Florida Legislative Update Concerning PWCs

A personal watercraft.There are many PWC operators in Florida and PWC operators visiting Florida that will be effected by Senate bills that have been introduced that would increase the legal minimum age of those operating personal watercraft and that would decriminalize some boating infractions. These changes will be considered this legislative session.

Under Bill 370, a person would have to be 16 to operate a personal watercraft. The age now is 14.

The law also would require anyone operating such watercraft — often called by brand names such as Jet Skis or WaveRunners — born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, to have completed a boating safety course and have a boating safety identification card. That would conform to state law requiring anyone operating a motorboat of more than 10 horsepower to take the course if he or she were born on or after that date.

Meanwhile, Bill 512 with companion House Bill 293 eliminates criminal misdemeanor penalties of as much as $500 in fines and six months in jail for navigation rules violations, not involving the reckless operation of vessels, that result in accidents. Instead, the bill would levy fines for navigation infractions that cause accidents in which recklessness and alcohol are not involved.

The personal watercraft bill is being sponsored in memory of  a young PWC operator, who died at 14 from injuries after the personal watercraft he was operating crashed into a dock.

Statewide, there were 143 personal watercraft accidents with 152 injuries and one fatality in 2009 and 168 crashes with 152 and seven fatalities in 2008, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Overall, 42 people age 16 or younger were involved in personal watercraft crashes from 2006 to 2009. Statistics for 2010 are not yet available.

The Personal Watercraft Association of America, local rental businesses and owners said they favor increasing the minimum age.

“Fourteen is too young,” said T.J. Brandt, who rents personal watercraft at Mid Island Water Sports at the Holiday Inn on Fort Myers Beach. “These are high-speed jet boats that can go from 0 to 50 mph in 4.2 seconds.” Brandt said Mid Island requires people who rent a personal watercraft to be at least 16. Brandt said if they’re 16 to 22, they also must have taken the safe-boating course and show ID.

The national watercraft association takes the position the 14- and 15-year-olds who have taken the boating course should be grandfathered in, said Peggy Mathews, the Florida representative. Otherwise, the organization supports the bill, she said.

The Personal Watercraft Association of America, local rental businesses and owners said they favor increasing the minimum age.

Other legislation would NOT charge boaters in criminal court for mishaps not caused by willful recklessness.  The law would treat such accidents similar to parking lot fender benders. The law would levy fines for infractions causing accidents with damage. The fines would be up to $500 for first offenses, up to $750 for second offenses, and up to $1,000 for third and subsequent violations.

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Filed under Boat Operation, Boating News, Boating Safety, Lake Boating, Rules of the Road, The Boating Environment

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