Florida Jet Ski Laws: A Simple Cheat Sheet With All You Need to Know

Jet skiing in the summertime is a great way to have fun with family and friends. in order to have a great time, you will need to know the laws for riding a jet ski according to the state you reside in. Rules and regulations can vary from state to state and it is a need-to-know in order to be able to enjoy your time on the water safely.

Within the state of Florida, any jet ski or PWC operator must be at least 14 years of age. In order to rent a PWC, you will need to be 18 years of age. If you are 21 years old or younger you will need to have a boating safety education ID card to be able to operate any vessel or PWC with a horsepower higher than 10hp.

It is important to be aware of the following regulations and laws for riding a jet ski on the water within the state of Florida. By doing so you are responsibly following the law and that will guarantee you have an adventurous and stress-free time on your jet ski with family and friends.

Registering Your PWC

Florida Registration Fees

Class A-1Less than 12 feet$5.50$2.95$4.13
Class A-212 to less than 26 feet$16.25$11.00$7.63
Class 116 to less than 26 feet$28.75$20.40$11.63
Class 226 to less than 40 feet$78.25$57.50$27.63
Class 340 to less than 65 feet$127.75$94.95$43.63
Class 465 to less than 110 feet$152.75$113.40$51.63
Class 5110 or more in length$189.75$141.15$63.63
Dealer Registration$25.50$10.63

Numbers and Stickers

Once you receive your registration number and the validation stickers you must display these items in the following ways:

  • Each number has to be painted, applied onto your vessel as a decal, or place to be shown on both sides of the bow.
  • The numbers must be read from left to right on both sides.
  • Each number must be in block letters and three-inches high.
  • The color of your numbers must also be in contrast with the background of your vessel.
  • The letters have to be separated from the numbers with space or a hyphen.
  • There cannot be any other numbers shown on the bow of your vessel.

Hull Identification Number

A Hull Identification Number (HIN) is a 12-digit number that is assigned by the manufacturer to vessels built after 1972. They help be able to determine the difference between multiple vessels.

In case your vessel is stolen you should write down your HIN number and put it somewhere safe.

The Basics

Towing a Person with a Vessel Legally

Anyone operating a vessel or PWC that happens to be towing someone behind them must adhere to the following rules and regulations created to keep both the operator and passenger as well as the person being towed safely.

Anyone being towed behind a PWC must wear a personal flotation device that is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

  • Inflatable personal flotation devices are not approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and cannot be used while being towed behind a PWC.

It is illegal for operators of vessels or PWCS to tow skiers, ski board, or any other devices between the hours of sunset and sunrise.

Waterskis and other devices similar to that cannot be used in such a way that it may cause harm to the person being towed or anyone else around them.

Every PWC or vessel that is towing someone must have a person on board besides the operator. This is simply so the other person can observe the person being towed and keep them safe.

An operator must use a ski flag in the following ways:

  • When a skier is down in the water
  • Someone preparing to ski on the water
  • A ski rope is extended from the PWC
  • There is a ski that is in the water and near a vessel or a PWC

Specific Requirements to PWCs

  • Each person riding on a PWC must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device.
  • It is illegal to harass, chase, or disturb the wildlife with your PWC or vessels.
  • You must only carry the number of people that are rated on the PWC>
  • You cannot operate a PWC within 500 feet of a designated swimming area.
  • Reckless operation of a PWC is not permitted. Examples of reckless operation are:
    • Jumping a wake too close to other vessels
    • Last minute avoidance of collision
    • Weaving carelessly through traffic
    • Carrying more people than recommended on your PWC
    • If you maneuver your PWC in a way that it can cause unreasonable harm to you or your passengers
  • It is illegal to operate a personal watercraft vehicle between the hours of sunset and sunrise especially when your vision is a bit restricted.
  • You cannot remove any backfire flame arrestor or ventilator if it installed by your manufacturer.
  • You must have a whistle or horn on board your PWC that is U.S. Coast Guard approved.
  • The safety ignition switch must be fully functional and have a lanyard attached to it to ensure it does not get lost or misplaced.

Unlawful Operation of a PWC or Vessel

Hazardous Condition

This is when you knowingly allow another person to use a PWC when they suffer from any conditions that may prevent them from operating the vessel accurately. Conditions that can be hard for the operator and their passengers are:

  • If the operator has a physical or mental disability
  • If there are not enough personal flotation devices, fire extinguishers, backfire flame arrestors, or navigational lights
  • Or if an unsafe condition simply exists

Improper Speed or Distance

Failing to go at a reasonable speed and even going faster than the speed recommended, especially during vessel traffic, poor weather conditions and closeness to shore can result in injuries.

