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Must-Know Rules for Boating Near Manatees in Southwest Florida

by Duncan Seawall

Boating with family and friends off the shores of Southwest Florida is a fun and popular pastime in Sarasota, Bradenton, and the surrounding areas. The only thing Florida is more known for than boating is protecting its wildlife. It’s important to remember while boating in Florida that we are sharing the waters with all sorts of animals including the highly endangered and protected Florida manatee.



With that, here is everything you need to know about the manatee, the boating regulations and signs, and what you can do to help protect them while boating in Florida’s waters.

Related Blog: Guide to Boating Signage in Southwest Florida

The Florida Manatee—An Endangered Species

These majestic, massive, and gentle creatures are found throughout Florida's coastal waters. The manatees' propensity for traveling along the coast and near the shore makes them vulnerable to serious injuries and even death as a result of boating accidents along the shore. It is vital as a boater to ensure you are taking the steps necessary to keep this endangered species protected by following certain tips and guidelines while boating.


What You Need to Know About Boating and Manatees in Southwest Florida

From reading signage to knowing their routines, here are some of the most important things to know about boating around manatees in Florida.


Follow Posted Boating Rules & Signage

The most critical action you can take to help protect the manatees and other wildlife while boating is to make certain you are following all posted signage and wake zones


Throughout Florida's waters, you will encounter designated Manatee sanctuaries where boating is not allowed. Make sure you steer clear while boating from these posted areas to avoid harming manatees in their protected habitats.


Know Where the Manatees Like To Go

While there is signage posted for known manatee sanctuaries, manatees will often travel along the shores and the inlets of Florida outside of these sanctuaries. When boating near the shore or in shallower waterways, it is important to know the location of manatee wake zones and sanctuaries as well as the areas likely to be inhabited by manatees.


Stay Alert & Slow Down to Keep Safe

The best precaution for the protection of manatees and boaters is to keep a slow speed when traveling along in areas where manatees tend to travel. This will give you the opportunity to stay alert and keep an eye out for manatees nearby and keep your boat’s engine and wake from disrupting them. 


Manatees can often be spotted by looking for ripples in the water or their bodies slightly poking out from the surface such as their tails, snouts, flippers, or back.


If You Spot a Manatee, Give Them Space

If you are lucky enough to spot a manatee while boating, the first thing you must do is slow down and give them ample space. Unlike your fast-moving vessel, manatees are slow-moving creatures and will not be able to move out of harm's way quickly enough. 


If you want to stick around and watch these amazing creatures make sure you turn off your engine and stay a reasonable distance away. Do not attempt to feed, pet, or give water to a manatee. First, it is illegal to do so as they are an endangered species and are protected under federal law. 


Secondly, engaging in these behaviors with manatees will lead to further harm down the road as they will become less fearful of humans and boats leading to a higher likelihood of accidents and injuries. For the safety of manatees and yourself, it is best to observe this wildlife from a distance of at least 50 feet.


Leave No Trace Behind

As a responsible boater, it is vital to make sure you leave no trace. Keep trash secured while on your vessel and discard all fishing paraphernalia in a responsible manner. 


Trash, hooks, and fishing lines that make it into the waterways pose a serious danger to all marine wildlife. Picking up after ourselves and doing our part to keep Florida's waters clean ensures the health and safety of these animals.


We can all do our part to protect the unique wildlife of Southwest Florida's waters. Ensure you remain vigilant while boating near the shore and follow all posted rules for a safe, enjoyable, and accident-free excursion.


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