Florida is considered a favorite travel destination because of its tropical climate and abundance of beaches. It’s easy to see why. You get to enjoy a day lounging by the beach, and there are various water-related activities to choose from. These activities include sailing, jet skiing, kayaking, and many more. If you’ve got a keen eye, you may have noticed that most of these activities involve boats and other forms of personal watercraft (PWCs). As a matter of fact, Florida has the highest rate of boat ownership among all of the states.
As fun as all those activities may sound, there is another thing to consider, and that is your safety. These activities carry with them the risk of accidental drowning if the necessary safety precautions are not taken. In 2020, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission claimed that a total of 836 cases of boating accidents were reported, and of the people who drowned, approximately 88% were not wearing a life jacket.
In the past, we have discussed the importance and legal obligation of wearing a seatbelt when riding a motor vehicle, and wearing a helmet when riding motorcycles, as well as the corresponding penalties for violating them. Boating accidents tend to be more disastrous than car or motorcycle accidents as you are in open waters, and access to immediate assistance will not always be readily available. Having said that, you have to be more prepared and follow Florida’s life jacket rules.
Boat Safety and Florida’s Life Jacket Rules
Before you head on to your next water-related adventure, let us discuss boat safety and the life jacket rules in Florida as this could potentially save your life should an untoward incident occur. Just like how seatbelts and helmets save lives, so do life jackets.
When discussing the necessity of life jackets while on board a boat or a when riding a kayak, several questions may come to mind, such as:
- Who are the parties required to have life jackets on a boat?
- Is there a specific type of life jacket required?
- Are there different life jacket requirements for children aboard these water vessels?
- Who are the authorities responsible for enforcing life jacket laws in Florida?
- What are the penalties for violating Florida’s life jacket rules?
- Is there a recommended way of wearing a life vest? And
- How should we take care of our life jackets?
Boat-ed provides that all vessels must have one life jacket for each person who is on the vessel. These life jackets have to be in good and serviceable condition, where the approval number of the USCG can be seen. The sizes of the available life jackets in the vessel must correspond to the size of the person who will be wearing them too. This means that if there is a baby or a larger adult on board, a life jacket that fits them must be provided.
Further, a vessel that is over 16 feet long must have a United States Coast Guard (USCG)-approved throwable device on board and it must be immediately available. Not everyone is technically mandated to wear a life jacket when on a boat or a vessel in Florida waters. However, infants and children under the age of six (6) have to wear one at all times when aboard a boat that is less than 26 feet in length while in Florida waters. It must be noted that these life jackets must be approved by the USCG as well. Ordinary inflatable life jackets are not in compliance with the rules and could get you into trouble if you fail to comply. And any person on board a personal watercraft or PWC such as jet-skis and kayaks must wear one at all times. The same rule goes for anyone who is being towed behind a vessel.
Ordinary inflatable life jackets are not in compliance with the rules and could get you into trouble if you fail to comply. If you have been found in violation of the life jacket laws of Florida, you could be fined $50-80, depending on which county you were in when you violated this law, as enforced by the Law Enforcement division of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
How to Best Wear and Maintain Your Life Jackets
As for the right and best way to wear a life jacket, it's recommended that you take the following steps:
- Put on a life jacket and make sure that all pieces are fastened.
- After zipping up your life jacket, adjust the fit by tightening from the bottom first and adjusting accordingly as you work your way up. You have to be sure that the bottom clasp snaps in place and that there are no broken parts.
- Adjust each side so that each side fits snugly and isn't too tight or too loose. Both sides should be kept even as well so your life jacket doesn’t ride up on either side.
- The shoulder straps should be tightened last.
- Once you’re done adjusting, raise your hands above the head. If your life jacket rises above your chin or feels uncomfortably tight, adjust it once more. You should be able to move in the life jacket comfortably.
- When possible, test out your life jacket in the water. Float on your back to ensure the life jacket fits and that it doesn’t ride up, or slip over your head easily. Make sure it keeps you afloat comfortably.
Traveling with a pet? If you want to travel with your furbaby, make sure that you bring an animal jacket for them to ensure their safety as well.
To ensure that you make the most of your life jacket, you have to take proper care of it. Here are a few tips for taking care of your personal floatation device:
- Clean life jackets with a gentle cleanser specifically made for them.
- Let the life jackets air dry then store them in a well-ventilated area.
- Check them once every few months for any loose or broken fastenings, rips, or tears in the material.
Keep in mind that as mentioned above, not everyone is legally required to wear a life jacket while on a boat. However, it is always best to err on the side of caution. Remember your safety and the safety of those around you always comes first. Always keep in mind the tips above to ensure that you and your loved ones stay safe while partaking in any watersport and water-related activities in the ocean.
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If you have any more queries regarding Florida life jacket rules, or you (or someone you know) found yourselves in a boat accident because your boat or other sea vessel did not have life vests on board, or the life vests were of poor quality, we, at Browning Law are here to help you. Give us a call for a free consultation.