To be more specific, here are some actions that are considered to be illegal in the state of Florida:

  • Going at a speed that can be harmful to your vessel
  • Going faster than the speed limit posted near the body of water you are operating on.
  • Being within 20 feet of the outer boundary area that is marked by signs and buoys of it being a restricted area.
  • Operating at a greater speed than “slow, no wake” speed that is posted in a “no wake” zone.
  • Operating your vessel at extreme speeds in the close vicinity of another vessel, PWCs or dangerous waters.
  • Roaming around a swimming area (within 20 feet) and it is marked with red and yellow buoys.
  • Operating your PWC within 20 feet of another person who is fishing (gaining their permission first)

Overloading and Overpowering

Going against the recommended weight and horsepower shown on your PWC or vessel is unsafe. You should never exceed the maximum number of persons or weight that is recommended when you purchase or operate a PWC.

If the PWC does not have a plate, in which it shows its capacity, the owner must be able to demonstrate that the PWC follows the safe loading and powering requirements given by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Reckless Operation

Recklessly operating and being negligent of the rules for operating a vessel or PWC is putting yourself and others in danger. The following are examples of negligent and reckless operations of a PWC or vessel:

  • Encircling people that are participating in water activities. Unless you are retrieving someone who is downed in the water. Do not operate a PWC around:
    • Anyone who is on a PWC or vessel that is fishing, water skiing, or engaging in water activity.
    • Anyone who is swimming nearby
    • Unsafely approaching or passing a dock, ramp, a moored or anchored or even a swimming area that is marked is illegal.
    • Any other PWC or Vessel.

Required Equipment

Personal Flotation Devices

Offshore Life JacketsNear-Shore VestsFlotation AidsThrowable DevicesSpecial-Use Devices
This vest can turn an unconscious person in the water to face up in the water. It was made for rough waters and for situations where rescue might take a long time. This vest is fit for calmer waters and faster rescues. If you were to wear this while unconscious it may not be able to turn you face up in the water.This vest can also be full-sleeved jacket and it is great for calm waters and fast rescues. This will definitely not turn your face up in the rough waters. This is generally worn for water sports.This type of flotation device is a cushion or ring buoys and are typically used to throw at someone in trouble. They are not made to last for long hours in the waters, or non-swimmers, or the unconscious. This type of flotation device was made for activities like kayaking, water skiing. These typically look like water vests, deck suits and personal flotation device hybrids.

Personal Flotation Device Requirements

  • A Type 4 personal flotation device that is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, and it must be on board a vessel that is 16 feet or longer and it must also be easily accessible for emergency use.
  • Any person that is on board a PWC or vessel (no matter the age) must wear a PFD.
  • Vessels have to have 1 of the 5 personal flotation devices on board your vessel and they also must be a wearable size for any passenger or operator.

Fire Extinguishers

You can classify your fire extinguisher by letter and number symbol. The number helps you decipher the size of the extinguisher, and the letter indicates the type of fire that is extinguished as well.

TYPE A FIRESThese types of fires are combustible solids such as wood
TYPE B FIRESThese types of fires are flammable liquids like gasoline or oil
TYPE C FIRESThis type of fire is mainly electrical fires

All vessels are required, by law, to have a type B fire extinguishers on board in the case of any extreme or dangerous situations occurring.

Your fire extinguisher should be placed somewhere easily accessible in the case of a situation where it needs to be used immediately.

these fire extinguishers should also stay in usable condition. You need to regularly check up on the extinguishers to ensure they are in the best condition:

  • There is no physical damage, corrosion, leakage, or clogged nozzle
  • Pressure gauges or indicators read in the operable range
  • Seals and tamper indicators are not broken or missing

Backfire Flame Control

Motorboats built after April 1940 with gasoline engines must need a backfire flame control device that is mounted onto each carburetor.

These backfire flame control devices have to be:

  • in good and serviceable condition
  • The U.S. Coast Guard must approve of the backfire flame control device

These backfire flame control devices need to ensure that any engine backfire will be dispersed into the atmosphere and will also reduce the chance of an explosion of fire.

You must also clean the backfire flame control device often and check for any damage that may occur to it.

Ventilation Systems

Ventilation is very important when it comes to your vessel or PWC. The sole purpose of a ventilation system within your PWC or vessel is to avoid any life-threatening explosion.

  • All gasoline-powered vessels are manufactured in such a way that it is likely to entrap fumes. You will need two ventilation ducts to be able to remove the entrapped fumes
    • At least one of the exhaust ducts will have to extend to below the carburetor air intake
  • When your vessel comes with a power ventilation system you will need to turn it own for about 4 minutes before you fuel it up and after you fuel it up.
  • With PWCs they do not come equipped power ventilation systems. You will need to open the engine compartment and sniff for any fumes before you begin your engine.


  • Most vessels will need to come equipped with a muffler device. This will help those who operate the vessel to be able to others and any sound signals nearby.
  • Muffling an airboat’s exhaust with automotive-style mufflers is a requirement by law in the state of Florida.

