When taking the jet ski out for the day, you may wonder who can and cannot legally operate it. All of Florida’s boating laws are stated below so you can be prepared to keep the law and be safe out there.
Anyone 21 years or younger must have a Florida boating safety education ID card and their photo ID when operating a PWC. People 14 and older can drive a jet ski with their boater and photo ID cards.
How Old Do You Need to be to Rent a Jet Ski / PWC in Florida
You need to be 18 or older to rent or lease a jet ski in Florida. It is lawful for a 14-year-old to operate the rented PWC as long as it was rented from someone 18 years or older.
It is important to remember that it is illegal (a second-degree misdemeanor) to allow a child under 14 years old to operate a PWC.
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How to Get Your Florida Boater Safety Education Card
If you are 21 years old or younger it is the law to get your safety education card before hitting the water and operating a boat or PWC. There are a few short and easy steps you will need to take to get your card:
- Take an approved boater education course in Florida. There are a few options you can take to complete a course. You can either choose from approved online courses, a classroom option that is offered for $50 or take the home study course. Whichever way you take the course is fine, but the most popular option is the free online course offered on the site boatus.org/florida/.
- After you complete the course you will need to pass an exam by getting at least 80 percent.
- Once you pass the test, you will need to send in the certificate of completion, your name, address, phone number, and date of birth to the Division of Law Enforcement, Boating Safety Section. Their address is 620 South Meridian Street, Tallahassee, Florida, 32399. You will then be sent your boater safety card.
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Jet Ski Operation in Florida
- Everyone on board the PWC must wear an approved non-inflatable life jacket. There are no inflatable life jackets allowed on jet skis.
- The driver of the jet ski needs to attach the lanyard to themselves.
- There needs to be at least one Type IV throwable device on board any vessel 16 feet or longer.
- Navigation lights need to be turned on from sunset to sunrise
- Jet skis cannot be driven on the water 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise.
- Any of the following are considered first-degree misdemeanors: 1. Maneuvering a PWC by weaving through congested vessel traffic, 2. jumping the wake of another vessel when too close or when visibility is obstructed, 3. or swerving at the last possible moment to prevent a crash.
- It is illegal to operate a PWC or any other vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If suspected, a vessel operator must submit to a sobriety test and if the blood or breath alcohol test is at or above .08 percent is considered drunk and may come under violation.
- Unless in an emergency, it is against the law to fasten or moor your watercraft to a navigation aid regulatory marker or anchor it near the marker.
- It is illegal to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal including manatees. There is a large fine for harassing animals of any kind.
- If someone else drives your PWC, make sure they know they have the same responsibilities as any other driver.
- Let beginners take their first drive in an uncrowded area.
- Make sure everyone who will be on board knows how to reboard the jet ski after falling off.
It is illegal for PWCs, airboats, or any towing activity to happen within three National Refuge Areas of the Lower Keys: Key Deer National Refuge, Great White Heron National Refuge, and the Key West Refuge. To see a map of the restricted areas click on this link fws.gov/southeast/pubs/nkdgen.pdf and scroll to pages 20 and 21.
In order to prevent disturbing wildlife and bird nesting areas, it is illegal to ride in the backcountry (islands not connected by US Highway One). You can ride along the shoreline parallel to US Highway One. This is for transportation and nothing else.
Boater Safety Education Card Exemptions
There are some people out there who do not need to have a boater safety education card:
- People who are licensed by the US Coast Guard as a master of a vessel
- People who operate on a private lake or pond
- People who are operating a vessel within 90 days after purchase and have a bill of sale on board
- If your home state is somewhere other than Florida, you will still need to meet the boating requirements of your home state.
PWC/ Jet Ski Safety
Florida has always been the state that has the most PWC fatalities. In 2015 Florida had 671 recreational boating accidents which were more than California’s 369 or Texas’s 154. When it comes to deaths, there were 52 in Florida in the year 2015 which was not surprisingly the highest number in the whole US!
In order to get these drastic numbers down, people under the age of 21 are required to take a safety course and get a boater education card before they can operate a PWC in Florida.
3 of the biggest mistakes PWC drivers make are:
- Riding too close to another PWC or object. PWCs can change direction in an instant and when you are too close to another jet ski, it will most likely lead to a high-speed collision. KEEP A LOT OF DISTANCE IN BETWEEN YOU AND OTHER VESSELS.
- Turning without looking. Because PWCs make such abrupt turns, it is important to always look behind and beside you before you turn. If there is another jet ski behind you and you turn without looking, there could be a serious collision, and on your head… MAKING ABRUPT TURNS IN AN AREA WHERE OTHER VESSELS ARE CLOSE IS A VIOLATION OF FLORIDA LAW.
- Trying to turn without power. If you are about to crash, your natural tendency will be to reduce your power on the gas and turn as hard as you can, but this does not work with jet skis. They will not turn at all when the throttle is released. Jet skis need the power to move and turn. KEEP A SAFE DISTANCE FROM OTHER PEOPLE AND OBJECTS.
Places You Cannot Operate Your PWC in Florida
Let’s make Florida a safer place and get educated with what to do when in the water to prevent more accidents and deaths. It is important that you know exactly how your jet ski works: how to turn it effectively, which way to turn it when it is overturned in the water, how to dock, etc. Once you are comfortable with your jet ski, you will know what to do in an emergency. Be smart, and use your mind out there.
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