Proposed Bill May Prohibit Kids Under 16 from Operating Boats on Florida Waters

young boy on a boat

Here in the Sunshine State, it's not unusual to see teens at the helm of boats without adult supervision. Florida law allows those as young as 14 to operate boats after passing a boater safety course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators or an equivalency exam. But that soon may change.

Florida Senator Gary Farmer (D-Fort Lauderdale) recently introduced SB 1262, a proposed bill that, if passed into law, would boost to 16 the minimum age for operating vessels that have 10 horsepower or more or sailboats with hulls of more than 10 feet. The move is prompted by the tragic loss of Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, who both were 14 when they disappeared after taking a boat from Jupiter Inlet into the Atlantic Ocean.

“It's really designed to make sure that young boaters, young kids under 16 are not put in a dangerous position,” said Farmer, who, as an attorney, represented Cohen's father. “There's a complete void for dealing with kids under 16 in these types of situations. I was shocked to learn that when I was retained to represent the father of the boy who went missing. So we're trying to make sure that tragedy never occurs again.”

If the bill passes, parents of children who don't comply would receive a mandatory minimum second-degree misdemeanor, a $500 ticket, and up to 60 days in jail. The proposed rule does provide an exemption for teens younger than 16 accompanied by someone over age 21 who is not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A similar bill proposed last year ultimately was tabled.

No matter the age, we hear at Shackow & Mercadante urge all who operate or ride boats to follow all required and recommended safety precautions. If you or your dependents suffer injury or loss in a boating accident caused by someone else's negligence or deliberate act, report the incident to law enforcement, get medical treatment and call 877-798-7700 to speak with a Gainesville boating accident attorney.