Florida State and Federal Maritime Criminal Laws – What Boaters Need to Know

November 25th, 2020 by admin Leave a reply »

The U.S. Coast Guard, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and many Florida law enforcement agencies, such as the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Martin County Sheriff’s Office and many more law enforcement agencies enforce Florida state and federal maritime and fishing laws, including maritime criminal laws such as Boating under the Influence (BUI). Although many boaters are familiar with general boating safety laws, most are not aware of even a small percentage of state and federal maritime regulations. This article discusses just a few of the laws more commonly enforced by law enforcement.

Law Enforcement officers of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (formerly the Florida Marine Patrol), sheriff’s deputies of all Florida counties, and any other authorized law enforcement officer, has the legal authority to enforce all boating safety laws, including laws relating to personal watercraft, and has the right to inspect all boats and personal watercraft according to Florida law. It is significant to note that a law enforcement officer may stop any vessel for the purpose of checking the boats safety equipment.

Because of the complexity of state and federal maritime criminal regulations, if you are arrested or cited for violation of such laws, it is important that you contact a Florida maritime criminal defense attorney.

Florida maritime criminal laws are found in Sections 327 and 328 of the Florida Statutes.Below is a sampling of some of the laws contained in Sections 327 and 328.

Boat and Personal Watercraft Accidents and Injuries

The operator boat or personal watercraft in an accident where a passenger or other boat operator is injured (other than those that may be dealt with by basic first aid), or involving death or disappearance, or if there is damage to the vessel ($2,000 or more), under law has the duty to give notice to a local sheriff’s office or police or the FFWCC. It is illegal for any operator of a boat or other vessel to leave the scene without providing aid and for failing to report the incident.

Recklessly Operating a Boat or Personal Watercraft

It is illegal to operate a boat or personal watercraft in a reckless manner. An operator is guilty of reckless operation of a vessel if he or she operates the vessel in a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property at a speed or in a manger as to endanger, or likely to endanger other persons or to damage other’s property. Any operator who violates this law is guilty of a first degree misdemeanor and may be sentenced up to a year in jail.

Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

It is illegal in Florida to operate a boat or personal watercraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Just like a driver or a car, a boat or personal watercraft operator must submit to sobriety tests and breathalyzer (or blood or urine) exams to determine BAC (Blood Alcohol Content). Under Florida law, an operator is presumed to be impaired if the BAC is .08 or above. Note that operators may still be arrested and convicted with a BAC less than.08 if they are impaired. Florida takes a tough stance on underage boating and drinking. Any operator under 21 years who is found to have a BAC of.02 or higher while operating the vessel is guilty of a BUI. Further, enhanced jail sentences exist for BAC levels of .15 or above and for operating a boat or personal watercraft with a BAC of .07 or above with a minor (under 18) on board.

Manatee Laws

Manatees are protected by under Florida state and federal law. The penalties are significant. Under Florida law, it is unlawful to harass manatees. Meaning, you may be arrested for chasing or feeding manatees. If you are found to disrupt a manatee’s normal behavior, you may be fined up to $50,000 and/or one year in jail.

Many other state and federal maritime regulations exist, which may subject you to prosecution, from violations of the Endangered Species Act to immigration laws at sea. If you are the subject prosecution for any state or federal maritime criminal statute, it is important to you exercise your right to remain silent and speak to an attorney right away.


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