I would say generally a ticket – civil fine. Could be ordered back to dock - even towed back you are not sea worthy. In Florida, if you committee 2 non-criminal violations in a 12 month period, you have to take a mandatory boater safety class. So, for example, if you have out of date flairs and no working horn/audible signal device – back to school for you, and thinner check book.
But if something goes bad because of negligence, for instance you knowingly exceed the number of passengers on the capacity plate and there is an accident with a serious injury or fatality, you can be charge with a criminal office including negligent homicide. A victim can also bring suit for damages in civil court. So the “worst” that can happen by not complying with the safety laws can be life changing – assuming you are not the fatality that resulted from a violation. The purpose of the law is to protect lives. Its not a big deal to get this right. Be safe.
I went fishing sunday (1.20.2013) and got pulled over right at dark. I had my red&green lights but not my stern (white) light. Violation #1. My flares were expired. Violation #2. My fire extinguisher gauge was in the red. Violation #3. LEO cited me a warning for two of the violations and fined me for one violation. Each violation was $92 so he could have got me for $276. I just sent my ticket and check for $92 to Bay county court house. GO GET WHAT YOUR SUPPOSE TO HAVE!
Check out this site and have one done every year. I have inspected a bunch of boats that are not seaworthy, don't have tge proper safety gear or are over loaded. I have even responded to rescue calls on vessels that earlier in the day have terminated their voyage because of missing safety items or not being seaworthy. It's free and you might learn something. Also recommend taking a boaters safety course. take along your spouse and kids and ask who ever goes out with you regularly to attend as well.