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Our Guide to Maritime Law in Florida

March 09, 2022
Safety Guide

Understanding Your Rights If You Are Injured on the Water

Few people expect to ever be involved in a boating accident, but hundreds of people are injured or killed every year in crashes on Florida waterways. The rules and regulations that govern these accidents can be complex and should be handled by an attorney with extensive experience in maritime law.

At Mase Mebane Seitz, our trial lawyers have represented thousands of clients and successfully tried hundreds of cases. We are award-winning admiralty and maritime lawyers, nationally recognized for our achievements in the industry. 

If you are injured in a boating accident in South Florida, you need a local attorney who knows the law and will not rest until you receive the best possible outcome in your case. Contact our office at (844) 627-3529 for a free consultation.

What Is Maritime Law?

Maritime law, also referred to as Admiralty law, governs contracts, offenses, injuries, disputes, and accidents on navigable waters. Under maritime law, owners and operators of vessels owe a duty of reasonable care to all passengers. A failure to meet a reasonable standard of care may result in liability if a person is injured or killed.

What type of accidents does maritime law cover?:

  • Personal watercraft (jet ski) accidents
  • Recreational boating accidents
  • Commercial fishing accidents
  • Ferry accidents
  • Shipping container accidents 
  • Yacht accidents
  • Dive boat accidents
  • Rental or tour boat accidents
  • Marina and dock accidents

In addition to providing protection for individuals injured on navigable waterways by another person’s negligence, maritime law also covers licensing and registration of vessels, inspections on shipping containers or cargo ships, contracts, insurance, and regulations regarding the carrying of goods and passengers.

Florida Boating Regulations

Several authorities govern maritime matters depending on where the incident occurs. Local, state, federal, and international laws apply along different waterways and depending on how far offshore the vessel is located.

Florida water boundaries:

  • Atlantic - Florida state waters extend from shore to 3 nautical miles.
  • Gulf - Florida state waters extend from short to 9 nautical miles.
  • Federal waters extend from the state water boundary to approximately 200 nautical miles or where another country’s waters begin. 

Before you operate a vessel, you need to be familiar with all rules and regulations pertaining to the waters you will be traveling. Failure to follow any of these laws may result in criminal or civil liability. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offers a comprehensive list of boating regulations.

Boating Accidents

Florida law requires operators of a vessel involved in a boating accident to immediately report it to law enforcement if there was a severe injury, the disappearance of a person, or property damage exceeding $2,000.

Additionally, it is unlawful for a vessel operator to leave the scene of a boating accident without rendering aid to any injured person or reporting it to the proper authorities.

Vessel Registration

All vessels, except non-motor-powered ones under 16-feet in length, are required to be registered within 30 days of purchase. Registration numbers must be displayed on both sides of the forward half of the vessel above the waterline in block letters at least 3” high. Registration must be renewed annually. Federally documented vessels need not display numbers in this manner, but must still register if their home port is in Florida.

Reckless and Careless Operation

A large percentage of boating accidents are caused by reckless or careless operation. Reckless operation is defined as operating a boat with “willful disregard for the safety of persons or property.” 

Careless operation involves the failure to operate a vessel in a reasonable and prudent manner. A person may be cited for careless operation if they endanger people or property outside of the boat by failing to observe other vessel traffic, ignoring posted restrictions, and not looking for diver-down flags.

Boating Safety Requirements

Individuals born on or after January 1, 1988, must pass an approved boater safety course in order to operate a vessel powered by ten horsepower or more. While operating, the person must have their ID and a boating safety education identification card.

There are several approved boating safety courses located throughout the state. It is important to act early and complete all requirements before operating a vessel on any Florida waterway.

Interference with Navigation and Anchor Laws

Except in an emergency, it is illegal for a person to operate a vessel or anchor in a way that would “unreasonably interfere with the navigation of other vessels.”

Anchoring Limitations

There are several local areas where anchoring is limited because they are densely populated, including Sunset Lake in Miami-Dade County, sections of Biscayne Bay, and Middle River.

Anchoring or Mooring Prohibitions

Furthermore, anchoring or mooring is prohibited under several conditions, including within 150 feet of a public or private marina, boat ramp, boatyard, or other boat launching or loading facility.

State and local laws often govern anchoring limitations. It is important to check the area where you plan to operate your vessel for any rules that apply regarding where you can anchor or moor your boat.

Other Boating Regulations and Requirements

Maritime law is extensive, covering nearly every aspect of vessel operation. In addition to covering private and commercial vessels, maritime law regulates personal watercraft rentals and operations. Additional regulations regarding lighting and equipment requirements, divers-down flags, and boating under the influence can be found through the FWC.

Maritime Employees Injured at Work

Maritime workers injured while on the job are protected by maritime law. Seamen, seafarers, or vessel crew members injured on the sea are covered under the Jones Act. While dock, harbor, and other land-based maritime workers are covered by the Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

Injured in a Boating Crash or Collision? Contact Our Office Today! 

If you were injured in a boating accident, contact our office at (844) 627-3529 for a free, no-obligation consultation. We are experienced, highly-trained maritime and admiralty law attorneys that know what it takes to get injured parties the compensation they deserve. Call Mase Mebane Seitz today to discuss your legal options.

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