Florida’s Vessel Safety Law, which can be found in Chapter 327, Florida Statutes, provides several important reminders for us as a boating community:
- “Personal watercrafts” are defined as marine vessels less than 16 feet in length using an inboard motor, which includes jet skis.
- Each person operating, riding on, or being towed behind a personal watercraft must wear an US Coast Guard approved non-inflatable personal flotation device (PFD), commonly known as a life preserver.
- When underway in a vessel less than 26 feet in length, all children under the age of 6 years old must wear a US Coast Guard approved PFD.
- Personal watercraft may not be operated, nor can a vessel pull a skier or riders on a tube, 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.
- A person must be at least 14 years of age to operate a personal watercraft in Florida. It is a second-degree misdemeanor to knowingly allow a child less than 14 years of age to operate a personal watercraft.
- The operator of a vessel pulling a skier or riders on a tube must either have an observer onboard, in addition to the operator, who is attendant to the actions of the skier, or have and use a wide-angle rear-view mirror.
- Statistics maintained by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission reflect that the overwhelming cause of accidents involving personal water craft are due to collisions with other vessels. 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 moment to avoid a collision is classified as reckless operation of a vessel, punishable as a first-degree misdemeanor.
- It is a violation of Florida law to operate a vessel while impaired by alcohol or a controlled substance. For the first offense, a person found guilty of operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance is subject to a criminal fine not to exceed $1,000.00 and no more than a 6-month imprisonment. The penalty increases for subsequent offenses. A vessel operator is presumed to be under the influence if his or her blood or breath alcohol level is at or above 0.08.