Rules to Remember
Paddleboards, kayaks, and other vessels “under oars” are increasingly popular in the Sunshine State. Related regulations are constantly changing and under review. However, there are a few rules worth memorizing right away.
First and foremost, all paddle craft must carry a United States Coast Guard approved personal flotation device (PFD). Children under the age of six are required to wear a proper PFD at all times. In addition, all paddlers must have a sound-producing device, such as a whistle. I find that this is easiest to remember by attaching it to my PFD.
When sharing space, the vessel with the least maneuverability has the right of way. Often this means a paddle craft, but it can also apply to very large boats that take a long time and distance to turn. Remember, tiny paddle craft may not be seen, and sometimes they are ignored. My advice would be to always take your own safety into account by giving way to bigger boats. Pay special attention when crossing boat channels and main waterways.
Also, if you decide to paddle between sunset and sunrise (after dark), you must carry a white light-producing device that is powerful enough to be seen by boaters.
Due to the proliferation of paddling in Florida, further regulations may be added in the future. To stay abreast of this information, there are two websites to check regularly. For state regulations, visit the boating regulations information page from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at www.myFWC.com/boatingregulations. For information on federal boating guidelines, visit www.navcen.uscg.gov.
No one likes rules, but there are good reasons to have them and follow them on the water. It only takes a few minutes to learn the regulations that will help you enjoy many days of safe and happy paddling adventures.
Walter Cheatham is an experienced paddler and ACA-Certified Paddling Instructor. Ocean Tribe Paddlers is a club founded by Sanibel Sea School to help the SWFL paddling community better explore, enjoy, and understand the ocean. Visit oceantribepaddlers.org or follow us on Facebook to learn more.