Manatees are semi-migratory marine mammals and are often mobile in the summer, when they are commonly seen in shallow estuaries, bays, rivers, canals, and coastal areas throughout Florida and—to a lesser degree—neighboring states: most commonly Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama. While relatively uncommon, some manatees are known to travel as far west as Texas and as far north as Massachusetts. As they are slow moving and must regularly surface to breathe air, collisions between manatees and watercraft are devastatingly common. Nearly every living manatee bears scars from encounters with boat propellers, and high-speed collisions with fast-moving watercraft is a top cause of manatee deaths.
Educated and watchful boaters play a critical role in protecting manatees. Manatees are slow moving and must regularly surface to breathe air, and collisions between manatees and watercraft are unfortunately common. Nearly every living manatee bears scars from encounters with boat propellers, and high-speed collisions with fast-moving watercraft is a top cause of manatee deaths.
Everyone on the water can help protect these gentle giants by following these manatee-safe boating guidelines:
- Always obey posted speed zones. If you will be in an unfamiliar area, look for a boater’s guide for the county or counties you will be visiting so you can become familiar with the location of manatee speed zones in advance.
- Wear polarized sunglasses while boating to eliminate the glare of the sun and see below the water’s surface. Have a designated spotter on your vessel to watch out for manatees.
- Check around your vessel before starting the motor to make sure manatees are not nearby.
- Look for a snout, back, tail, or flipper breaking the surface of the water. A swirl or flat spot on the water is also created by the motion of the manatee’s tail when it dives or swims.
- Stay in deep water channels when boating. Avoid boating over seagrass beds and shallow areas where manatees might be feeding. However, be aware that manatees also use deep water channels when traveling.
- If you see a manatee while operating a boat or personal watercraft, remain a safe distance away—50 feet is the suggested minimum. If you want to observe the manatee, cut your motor.
- If you like to jet-ski, water-ski, or participate in high-speed watersports, choose areas that manatees do not or cannot frequent, such as landlocked lakes or waters well offshore.
- Report injured or dead manatees to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by calling 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).
If you are at all concerned that a manatee may be sick, injured, entangled, or orphaned, or if you see a manatee that is being harassed or wearing a “tag” or tracking device, please immediately report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) 24-hour Wildlife Alert Hotline by calling 1-888-404-3922 (FWCC). Outside of Florida, please make a report with a local wildlife agency or stranding network. Get more information.