My good friend Captain Ken Hinsley of Patients Sportfishing in Miami, Florida called me to tell me (brag) that he would be taking out Jimmy Buffet on a sailfish charter during Super Bowl Week in Miami. As I sit here behind my desk wondering what strange twists of fate landed me here instead of there, I began thinking of the Florida Boating Laws (ok, not as exciting as a story about Jimmy reeling in sails, but this is a law blog, right?).

The truth is, even just in the last 10 years or so, there has really been an increase in boaters in and around Florida’s Treasure Coast. Most of them have no idea that there are actually both International and Inland Rules for Navigating vessels in and around Florida’s waters, and that not knowing them could result in a trip to the county jail. Professional captains often refer to them as the Rules of the Road.

Here’s the kicker: According to Florida Law, if you get in a boating accident and are found at fault for not complying with the navigation rules, YOU WILL BE CHARGED WITH A CRIME.

Think about that. If you get in a car accident for carelessly or negligently pulling out in front of someone, or running a red light, you get a ticket. A civil infraction. The most that can happen is you pay a fine, your license could be suspended if your driving record is horrible or for health concerns, and maybe your insurance goes up. If you cause an accident on the water, you could go to jail for up to 60 days for simple negligence. In my mind, that is crazy.

Generally speaking, in order to commit a crime, you must show an intent to act inappropriately. The only real exception (besides this) I can think of is the strict liability crime of having sex with a minor. It doesn’t matter whether you knew the person was a minor or not, and it doesn’t even matter whether that person lied to you and told you they were an adult. Well, ok, I could see the legislature’s intent in wanting to protect children. But boater’s negligence a crime? Really?

So I ask you, if you are driving your boat in the intercoastal, and another boat approaches from the left, who has the right of way? If you don’t know, you had better brush up on your Rules of the Road. Otherwise, you may find yourself posting a bond.

This law makes no sense and should be amended to make reckless boating a crime. Negligent boating should be a civil infraction. If you agree with me, shoot your legislator an email. It may not seem like a big deal now, but wait till your boat is surrounded by a swarm of wave runners. Whether you crash into the one on the right or left could make the difference. Does that make sense to you?

Finally, remember that boating under the influence is a crime just like driving under the influence. For many, beer and boats seem to go together like motorcycles and leather.

Be careful. Know the Rules of the Road, and always boat responsibly. Hopefully that will be enough to keep you out of jail.