Florida Go Fishing man holding snook fish

Florida Boating Regulations

Whether you are a local or visiting Florida waters, always research local fishing & boating rules, regulations, and event rules for the area you will be fishing beforehand.

Atlantic & Keys - State waters extend to 3 nautical miles - Federal rules apply beyond the 3 mile mark & extend to 200 miles

Gulf of Mexico - State waters extend to 9 nautical miles - Federal rules apply beyond the 9 mile mark & extend to 200 miles

If you plan on fishing offshore in Federal waters review Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council's Regulations and/or South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's Regulations. Florida follows most of the federal rules but only you can be certain of them by doing your research before hand since rules are constantly changing.

If you are ever need emergency assistance, turn to Channel 16 on your marine VHF radio.

Florida Fish and WildlifeFWC Boating and Angling Guide image

FWC is an excellent resource for fishing and boating regulations. On Florida Go Fishing we do not get too involved in reciting the rules & regulations because they are continually changing. Visit FWC's Boating Regulations page for in depth details. Also visit FWC's Boating Safety & Education page for information on safety requirements for your boat or PWC.

FWC also offers FREE Boating and Angling Guides for regions around Florida. These guides are large charts. Each chart has details from Waypoints to closed areas. Order yours today!

Florida Boaters Guide

Florida Boaters Guide imageThe Florida Boaters Guide is a good starting point to understanding the rules of the road for our waterways.

This guide is dated 1998 and is free. The current version is no longer free and can be purchased online.

This excellent guide gives you invaluable tips for navigating our waterways but please double check any rules cited in the publication as it is out of date.


Special Fishing Rules for Vessels

Tarpon at side of the boat
Photo Courtesy of Shallow Water Charters
Cudjoe Key, www.captaindalebishop.com

Fishing in Florida can be a very rewarding experience. Locals know the rules well and follow them because law enforcement is very strict and always watching you. See our Fishing Regulations page for more details. Here are a few important rules to know when fishing on your boat.

  • Each person on board a vessel who is fishing must have a fishing license unless they are on a fishing charter or Exempt.
  • Your catch must remain in whole condition until landed ashore (heads, fins & tails intact). Please refer to the Florida Saltwater Regulations Species guide for the specifics on each species.
  • Always know what your fish is and the rules that apply to it before keeping it. You should also refer to the list of Prohibited Species before fishing.
  • Do NOT bring Tarpon or Goliath grouper on board your boat. New state and federal guidelines PROHIBIT this activity. Release them while still in the water.
  • All vessels fishing in federal waters (nine miles) must have aboard venting and dehooking tools and non-stainless steel circle hooks when using natural baits for the purpose of reducing mortality in reef fishes, including snapper, grouper and Goliath grouper.

Dive Down Flags

Divers, snorkelers, and spear fisherman are required to prominently display dive down flags in Florida waters. Visit our Fish Regulations page for more details on this mandatory requirement.

Special Marine Zones

FKNMS diver on reef
Source: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/zones/ special/welcome.html

There are Special Marine Zones around Florida governed by many federal and state agencies.

Many zones have No Entry restrictions, enter by permission only, no anchoring, seasonal fishing closures, etc.

Before you travel offshore it is advised to review our Reefs & Shipwrecks page for detailed information on Special Marine Zones and our Offshore Fishing page for other area information.




Vessel Safety Check (VSC) Program

A Vessel Safety Check (VSC) is a FREE check to boaters who wish to be sure that their vessel meets all federal and state equipment requirements. For more information click here. Click Here For The USCG Free Vessel Safety Check

Vessel Regulations

Florida has the highest per capital number of recreational boats registered in the United States. As such, they have rules and regulations to keep everyone safe. The following information on regulations is brief and presented here to encourage you to research further.

It is illegal:

  • To operate any vessel in such a way that it will interfere unnecessarily with the safe navigation of other vessels on the waterway.
  • Anchor a vessel in the traveled portion of a river or channel that will prevent or interfere with any other vessel passing through the same area.
  • Moor or attach a vessel to a buoy (other than a mooring buoy), beacon, light, or any other navigational aid placed on public waters by proper authorities.
  • Move, displace, tamper with, damage, or destroy any navigational aid. Obstruct a pier, wharf, boat ramp, or access to any facility.
  • It is illegal for passengers to ride on the bow, gunwale, transom, seat backs, seats on raised decks, or any other place where there may be a chance of falling overboard.
  • To operate at a rate of speed that endangers the life or property of any person and to operate at greater than "idle speed, no wake" in a posted "no wake" zone. The operator is responsible for his or her vessel's wake and any damage or personal injury it may cause.
MyFWC.com Boating Regulations Topics
  • Vessel Registration
  • Accidents
  • Reckless, Careless Operation
  • Mandatory Violator Education
  • Airboats
  • Vessel Speed Restrictions
  • Boating Under the Influence
  • Water Ski Regulations
  • Personal Watercraft
  • Mooring to Markers or Buoys
  • Boating Safety Education
  • Divers-down Flag
  • Interference with Navigation
  • Equipment & Lighting
  • Max Loading, Horsepower
  • Liveries (Rentals)
  • Marine Sanitation
  • Muffling Devices
  • Law Enforcement Authority
  • Manatee Awareness
  • Sea Grass Awareness
The following rules are abbreviated, for more detailed information on each subject, refer to FWC's Regulations page.

