It’s that time again for sun and surf – and safety. HCSO's Marine Unit will be patrolling the waters of Hillsborough County to keep boaters safe. The Marine Unit, part of the Homeland Security Division, will be enforcing Florida boating laws, monitoring slow and no-wake zones, looking for boaters under the influence of alcohol, patrolling restricted areas and performing boating safety checks.
Florida boaters are required by law to adhere to the following 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 under way. "Under way" 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.
Boaters who do not have the required equipment may receive a civil citation. Citations range in cost from $53 for a non-moving violation to $90 for a moving violation.
Open containers are allowed on boats; however, state law sets limits on the blood-alcohol content and impairment of the operator/driver of the boat. In Florida, a vessel operator is presumed to be under the influence if their blood or breath-alcohol level is at or above .08. 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.
If boaters have any questions regarding boating safety or boating laws, they can contact the Sheriff's Office to have them answered. Also, detailed information is available on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's website: http://www.myfwc.com/RULESANDREGS/Rules_Boat.htm