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Florida Boating Laws

Ahoy, matey! Florida has some of the finest waterways in the land. Whether you are going fishing or cruising along the St. Johns River with your friends, Florida is considered the boating capital of the United States with miles and miles of navigable waterways for you to explore. But when exploring these great bodies of water, Floridians must keep regulations in mind. Florida boating laws regulate a number of activities that deal with being on the water, including four keys areas: buying, registering, operating, and boating under the influence (BUI).

Vessel Titling and Registration

If you buy a boat and intend to operate it, you’ll have to meet both registration and titling requirements. In Florida, vessel registration is a system of record-keeping and identification for vessels that operate on the state’s waterways and is meant to protect vessel owners against theft and against irresponsible actions by other vessel operators. Titling is a computerized record-keeping system that provides ownership protection to vessel owners, going beyond the vessel registration system. You will find more information about both requirements in the box below.

Boating License Requirement

In addition to registering your seaworthy vessel, you’ll also need to have a license to operate it. Anyone born after January 1, 1988 who wants to operate a boat (including personal watercraft) with 10 horsepower or greater will have to get a Boating Safety Education ID Card. In order to get one, you’ll have to pass an approved safety course.

Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

Just as you wouldn’t drive under the influence on a public highway, you are also prohibited from operating a boat when you’ve had too much to drink or taken illegal substances. In Florida, you can be in violation of the law if you operate your fishing boat, sailboat, yacht, personal watercraft, and your blood alcohol level is 0.08 percent or higher.

Florida Boating Laws: The Basics

Specific details about Florida boating laws, including relevant statutes, registration requirements and more are listed in the following table.


Registration Facts

  • Boat owners must apply for vessel registration and title certificates with the county tax collector’s office in the county where the vessel is located or in the county where the vessel owner resides within 30 days of purchase
  • The Certificate of Registration must be on board and available for inspection by an enforcement officer whenever the vessel is operated
  • Registration numbers must be displayed on the forward half of the vessel on both sides above the waterline and must be bold block letters at least 3" high in a color contrasting to the hull.

Buying a Boat

  • All boats sold, delivered, used, or stored in Florida are subject to Florida’s sales and use tax, plus any applicable discretionary sales surtax, unless exempt. Florida boat dealers and brokers are required to collect tax from the purchaser at the time of sale or delivery.

Regulatory/Enforcement Agency

Vessels Exempt from Registration or Title

  • Non-motor powered vessel less than 16 feet in length
  • Any non-powered canoe, kayak, racing shell, orrowing scull, regardless of length:
  • Vessels used exclusively on private lakes and ponds;
  • Vessels owned by the U.S. Government;
  • Vessels used exclusively as a ship’s lifeboat;
  • Vessels covered by numbers in full force and effect which have been awarded pursuant to federal law or a federally approved numbering system provided that such vessels are not operated in state waters in excess of 90 consecutive days

BUI Penalties

  • First offense: Misdemeanor, $1000 fine, up to six months in jail, probation up to one year, drug evaluation and any treatment recommended, 50 hours of community service, and the vessel impounded for 10 days
  • Second offense: Misdemeanor, $2,000 fine, up to nine months in jail. If the second conviction occurs within five years after the date of 1st conviction, mandatory jail term of 10 days. As a condition of probation, 30-day vessel impoundment or immobilization of any one vehicle registered in the defendant’s name for a period of 30 days

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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Find Out More about Florida Boating Laws

Applying for a boating license and understanding the rules of the waterways can be confusing. You may have additional questions about operating your seaworthy vessel or how to respond to an alleged boating violation. You will want to consult with a Florida boating attorney in your area to get your specific questions answered today.

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