the Florida Keys.
The Florida Keys are a unique part of the state. Located in the southernmost part of Florida, this "string of pearls" is composed of many small islands, each with its own eccentric style. On one side of the Keys are the Florida Straits, the tropical Caribbean area of the Atlantic Ocean, and on the other, the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s truly a boater’s paradise.
However, before you decide to sail off on a Florida boating adventure, you should recognize that Florida strictly enforces boating laws. These five tips can help you avoid any nasty surprises.
1. Reckless and Careless Operation.
Under Florida boating laws (see: http://myfwc.com/boating/regulations/), anyone who is operating a vessel in state waters (inland or offshore) can be held accountable for reckless or careless operation of the vehicle.
Failing to acknowledge "diver down" flags is one aspect of reckless contact that out-of-state boaters may commit without even being aware of it, not recognizing the flags for what they are. Boaters are to maintain at least 300 feet from divers-down flags on open waters and at least 100 feet from flags on rivers, inlets or navigation channels. When you must approach any more closely, the boat must be at idle speed.
Speeding in no wake zones is another, and violation of this regulation could get you a souvenir to remember your vacation by–a Florida speeding ticket. In fact, any reckless act that disregards the safety or property of other boaters could land you in hot water. And if you violate any Federal Navigational Rules, be advised–you've also broken Florida law.
2. Boating Under the Influence.
It is against the law to operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or other substances that might cause intoxication. Violators of this law will be charged with a DUI that holds the same punishments as if they were operating a vehicle on the roadways.
3. Fishing Requires Licensing.
If you are going to fish when you are on your boat, you need to have a salt water fishing license (see: http://myfwc.com/license/recreational/saltwater-fishing/) Single-day licenses can be purchased at local bait shops or from a boating store. Florida does not allow net fishing, and strictly enforces size and quantity limits.
4. Safety Requirements.
All boaters are encouraged to review Florida safety requirements for boats. These included the number of flotation devices that need to be on board at all times, the availability of a throw-over flotation device, lighting regulations, and fire extinguisher requirements. If you're boarded by the Coast Guard and your vessel is not in ship-shape condition regarding these regulations, you can be ticketed for non-compliance.
5. Coast Guard Boarding.
Due to the close proximity of Florida to other countries, the Coast Guard patrols this area with diligence. It is not uncommon for the Coast Guard to request to board vessels in the area. The boarding party will check for safety issues and ensure that your boat is seaworthy. If they suspect intoxication, they may ask you to take a breathalyzer test. They will also look around in a general manner for signs of drug paraphernalia, smuggling and possible illegal passengers.
Most people will not have to worry about any of these issues because they will arrive at the Florida Keys prepared. However, if you are stopped by the Coast Guard or ticketed by Florida police or arrested, you do have rights. Contact a local attorney and have the case evaluated to see what your next steps should be in fighting the charges.
Freelance writer Richard Freeland loves the water and sailing on his home waters Georgia's Lake Lanier, and is looking forward to one day sailing the waters of the Keys. Florida takes their traffic regulations seriously, even on the water. Enjoy your sailing trip and obey all laws, but if a Florida boating ticket should ruin your day, make sure you know what to do to protect your rights.
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