Swim with Manatees without Breaking the Law

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With an abundance of manatees, Florida’s waterways are a great destination for people interested in seeing and swimming with these docile sea giants. Usually beginning at the crack of dawn, when it’s still dark and the water is very cold, swim with manatee tours attract huge fanfare as crowds of adventurers jump into boats and are led to various spots. Once in the water, the captains tell tourists to lie still and float gently in water, waiting for manatees to come to them. And because the lumbering sea mammals are by nature curious, they hang around people as long as they feel safe.

So how do you swim with manatees without breaking the law?

1. Go with an in-water manatee tour guide

The majority of manatee tour providers have skilled, knowledgeable and experienced in-water guides who help tourists follow the laws and applicable guidelines when they swim with manatees. So when you go out on the water, make sure to have a guide to direct you from start to finish on your manatee swim. The guide will help you have a pleasant, educational and safe tour that respects the animals and their habitat, ensuring you don’t breach any laws.

2. Controlled physical interaction

Interacting with manatees physically is allowed, but it must be in a controlled manner, started by the manatee, and always using only one open hand. Passive observation is highly encouraged and a proven way to interact with manatees as it ensures a longer interaction and is ideal for the long-term safety of the animals. Passive observation means you simply float in water at a safe distance from any of the manatees and wait to see if they will approach you. If a manatee initiates contact, which some of them will as they are used to tourists, you can tenderly pet it on the side, tummy or back with a single, flat open hand. You have to remember that it’s a privilege to be in a manatee habitat, so the best way to show gratitude for this wonderful experience is to treat the animals with respect and ensure this unique interaction continues well into the future.

3. Avoid any form of harassment

Harassment means any action that may alter the natural behavior of a manatee. For instance, touching, feeding or giving them water can change how they behave in the wild, possibly causing them to lose their fear of humans and boats and making them more vulnerable to harm. For similar reasons you must give manatees plenty of space to move, avoiding any isolation, singling out or separating a manatee from a group or a calf from its mother. You must never chase, pursue, poke, stab, prod, hook, hold, pinch, grab, snag, ride or hit a manatee as such actions can expose them to danger. Keep your hands, feet or any object you may have away from manatees.

4. Minimize noise and splashing

If you are swimming near manatees, keep your movement, noise and splashing to a minimum. The manatees may be resting and could come to the surface unnoticed and unaware of your presence. Noise and splashing also may startle the animals, make them leave their safe zones and drive them into harm’s way. Use snorkel gear to float in the water and passively observe them. Avoid scuba gear because the sound of bubbles from such devices may make manatees leave their safe areas.

5. Avoid swimming into manatee refuges

Don’t enter areas that have been marked as manatee sanctuaries. These protected areas are for the animals to graze and rest undisturbed. And because the zones are out of bounds, you must always wait for manatees to choose to leave their safe zones and come to you out of their own curiosity. You must never bribe them with food, harass them or coerce them in any way to come to you. In fact, it’s an amazingly humbling experience to know that manatees are choosing to come and interact with you on their own, so why not just wait patiently.

Although it is lawful to swim and snorkel with manatees in Crystal River, the animals remain protected under the Marine Mammal Act and the Endangered Species Act, with specific rules that must be followed and which are strictly enforced at all times. So follow these rules to avoid any fines or a jail term prescribed in state or federal law.

Are you planning a swim-with-manatees tour in Crystal River? At Captain Mike’s, we would like to be your tour partner. We have planned and led thousands of manatee tours, ensuring that tourists under our care enjoy the most delightful outings. We are a believer in manatee protection and conservation so will make sure that your tour conforms to all the state and federal laws and regulations. You can’t find yourself on the wrong side of the law when you go on a manatee tour with us. For more information on manatees, manatee tours and manatee protection, visit the “Captain Mike’s Swimming With The Manatees” site.


Swimming with the Manatees boasts the best water adventure in Crystal River, Florida with lots of things to do for you and your family. For more information, contact us online, or call us at (352) 571-1888.

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