It’s nearing Crystal River’s favorite time of year, Scalloping Season. Beginning July 1 and running through September 24, Citrus County locals and visitors from all over the world will head out to the scallop grounds in search of the tasty mollusk. With this surge in boat traffic also comes an increase in patrols by Florida Fish and Wildlife (FWC) officers, who often bring in extra officers from around the state to handle all the boaters and make sure everyone is safe while on, and in, the water. There are some regulations that boaters, both new and experienced, should keep in mind before heading out on the water.
Of course, if you’re going to have alcohol onboard, you should always have a designated, sober operator. With the increase in the number of boaters and people sharing the water, the operator needs to have their full attention on safely navigating the vessel. A rule that surprises some during scallop season is that boaters must have and display a divers down indicator, either a flag or approved buoy, anytime someone from the boat is in the water and using a face mask and snorkel. This is an important warning for other boaters to know that there are people below the water. If you are approaching a vessel with a divers down device, you must stay 300 feet away if in open water, like the scalloping grounds. If you do come within 300 feet of the divers, the approaching vessel must slow down to idle speed.
This is a common violation and one that the FWC officers rigorously enforce- and with good reason. Serious injury and even death can occur in an instant if a scalloper is hit with a boat or a running propeller. Boaters should also know that distance perception is tough in open water environments. The FWC officers use laser rangefinders to get a precise distance between the offending vessel and the divers down device. It’s best to use caution and give the scallopers as much room as possible or slow down to idle speed. Nobody wants their day on the water to end with somebody getting injured or charged with a boating violation.
If an FWC officer does charge you with violating the divers down rule, they will likely write you a ticket for reckless boating. Even though it looks like a traffic ticket, it is actually a misdemeanor offense. The citation states that it is a criminal violation but will typically state that a court appearance is not required. In the notes section, the officer will enter the fine amount and a court date. This is known as a pay or appear and the recipient has the option of paying the fine or challenging the charge in court. If you simply pay the clerk the fine, you are admitting guilt and will be adjudicated guilty of a crime! If you do find yourself charged with a scalloping related violation, it is important that you consult with an attorney familiar with the FWC regulations to go over the case and help protect your criminal record. An attorney familiar with this type of violation will know how best to defend the accusation and negotiate for the best outcome possible. At Caughey Law, PLLC, we are well acquainted with FWC regulations and violations and ready to provide a steadfast defense for you.