Legislation to increase boating safety measures advances in Senate

But the legislation has a long course to navigate in the House.

The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee unanimously advanced legislation Tuesday (SB 606) that could implement new rules governing boat charters.

Careless boat operations served last year as a primary cause of accidents and fatalities on the water. Now there’s legislation from Sen. Ileana Garcia and Rep. Adam Botana called the Boating Safety Act of 2022 to address the issue.

The bill would crack down on illegal rentals and amplify education requirements. Fines for breaking navigation rules, operating on expired registrations, hurting seagrass or anchoring in illegal areas would bear greater noncriminal fines of up to $100.

Botana, an Estero Republican, is running the House version (HB 493) in the lower chamber, where the bill has a longer road and must get through four committee stops. It is still awaiting a place on the agenda at the House Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee.

Botana’s family has operated Bay Water Exclusive Boat Club in Bonita Springs for more than 17 years. He said none of these rules should hurt legitimate businesses. Enforcement by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will step up to ensure compliance with existing and new requirements. But he said especially with a surge in tourism in Florida, there’s a need for better regulation.

“We need to watch the bad actors, especially with all of this new industry on the water,” he said.

Garcia characterized the legislation as an important protection for consumers and businesses.

“The Boating Safety Act of 2022 protects Floridians and visitors, our marine life and natural resources by addressing the harmful actions of bad actors while ensuring an uninterrupted use of our waterways by responsible enthusiasts and supporting boater education,” Garcia said in a statement ahead of the committee hearing. “Equipping the public with the knowledge they need to change their boating habits will have lasting impacts and benefit our waterways for generations to come.”

Botana said there are a variety of problems with non-compliance he hopes the legislation can address. In Southeast Florida, a jet ski tour business licensed to take out parties of six is throwing extra vessels in the water and taking out more people than a single guide can handle, he said.

In Southwest Florida, Botana has seen captains who work with boat rental companies offering up services despite having expired licenses. His own family business ran into a problem earlier this month when a captain led a group and hit a piling, and the rental company found out afterward that the captain no longer had a valid license.

The bill would establish a no-cost permitting program through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to implement rules for permitting. Liveries, to obtain a permit, would be required to implement written agreements for vessel rentals for at least a year and to make documentation and facilities available to law enforcement within 24 hours of notification.

Garcia’s office said illegal rentals have created problems on South Florida waterways. Botana said in Southwest Florida, there’s a problem with illegal captains taking tourists on the water.

The legislation will call for FWC to track citations and notices on education requirements. It will also require a physical address for any vessel registrations with the state, excluding houseboats. In addition, the bill authorizes illegal boating strike teams to support existing law enforcement efforts.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]


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