Registration?All vessels, with the exception of non-motor-powered vessels less than 16 feet in length, non-motor-powered canoes, kayaks, racing shells, or rowing sculls, regardless of length, must be registered. The Certificate of Registration must be on board and available for inspection by an enforcement officer whenever the vessel if operated. Registration numbers must be displayed on the forward half of the vessel on both sides above the waterline. The vessel registration decal must be renewed annually and is to be displayed within 6 inches of, either before or after, the registration numbers on the port (left) side.

Identification?You are required to carry proper identification while boating, such as your drivers license.

Florida Boating Safety ID Card?Florida law requires that persons born on or after January 1, 1988 complete a NASBLA-approved boater education course prior to operating a vessel powered by a motor of 10 horsepower or more. You can take the course online at your own pace, visit FWC's Boating Courses page.

Safety Equipment?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). Safety equipment varies by boat type and length, so always check what is required for YOUR boat.

  • All vessels are required to have onboard a wearable USCG-approved personal flotation device (PFD) for each person.
  • 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.
  • All vessels are required to carry an efficient manual sound-producing device, such as a referee's whistle, manual can horn, or bell.
  • All vessels, including PWCs, are required to have a Type B fire extinguisher(s) on board if one or more of the following conditions exist: Closed compartments under seats where portable fuel tanks may be stored, Closed storage compartments in which flammable or combustible materials may be stored, Closed living spaces, or Permanently installed fuel tanks. The rules for fire extinguishers vary by boat size, so check what is required for your boat here.
  • Vessels on federally controlled waters must be equipped with U.S. Coast Guard-approved visual distress signals (flares). All vessels, regardless of length or type, are required to carry night signals when operating between sunset and sunrise. Most vessels must carry day signals also; exceptions to the requirement for day signals are: Recreational vessels that are less than 16 feet in length, Non-motorized open sailboats that are less than 26 feet in length, or Manually propelled vessels. For more information on what is required on your boat click here.
  • Marine radios and cell phones should always be onboard incase of emergencies.
  • It is recommended to have a First Aid kit on board along with extra drinking water. Tool kits and spare parts such as navigation light bulbs are also recommended.

Navigation Lights? Both federal and state law requires vessels 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. The information provided in the following link is for vessels less than 65.5 feet/20 meters in length.

Personal Water Craft? A person must be at least 14 years of age to operate a personal watercraft in Florida. Each person operating, riding on, or being towed behind a personal watercraft must wear an approved non-inflatable Type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device (PFD). Inflatable PFDs are prohibited for personal watercraft use. The operator of a personal watercraft must attach the engine cutoff switch lanyard (if equipped by the manufacturer) to his/her person, clothing or PFD. Personal watercraft may not be operated from 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 hour before sunrise, even if navigation lights are used.

Markers?Except in the event of an emergency, it is unlawful to moor or fasten to any lawfully placed navigation aid or regulatory maker.

Diver Flags?When diving from a vessel, a divers-down flags must be displayed above the vessel's highest point so that the flag's visibility is not obstructed in any direction. When divers are out of the water, a dive flag may not be displayed. Divers must make reasonable efforts to stay within 300 feet of a divers-down flag on open waters (all waterways other than rivers, inlets, or navigation channels) and within 100 feet of a flag within rivers, inlets, or navigation channels. Vessel operators must make a reasonable effort to maintain a distance of at least 300 feet from divers-down flags on open waters and at least 100 feet from flags on rivers, inlets or navigation channels. Vessels approaching divers-down flags closer than 300 feet in open water and 100 feet in rivers, inlets and navigation channels must slow to idle speed.

Trailers? Florida law requires boat trailers to have proper lighting including turn signals, tail lights, and brake lights. Trailers must be equipped with safety chains and tie-down straps. Trailers weighing more than 3,000 lbs. must be equipped with brakes that act on all wheels. Trailers weighing less than 2,000 lbs. must be registered with the county tax collector. Trailers weighing 2,000 lbs. or more must be registered and titled.

Questions & Answers graphicQuestions & Answers

Q: We often bring our vessel into Florida water. Is it required to register it in Florida?

A: Florida recognizes valid registration certificates and numbers issued to visiting vessel owners by other states for a period of 90 days.

Q: How old do my children have to be before I can allow them to drive our wave runners?

A: No one under the age of 14 may operate a Personal Watercraft. Any one who knowingly allows someone under the age of 14 to operate a Personal Watercraft is guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor.

Q: Is there any certain time that I can not operate a Personal Watercraft?

A: You may not operate a Personal Watercraft from 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 hour before sunrise.

Q: Does my child need to wear a personal floatation device?

A: Florida law requires every child under the age of six to wear a PFD (Personal Floatation Device) while aboard any vessel less than 26' when it is underway.

Q: How do I know if my child needs to take a boating course or take a safety exam?

A: Effective 10/1/96, Florida Law requires persons born after 9/30/88 to complete a NASBLA boaters education course or competency exam prior to operating a vessel powered by a motor of 10 horsepower or more. The law requires persons affected by this legislation have in their possession a boater safety I.D. card issued by the Department of Environmental Protection and photo I.D. while operating a vessel.

Q: If my vessel is Documented through the United States Coast Guard does that mean I still need to register it in Florida?

A: Yes, the documentation papers on a vessel only take the place of the title not the registration. A Florida registration number will not be issued, but a decal and registration will be issued.

For more information visit FWC's Boating Safety Education FAQs & Federal Requirements and Safety Tips for Recreational Boats

This information is provided only as a courtesy and there are NO guaranties, warranties, express or implied, or representations as to the accuracy of this content. Florida Go Fishing assumes NO liability or responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information contained here. If you find an error or omission in the data, please feel free to contact us with the correct information and we will verify and correct it as soon as possible.