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  • Florida Kayaking Regulations, Laws and Safety

    Kayaking in Florida is like paddling through a tropical wonderland. The Sunshine State has more than 1,000 miles of coastline and 1,700 miles of rivers and creeks to explore. But before you take your kayak out for a spin, read up on the state's kayking rules and safety regulations to ensure that you are following all laws while on the water. 
     
    Florida Kayaking Regulations, Laws and Safety
     
    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sets the rules and regulations for all motorized and non-motorized watercraft. While kayakers do not have to follow all of the same rules as motorized vessels, some of the rules and regulations do apply.

    Life Jackets

    Every child in your kayak under the age of 6 must wear a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD) while the kayak is moving. For everyone over the age of 6, there must be an approved PFD available inside the kayak unless the kayak is being used within a "swimming, surfing, or bathing area." While those over the age of 6 are not required to wear their life jackets, it's good practice to keep your life jacket on and securely fastened while you are on the water. 

    Sound Device

    Kayakers are required to carry a sound-making device that can be heard for at least one-half nautical mile when the kayak is in use. A whistle or horn are the most commonly used sound devices. The sound device is required in the event that you need to alert other boaters of your presence in order to avoid a collision. The sound device can also be used to signal for help should you find yourself in trouble and require assistance. To signal distress, blow hard into your whistle three times in a row. Most kayakers will attach a whistle to their life jacket where it is easily accessible. 

    Lights

    When kayaking between sunset and sunrise, or during periods of reduced visibility such as fog or rain, kayakers are required to carry a white light onboard their kayak. The kayaker is to display the light if another vessel approaches, to avoid a possible collision. Most kayakers use a flashlight or lantern as their light. Take note that the light should not be continually displayed, but shown only when other vessels are approaching. 

    Registration

    Kayaks do not have to be registered in the state of Florida unless they have a motor. 

    Law Enforcement

    According to state law, law enforcement officers have the authority to stop you while you are kayaking to check and make sure you are complying with all safety laws. Law enforcement officers also have the authority to order the removal or relocation of your kayak if it is deemed a hazard to public safety or is found to be interfering with the navigation of other vessels. 

    Manatee Awareness

    Manatees in Florida and around the world are listed as vulnerable, meaning their populations are declining. There are an estimated 6,130 manatees in Florida and they are protected by state and federal law. Anything that disrupts a manatee's normal behavior is punishable by law and could result in a $50,000 fine or land you in jail for a year. Should you be lucky enough to see a manatee while you are in your kayak, maintain a respectable distance and let the animal have its space. 

    Seagrass Awareness 

    Seagrasses are the main source of food for marine herbivores such as manatees and green sea turtles. In some Florida waters it is a violation of state law to damage seagrass beds. While kayaking, stay within channels and avoid taking shortcuts through seagrass beds. Seagrass beds are marked as light green or by the letters "grs" on navigational charts. 

    General Safety

    In addition to following all of the kayaking safety rules and regulations, it's important to follow general safety tips, too.

    • Let someone know where you will be kayaking.

    • Check your kayak for leaks or points of weakness before entering the water.

    • Whenever possible, kayak with a buddy.

    • Be aware of obstructions in the water that could trap your boat and throw you out of it.

    • Be aware of other boats and know that motorized watercraft may not see you.

    • Wear appropriate clothing, including sun protection. 

    • Pay attention to the weather and do not go out on the water if hazardous conditions are expected.

    Resources

    Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission boating regulations

    The best time to go kayaking in the Florida Keys

    Benefits of kayaking

    Kayaking 101

    Article Written By Kim Dinan

    Kim Dinan is a writer covering the outdoors and travel. Her adventures have taken her around the world, including camping and hiking in nearly every US state. Her work has appeared in newspapers, magazines and online. She is also a published author.

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