Navigational Lights

Power-Driven Vessels When Underway

The lights required on a vessel like this one are:

-red and green sidelights that can be visible from at least 2-miles away, and at least a mile away on a clear, dark night.


An all-around white light that can be seen from at least two miles away on a dark, clear night. The lights must be 3.3 inches higher than your sidelights.

Unpowered Vessels When Underway

Lights required for this vessel are:

Red and green sidelights that can be seen from 2-miles away. The sunlight must also be visible from 2-miles away.


All vessels must show a white light in all directions if they are anchored outside a mooring area between the hours of sunset and sunrise.

All Vessels When Not Underway

All vessels must show a white light in all directions if they are anchored outside a mooring area between the hours of sunset and sunrise.

Taking Care of the Environment

Waste, Oil and Trash Disposal in Florida and Federal Waters


When it comes to disposing of your trash, it is illegal to dump plastics or garbage into any federally controlled or even state waters. You have to keep your trash on board, sealed and contained to where it will not fall out.

A garbage disposal placard must be required if you are boating on federal waters and especially if your vessel is 26 feet or longer.

The placard is a durable sign that helps notifies passengers and crews about discharge restrictions.

Waste and Oil

It is against the law to discharge oil or any hazardous waste into state or federally controlled waters. If you fail to follow this law you can be charged with a fine for $10,000.

You cannot dump oil without having a proper way to dispose of it. You can purchase bilge pads, this helps with any fuel spills. The pads can remove the oil spill with its absorbency.

If you discharge oil or waste, you can do this at any local reception facility. If you are on a recreational vessel, a bucket can work just as well to keep any spill from happening.

Visual Distress Signals (VDS)

Visual distress signals are used for when a vessel or PWC operators need to signal for help in the eve of an emergency on the water.

Vessels operating on federally controlled waters must be equipped with visual distress signals that are approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. A list of approved VDS can be found in the chart below.

Pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals Non-Pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals
Orange SmokeDay SignalElectrical LightNight Signal
Red MeteorDay and Night SignalOrange FlagDay Signal
Red FlareDay and Night Signal

A minimum of three visual distress signals must be carried on your vessel or PWC.

It is also important to note that it is not advised nor encouraged to use these visual distress signals on the water if you do not need assistance or if you are not in immediate or potential danger.

Sound Producing Devices

Changing Direction

  • one short blast: this is telling other vessel or boat operators that you have the intention of passing them on your port “left” side. “I intend to pass you on my port (left) side.”
  • two short blasts: this is telling other vessel or boat operators that you are intending on passing them on your right side. “I intend to pass you on my starboard (right) ride.”
  • three short blasts: you are telling other operators that you are passing them. “I am backing up.”

Restricted Visibility

  • one prolonged blast: this is a signal that tells others there is a power-driven vessel underway
  • one prolonged blast plus two short blasts: if used in intervals for no more than two minutes that it is signal for sailing vessels


  • one prolonged blast: this is a warning signal for coming up around a bend or exiting a slip
  • five short, rapid blasts: this is to signal danger

Pyrotechnic Devices

While these visual distress signals are extremely effective they can also cause harm if not handled correctly.

These devices produce a hot flame and residue that can cause burns and even ignite flammable material.

Parachute flares and other pistol-like devices have many characteristics like a firearm and must be treated with caution (in some states they are considered firearms).

These types of devices should be stored in a cool, dry and easily accessible place.

Non-Pyrotechnic Devices

This type of visual distress signal needs to be readily accessible and in serviceable condition.

A distress flag is a day signal only. It typically needs to be 3 x 3 feet with a black square and ball on an orange background.

The electric light is designed to be used during the night and it must also be able to automatically flash an SOS signal, that way those around you or near you will be able to know you are in need of help.

Arm Signal

This is a day signal and its action is to summon help if you do not have any other visual distress signals on board your PWC or vessel.

It is important to keep several visual distress signals in order to avoid a situation where you must resort to an arm signal.

Boating or PWC Accidents…What To Do

If you get involved in a boating accident you must:

  1. You must stop your vessel immediately by the accident
  2. Assist anyone who may be injured or if they are in danger, unless doing so may put others on your PWC or vessel in danger
  3. You will need to give, in writing, the name of the person who is injured, the certificate number to anyone injured and the owner of any of the property that was damaged

If you are involved in an accident that resulted in:

  • death
  • an injury that will result in treatment beyond first aid
  • property damage that exceeds $2,000 to all vessels and docks that are involved in an accident

If you are involved in the accidents above you will need to submit an accident report.

Enforcement and Penalties

In the state of Florida, all law enforcement officers can and will enforce the law.

  • They also have the authority to stop your PWC or vessel to be able to determine whether you are following the state and federal laws.
  • If you refuse to follow the direction of a law enforcement officer, know that it is illegal.
  • Anyone who received a visible signal from a law enforcement officer must stop their PWC.

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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