Florida does by far the best job of identifying speed zones as any other US State. By far. (Canada is best of all, but I digress.) Florida Law defines three categories of marine speed limits: 1) “Idle Speed, No Wake,” 2) “Slow Speed, Minimum Wake” and 3) “Normal, Safe Operation.” READ MORE!
There are several variations of “Slow Speed, Minimum Wake:” everything from 25MPH nights, 30MPH days, to date restrictions, etc. Many, many “Slow Speed, Minimum Wake” signs have small print that says “channel exempted” or “channel included.” Or, within 300 feet of the west (or) east shore.” Or, “within 300 feet of the bridge.” Or, effective dates. Take a pair of binoculars and make sure you read the small print. That small print can save you travel hours and personal anxiety.
In almost all Manatee areas (narrow channels with shallow waters where the animals are likely to be in the deeper channel areas), you will see long stretches of “Slow Speed, Minimum Wake.” One that’s about 6 miles long runs from below New Smyrna Beach to Mosquite Lagoon. The good news is, there are actually relatively few “Idle Speed, No Wake” zones, and Florida in general does not abuse them. Remember, the best way to get compliance is when people
generally agree that the rules are “right.” If people comply because it’s the right thing to do, enforcement is not required. So, “Idle Speed, No Wake” zones
in Florida are generally short, and virtually always surround narrow bridges and boat ramp launch areas.
Florida State Law defines “Slow Speed, Minimum Wake” as “fully settled in the water,” not making a wake that would cause harm to other nearby boaters, and minimum wake. For trawlers that travel at hull speeds of 7.5 kts, “Slow Speed, Minimum Wake” is essentially not much different from your normal speed. All I do is back off 200-250 rpm or so to make sure my wake doesn’t break at the crests. That’s where I’m fully compliant with the law.
NOTE: This set of distinctions is NOT well understood, even by other boaters, so from time to time, people will yell at you. I always wave back in friendship.
One such area is the bascule bridge tender at the Haulover Canal. Another is the area of Peck Lake, just above Hobe Sound (Jupiter Island). And yet another is at the Royal Palm bridge in Palm Beach County. They’ll yell at you that you’re in a “No Wake” zone. Not true; the zones are clearly marked “Slow Speed, Minimum Wake.” When you remind them of that (high power, channel 13 or 16, so the whole world hears), they go quiet, or mumble and mutter. But, these areas are heavily patrolled, especially on weekends, and none of the police agencies (FWC, sheriff, metro) will quibble with you. In fact, they often operate (non emergency mode) with wakes larger than your own. We’ve never been stopped, and we always wave and get friendly waves back. Good judgement is important, too, since some min wake areas are more sensitive than others.
The pearl is, Florida “Slow Speed” zones are designed to protect Manatees by controlling heavy, powerful sportfish and sea-ray types that are fast, selfish and have exposed wheels; Manatee can easily avoid trawlers and slow cruisers. And of course, sail boats. So except for the immediate area of South Florida between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, you will rarely be inconvenienced by “No Wake” zones.
A good guide in South Florida is to watch what the local 12 – 18 foot day boaters are doing. They are a useful indicator in unfamiliar territory. If they’re ripping along, you’re OK. If they’re dawdling along, check the signage.
Peg and Jim Healy aboard Sanctuary
Currently at Franklin Lock, Alva, FL, southbound
What you write makes sense, but unfortunately law enforcement does not always use common sense. I have been stopped in my sailboat in a `Slow Speed, Minimum Wake’ zone while creating at most a 6-inch wave which I produce at my usual cruising speed. The most infuriating thing was that moments before I was pulled over I was seriously waked by a whole string of powerboats going full tilt through the same area. Luckily, when I angrily confronted the police officer with this information he let me go. His take was that even on a sailboat throwing almost no wake we must slow down significantly in these zones.
I have to disagree with Jim. Here on the West Coast you better be going slower than 7.5 kts in a min wake zone. I have personally asked three FWC law enforcement officers how they define min wake and none gave me an answer other than go very slow. They did not have any definition and most just shrugged their shoulders. Even the definition you quote just says `minimum wake’ at the end. I usually slow down to 1300 RPM or around 4 knots. Even at that speed I have had sheriffs boats pull along side of me and told to go slower. At anything over 5knts on the West Coast, you’ll get a ticket.