- Take a safe boating course.
- Check the weather. Visit weather.gov/key to obtain the latest marine weather conditions, forecasts, and possible warnings or advisories. If weather conditions do not look favorable in the area, or at the destination, consider altering your plans until conditions improve. If in doubt, don't go out!
- Familiarize yourself with the local waters where you plan to boat. Study your charts. Always use up-to-date nautical charts of the area.
- Make sure you have enough life jackets for all on board, including children. Life jackets can greatly increase chances of survival at sea.
- Purchase and register an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). This device, when activated, sends a distress signal to a satellite, helping rescue crews pinpoint a person's exact location in the event of an emergency. A personal locator beacon (PLB) is also recommended. PLBs function like EPIRBs, but are smaller and can be worn on clothes or a life jacket.
While on the water...
- Wear life jackets.
- Use marked channels where they exist and stay in deeper water where your propellers and hull won't damage shallow-water habitats. Know the draft of your boat and how much water you need to operate safely.
- Always pay attention to signs, markers, navigational aids, and information buoys, which may indicate shallow areas closed to motorized vessels and/or provide user information for that area.
- Wear polarized sunglasses to help you "read" the water. Shallow water appears dark (brown) to the observer, while deeper water appears blue or green. Sand-covered bottoms appear white and may or may not be deep enough for your vessel to navigate. Remember this jingle:
"Brown, brown, run aground.
White, white, you just might.
Blue, blue, sail on through.
Green, green, nice and clean."
- Keep track of the tides. The greatest range of tides (shallowest and deepest water) occurs during a full moon and new moon. Use extra caution when boating on a low tide.
- Monitor the weather. Wind and weather can change rapidly around the Florida Keys. Use VHF Channels 2 (lower Keys), 5 (middle/upper Keys), or 4 (North Key Largo-Ocean Reef) for updates on marine weather conditions.
- When in doubt about the depth, slow down and idle. Make sure the bow of the boat is down and the motor is trimmed or tilted up.
- If you run into a seagrass flat, you will be leaving a sediment trail behind your boat, making the water murky and probably cutting seagrass roots. Stop immediately and tilt your engine. Pole or push the boat into deeper water.
- If you feel you are in a distress situation, do not hesitate to call for help. The Coast Guard monitors VHF Channel 16 for marine emergencies. If your previously reported distress situation improves, notify the Coast Guard to reduce false alarms and ensure Coast Guard rescue crews are ready to respond to actual distress situations.
- Buoys are available on a first come, first served basis.
- Steer the boat from a helm station that enables you to see the buoy during the entire hook up.
- Approach slowly from down wind or down current, so that the floating yellow pick-up line is closest to you. Keep the buoy on the same side as the helm station so you can see it as you approach.
- Safely retrieve the yellow pick-up line with a boat hook. Put your vessel in neutral to avoid entanglement.
- Run your boat’s bow line through the loop of the yellow pick-up line. Cleat both ends of your bow line to the bow of your boat. Never tie the yellow pick-up line directly to your boat as it puts undue stress on the mooring anchor.
- Let out enough line so that the buoy is not pulled underwater and the line is horizontal. Rougher days may require even more line. Adding extra line will produce a more comfortable experience for your vessel while moored and reduce wear on the buoy system.
- Inspect the buoy your boat is tied to; you are responsible for your vessel. Check that it is holding as intended and report problems to any of the sanctuary offices.
Click HERE for a list of Buoys within the Florida Keys
Information courtesy of: https://floridakeys.noaa.gov/mbuoy/howto.html
- Before heading out, check weather conditions. It’s best not to go out in rough seas.
- Dumping trash at sea is illegal; plastic bags and other debris scan injure or kill marine animals. Try to retrieve fishing gear and equipment, especially monofilament line.
- Use sewage pump out facilities and biodegradable bilge cleaner and never discharge bilge water at the reef. Florida Keys state waters are a No Discharge Zone for boater sewage.
- Use reef mooring buoys or anchor in sandy areas away from coral and seagrasses so that anchor, chain, and line do not contact or damage coral or seagrasses.
- Practice good seamanship and safe boating. Accidental boat groundings damage the reef. Consult tide and navigational charts and steer clear of shallow areas. Boat propellors can cause seagrass scars, damage coral and result in fines. Avoid reefs and seagrasses that appear brown; stay in white sandy areas.
- If you run aground: turn the engine off, and tilt it up if possible. Do not try to motor off. Wait until high tide to remove the vessel. Call for assistance when necessary.
- When in a dive area, slow down to an idle speed. Fishermen, do not troll over or near divers. Stay at least 100 feet from a red and white diver down flag and watch for bubbles. Boaters, maintain safe distances from fishermen.
- Florida law requires a fishing license. Applicable size, bag limits, and seasons must be observed when harvesting seafood. Release all the fish you cannot eat and consult state and federal authorities for current regulations.
- Avoid wildlife disturbance; stay 100 yards or more offshore;keep speed, noise and wakes to a minimum near mangroves. Camping, campfires and collecting of any kind are prohibited on all National Wildlife Refuges.Personal watercraft and airboats are illegal in all National Parks and Wildlife Refuges in the Florida Keys.
Information Courtesy of: https://www.reefrelief.org/act/tips-for-boaters-and-fishermen/
- United States Coast Guard
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission is responsible for enforcing safe and environmentally-friendly boating and fishing practices in the Keys. FWC officers patrol docks, bridges and waters.
- Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary