Have you ever wanted to do something out of your comfort zone that isn’t necessarily on the extreme dangerous activities list for your life insurance policy?

Well I have news for you! You can swim with manatees in Florida and because of the laws you should be pretty safe in doing so.

Of course it’s a wild animal and you always have to assume some risk but honestly being in the water with these guys doesn’t seem all that bad.

So today I’m going to share with you our experience of swimming with manatees in Florida. We didn’t get into the water with them since we were big wimps with the cold water.

More on that later!

swim with manatees crystal river fl

Swim with Manatees

We should probably cover some safety tips and rules before we get too far into the fun. If you are going to be on the water or in the water with these protected animals there are certain things you need to know.

Manatees live all over Florida because the waters are warm. They can’t survive in water cooler than 68 degrees and the Florida Springs stay over 70 degrees year-round.

So there are rules in place and Citrus County, FL is the only place you can get in the water with them legally.

So let’s get the boring stuff out of the way!

The US Fish and Wildlife Service put out this video called Manatee Manners on how to act in the water. If you get on a tour you will be required to watch this video before you go. If you go out on your own it’s still a good idea to watch it.

There are officers patrolling the areas and it’s in your best interest to follow their rules.

And don’t for the sake of the gram try to take a photo of you riding, touching or even sitting on a manatee. You will go to jail.

Here are a few of the rules laid out in the Fish & Wildlife Commission:

  • No touching, poking or prodding manatees
  • No chasing or pursuing a manatee whether in the water or on a boat, kayak or paddleboard
  • Avoid splashing around manatees

You can read more about those guidelines here.

Now onto the fun stuff!

Where to Swim with Manatees in Crystal River, FL

Like I said above Citrus County, FL is the only area in Florida where you are permitted in the water with manatees legally.

Crystal River is one of the most well-known areas that attracts manatees in Florida. The springs in that area stay above 72-74 degrees year round and they flow right into the ocean. So manatees can come right up from the gulf into the springs to take refuge.

Kings Bay & Crystal River is said to have hosted up to 600 manatees per year in the winter.

When we were in this area we put our raft in at Hunter Springs the first day. There is a kayak launch there that is open to the public and there is public parking in the same area.

You can pull up near the launch and offload your boat then go park your vehicle.

Once we were in the water we paddled around the kids swimming area and out into the channel. No more than 15 minutes paddling down the channel just behind the first row of houses we saw our first manatee.

We also saw a Fish & Wildlife Officer and he chatted with us for a few minutes about their classification system for the manatees.

The manatee we saw in particular that had scars on it’s back from being hit with a boat prop.

He boated away and we were able to get some footage under the water of this beautiful creature.

We kept paddling on out towards the bay and saw a couple more swimming on up the channel towards clearer more shallow waters.

The guides will tell you that you’ve got about a 50% chance of seeing a manatee on any given day.

We saw several pretty quick on day 1.

The next day we put in over at Kings Bay Park and floated out into the bay and over to Three Sisters Springs.

That day we didn’t see a manatee until the very end of the day when we were on our way back to Kings Bay Park and it was in the deep dark water behind Pete’s Pier.

You can see a map here of the areas where you can find the manatee sanctuaries.

Other Places to Swim with Manatees

So there are a few other areas you can swim and see manatees in the wild in Citrus County. Crystal River isn’t the only area.

Manatee Springs State Park is another area where manatees are spotted. We did float this area but we didn’t see them the day we went. They were there the day before though. So again, it’s a 50/50 shot of seeing them.

Blue Springs in Homosassa is another area where you can encounter manatees but it wasn’t clear from their sign or the website whether or not you can get in the water. So we didn’t go here to try to get in the water with them.

The Best Time to See Manatees

So the best time according to the wildlife officer to see manatees was in January to Februay timeframe. But it’s cooler then and you may not want to get in the water without a wetsuit. There are also hundreds of them so that may also be an issue.

Being there in April allowed us to see a few each time we went out but the majority of them leave. The locals probably think of them as backyard pets at this point since they see them all the time.

The best time during the day to go is morning because the manatees are up and feeding early.

So have you added swimming with manatees to your bucket list yet? Perhaps it’s an encounter of a lifetime. At the very least you should definitely consider checking out the Florida Springs because they are truly a thing of beauty.

We love traveling in our RV to discover all of these beautiful places. If you are camping and looking for RV travel tips make sure to grab our checklist for what to do before you leave your camp in your RV!


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Where to Swim with Manatees in Florida