By Steve Morrell
On July 1, 2016, a Florida law (HB 703 2016) went into effect that allowed boat owners to get a boat safety equipment inspection by water police in the state. If they passed the boat inspection, they could then get a decal from the inspecting officer which they could mount on their boat (location to be done under specific instructions). With the decal, the police cannot stop a boat just to do a boat safety inspection (unless they see something not in compliance). Currently, the decals have no expiration date. [A new law is going into effect in 2018 that will allow the FWC to set an expiration date.]
The bill was passed as a result of State Representative Rick Workman’s efforts after he was stopped on his boat several times over the course of a year for safety inspections and he got tired of it.
After being asked by a reader about the decal they read about in SOUTHWINDS last year, I went on the website of the main marine patrol in Florida, the Florida Wildlife and Conservation Commission (www.myfwc.com). After extensive searching, I found nothing on their website that even mentioned the inspection and decal, so I called the FWC and was told that FWC officers and local marine patrol officers should be able to inspect your boat and should have decals with them.
I asked why there was nothing on the FWC website mentioning this, and the FWC officer replied that there was no interest in the boat inspection decals, so they didn’t put anything up on the site. I wondered if there was little interest, because most people are unaware of it, partially because the FWC isn’t promoting it. Maybe they don’t want people to know about it, although promoting boating inspections should be a good thing.
The law states this: “The operator of a vessel, upon demonstrated compliance with safety equipment carriage and use requirements as provided in this chapter during a safety inspection initiated by a law enforcement officer, shall be issued a safety inspection decal signifying such compliance.” What this indicates is that if an officer stops you (or approaches you at a dock or anchorage) and wants to inspect your boat and it passes inspection, you will be given a decal. It says that it “shall be issued,” which is wording that he has to give you a decal. But there is nothing in the law that says you can ask for an inspection by approaching an officer, although that could be implied (but not being a lawyer, that is a guess on my part). I would think that a amiable officer would inspect your boat and give you a decal on request, but that’s no guarantee as indicated in the wording of the law, although the BoatUS document states this:
How Will the Decals Be Issued?
The decals will only be issued to vessels on the water after an inspection that is initiated by a law enforcement officer. Boaters may request a safety inspection from an officer while on the water. However, there is no guarantee that officer will be able to inspect the vessel and issue a decal. You should request the decal if you receive an on the water safety inspection. Currently these decals have no expiration date.
Keep in mind the BoatUS document is not the law. I guess you could do something illegal to attract the attention of an officer and then hope that he inspects your boat when he stops you, but then you might end up with a citation – or in jail – for the initial action you took to get him to stop you, but at least you’ll have the decal (which he must give you). Just make sure you will pass the inspection. I don’t advise this in any way, but it illustrates the problem boaters face.
So, perhaps the intention was to be stopped only once and inspected and get a decal so you can’t be stopped again. But if you don’t pass and you fix the item that failed, do you then have to wait until the next time you are stopped (which is an inspection “initiated by an officer”)?
In the long run, if everyone got there boat inspected and had a decal, that would be good for general boating safety, although the law says there is no expiration date on them, which can be a problem, as an inspection that’s old and/or the boat has changed hands could mean it needs to have its safety equipment checked out. It would probably be a good idea to require that it is only good for a limited period of time, before another inspection is required with a new decal. Just make sure that if you are stopped, you get the decal, as the officer must give it to you, as it says in the law.
In my final analysis, I think it would be wise to ammend the law so that the boat operator can request an inspection and get a decal, and then make the decal good for a limited period of time, maybe a year or two – and require a new certificate upon transfer of ownership of the vessel.
The law has nothing to do with the right of the Coast Guard to stop and inspect a boat for safety equipment. They can stop a boat whenever they want for almost any reason they want.
And don’t forget to pass your boat inspection if you get one — hard to get the decal if you don’t pass the inspection. Learn the Florida boating laws here. And don’t forget to have your boat registration on board.
If you have asked a marine patrol officer for a safety inspection and decal, but had problems getting it, please let us know. Contact the editor.