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Salty Southeast
Cruisers' Net
Cruisers Helping Cruisers

Excellent Explanation of Florida Restrictive Speed Zones, plus comments

We think you will appreciate the new comments from Dan, Glenn and Bill on Jim Healy’s article on wake originally posted by Claiborne in 2011.

Jim Healy

The very informative message below is copied from the Trawlers and Trawlering Mail List. This free list is an excellent adjunct to Cruisers’ Net, and we highly recommend it. Thanks to Captain Jim Healy for giving one of the best and most thorough descriptions of restrictive speed zones I have ever seen!

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.
Jim
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.
John Kettlewell

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.
Dick Goldfarb

Comments from the Cruisers' Net Community (5)

  1. Norman Mason -  April 20, 2018 - 1:27 pm

    Jim’s analysis is ,as always, excellent. The Florida DNR and local law enforcement may understand the difference in “slow speed minimum wake” vs. “idle speed no wake”. The Coast Guard, however, does not. I was stopped by the Coast Guard going into Fort Pierce. I was running 1000 rpm, and a speed of about 5.5 knots in a “slow speed minimum wake” zone. My Monk 36 was fully settled in the water, with minimum wake. I showed the USCG boarding party the Florida DNR definitions. This was to no avail, as he said there was “no difference”. Except for the fact we determined somehow that we had gone to high schools that played each other in sports, I would have been cited with a Federal violation. There was no discussion of any difference in his opinion. He finally let me off with a warning.
    I wish there was some way to resolve this issue, but now, If the speed zone is relatively short, regardless of what it is marked, I run at idle speed. The zone south of New Smyrna Beach, marked” Slow speed minimum wake” is one I would probably run 5 knots, because it is so long.
    Norman Mason
    Peggy Sue, Monk 36, currently cruising St. John’s River, FL
    California, MD
    April 20, 2018

    Reply
  2. Bill Marett -  April 18, 2018 - 4:45 am

    “the area of Peck Lake, just above Hobe Sound (Jupiter Island).” … “But, these areas are heavily patrolled, especially on weekends, and none of the police agencies (FWC, sheriff, metro) will quibble with you.”

    Unfortunately, that has not been my experience. I’ve been stopped while slightly above idle speed by FWC, and on another occasion had a siren and blue lights with a “back down” wave. Each time I explained that I was traveling at 800 rpm, with idle at 600. No ticket, but was followed to the “resume safe normal operation” sign. Moral: it all depends . . .
    Bill Marett

    Reply
  3. glenn -  April 15, 2018 - 5:51 pm

    Slow also means very small wake.
    Here is quote from the FWS boaters handbook

    Areas where vessels must be fully off plane and completely settled in the water. Any wake created by a vessel in one of these zones must be minimal (very small). If your vessel is traveling with the bow even slightly elevated while in one of these zones, it is not proceeding at “Slow Speed” as required by law.

    Reply
  4. Dan -  April 14, 2018 - 2:29 pm

    That is the problem with the FL law. Although it is defined, it really is subjective. If a cop is having a bad day, his judgment could be much more restrictive. In other states, I think they pretty much say slow speed or no wake is defined as 5 MPH. In that case, its pretty much non-subjective.

    Reply
    • Bill Marett -  April 18, 2018 - 9:18 am

      ” In other states, I think they pretty much say slow speed or no wake is defined as 5 MPH. In that case, its pretty much non-subjective.”

      The problem with a specific speed limit is that larger boats can’t go that slow. I do 6kts [7 mph] at idle, sport fishers do even more – even with trolling valves. So the best that we can get is the off plane, fully settled in the water, minimal wake standard; despite its subjectivity.

      Reply

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