The key word to remember as an ethical boater or angler is respect. Respect is the most important rule of all; respect for other people and of course, for the marine environments in which we play. All anybody wants is to have a safe and enjoyable experience out on the water, which requires a level of courtesy on everyone’s part. So, how exactly do we remain respectful and courteous in these situations?
Proper Boating Etiquette
Preparing & Launching
Respect and courtesy begin before you ever even get out on the water. For starters, when fueling up your boat, do so quickly and move along. Once you arrive at the dock, do not immediately head to the ramp. If the launch site is new to you, find a place out of the way where you can park and get out (if necessary) to check out the ramp, the dock, the water level, the flow of traffic and/or anything else that will help to make the process go smoothly.
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You should prep your boat for launch in the staging area, ensuring that you have met the requirements of your pre-departure checklist. If you don’t have a pre-departure checklist, get one! When you are ready, launch your boat as efficiently as possible, having others in your party assist if available (be sure everyone knows their place and/or job). Use the dock lines to walk the boat away from the launching area or have someone in your party drive it away. Then, quickly pull the trailer back up the ramp and into a designated parking space.
On the Water
Ethical boaters are those that follow safe boating procedures. Most importantly, always wear your life jacket! Boat operators of vessels less than 26-feet in length with an engine cut-off device must also wear an engine cut-off switch, in case they need to shut the engine off while away from the helm.
Additionally, it is just as critical that boaters understand the rules of the waterways. You should know who on the water has the right of way at any given moment and follow all signs, such as No Wake Zone warnings. Your boat should always remain at least 200 feet from the shoreline and other boaters and you should yield to wading fisherman. Watch out for swimmers and other anglers in the water. Try to give anglers space as the sounds and movements from vessels can spook their targets. Keep your sounds to a minimum when possible, so as not to disturb others on the water and local residents.
Stash your trash. Keep all trash safely tucked away until you can dispose of it properly onshore.
Coming Back In
When you are ready to call it a day and head back to the dock, begin by being mindful of the current. Additionally, if there are people in the area or boats ahead of you, remain patient and wait your turn. When it’s time, drop off your passengers if you have any. Look for a courtesy dock to tie up at while you or someone in your party retrieves the trailer. Load the boat and secure as efficiently as you can. Move into the staging area to complete your post-boating, road-ready checklist.
Ethical angling refers to the knowledge and execution of fishing methods and habits that abide by regulations and are better for the environment. Knowing when to keep or release your catch, handling fish with care, being able to identify the fish being targeted, knowing the bags limits and fishing seasons, catching and/or releasing appropriately, understanding the habitats in which you are fishing and the regulations that govern them.
The first thing all anglers should know is that regardless of the species of fish or whether or not you are keeping it, you should handle marine life as little as possible, doing so quickly. The less a fish is handled and the longer it is kept in the water, the better its chances of survival. For large species and those that are harvest prohibited, the fish should stay in the water at all times so as to support its weight. If you have no choice but to remove the fish from the water, you must first get your hands wet to protect the epidermal mucus, or slime, on the fish’s skin. If you would like to take a picture with your catch, keep the fish horizontal, support its weight and be careful not to touch the gills or eyes.
If you notice that the fish seems lethargic or ‘off’ when you release it back into the water, you may need to resuscitate it. To do so, you want to hold the fish in the water and use the current to gently force the water through its mouth and over its gills. You can also move it forward in a figure-8 motion.
It is also incredibly important to discard of fishing materials properly, particularly monofilament lines. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission encourages everyone to Reel in and Recycle with the Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program (MRRP). This is a “statewide project dedicated to reducing the environmental damage caused by discarded fishing line” and “aims to educate the public on the problems caused by monofilament line left in the environment, courage recycling through a network of line recycling bins and drop-off locations, and help citizens host volunteer monofilament line cleanup events”. If you are interested, you can even build your own monofilament recycling bin.
Part of ethical angling is doing your part to properly dispose of used line in the proper bins. If you wish to discard it into a trash receptacle, please be sure it has a lid and that you cut the line into 6-inch sections beforehand.
Never dump anything into the water that is not specifically meant for marine life or that could harm any marine creature.
As always, watch out for other boaters, anglers and recreational activities.
Rules & Regulations
Ethical boating and angling hinge upon understanding and following local and federal regulations. Step one is to make sure you have the proper licenses and permits based on your activities. You should also be aware of any bag, size or slot limits set for your target fish or whether that species is currently catch-and-release only. Be sure you thoroughly understand any seasonal regulations as well. Additionally, you should read up on which fishing methods are allowed for your target species, as some species have rules against certain approaches. There is an app that can help you keep track of all of this, known as Fish Rules, available for iPhones and Androids.
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Help! I Caught Something Other Than a Fish.
If you have accidentally snagged something other than a fish, such as a bird, or come upon an entangled or injured animal like a sea turtle, there are resources for helping and reporting such incidents.
If you hook a bird, do not cut the line! Reel it in, remove the hook and release. Watch this video on how to safely do so. If the bird swallows the hook or is seriously injured, you can use the free Seabird Rehabilitators app to find the closest rehabilitator and/or transporter, or the free FWC Reporter app to report it. Do not leave the bird until someone takes over for you.
If you are dealing with a sea turtle incident, please call the FWC’s 24-hour Wildlife Alert number at 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922) and stay with the turtle until help arrives or until instructed otherwise.
For any other type of wildlife, please visit the FWC’s Incident Reporting page.
Remember, you are not the only one out on the water. There are living creatures all around you, even when you can’t see them. Be respectful of their habitats and of other people enjoying the same resources. Become a marine resource steward simply by follow these ethical guidelines so that future generations can enjoy these same activities for years to come.