The Ultimate Guide To Swimming With Manatees In Florida

Soniya exclaimed, “Look! I saw it first; it’s right there.” As our captain and I turned our gazes in that direction, we too beheld the majestic sight of the sea cow.

Indeed, manatees are affectionately known as “sea cows” due to their robust physique and gentle disposition, allowing them to thrive in warm water temperatures.

Swimming with Manatees in Florida

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As I redirected my gaze toward Soniya, a wave of joy washed over me. To my surprise, she had already put on her snorkeling gear, preparing to immerse herself in the aquatic realm, her head gently poking out from the bow of the boat.

Inspired by Soniya’s adventurous spirit, I decided to follow suit and submerge my head in the water. I want to see them closely!

A smile instantly spread across my face as a heartwarming sight unfolded before my eyes—I beheld a playful calf swimming gracefully alongside its doting mother and other companions.

The spectacle engraved itself deep into my memory—a sight I will cherish for a lifetime. Our encounter took place in the enchanting Crystal River, nestled in the heart of Central Florida.

This blog is all about knowing about –  manatees swimming in Florida waters and how can you swim with them. Let’s know!

Can you Legally Swim with Manatees in Florida?

In Crystal River, Florida, it is permissible to partake in the exhilarating experience of swimming with manatees, either through the assistance of a reputable guided tour company or independently. 

The local regulations allow for this unique interaction, granting visitors the opportunity to forge a personal connection with these gentle giants. Hence, swimming with manatees in Florida is legal. 

Moreover, in the United States, the Crystal River is the only place where you can swim with West Indian manatees in crystal clear water legally. Additionally, there are certain rules for swimming with Manatees. 

In 1983, the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge was established, encompassing an expansive 80-acre refuge area around Kings Bay, as per Discover Crystal River Florida.

The primary objective of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is to safeguard the West Indian Manatee. The Refuge encompasses a collection of 20 islands and springs, accessible solely by boat.

Nevertheless, failing to abide by the golden rules while swimming with manatees can result in legal consequences, as you may be deemed a criminal.

It is crucial to bear in mind that altering the natural habitat of these gentle creatures is strictly prohibited by law.

Note: Manatees are protected by the US federal laws. If you try to harass them or violate laws get ready to pay a hefty fine or a great time in jail.  

Legally Swim with Manatees, Swimming with manatees in Florida
Sea Cows in Florida

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Ethical Rules to Follow if You’re Swimming with Manatees

  • It is essential to minimize your movements to the greatest extent possible. Avoid chasing manatees and instead opt for the passive observation approach. These magnificent creatures can detect your presence from a distance of 10 feet. By remaining calm and composed, you increase the likelihood of them approaching you for a curious sniff!
  • In Florida, it is permissible to touch manatees with two hands, as long as it is done in an ethical manner without causing any disturbance. However, it is important to note that touching them is only allowed at the water’s surface and solely if the manatees initiate contact themselves.
swimming with the manatees in Florida
Swimming with the manatee in Florida

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Best Time for Swimming with Manatees in Florida

The period between November 15th and March 31st, commonly regarded as the winter season, is widely considered the optimal time for swimming with manatees in Florida.

During the winter months, when the Gulf of Mexico experiences colder temperatures, manatees seek refuge in Crystal River near power plants, where warm water is available.

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Yes, you’ll preferably see 400 manatees that can weigh up to 1,000 pounds but amidst the bustling atmosphere… The first time when I came here was on Christmas Eve. 

I had one of the bad experiences. There are more than fifty boats on the bay. There were so many people, everyone clicking pictures, and shouting.

I did my first Manatee snorkel tour with Coast Guard Certified Master Captain. Their three hours full-service tour facility is marvelous.

Despite my best efforts to minimize my movements in the water, my experience was not as ideal as I had hoped.

The tranquility was often disrupted by the enthusiastic shouts of fellow observers who couldn’t contain their excitement upon spotting the manatees.

I saw so many snorkelers hovering over the manatees. Also, in the latter half, the weather got unpredictable. The sea got little rough and high wind started blowing.

swim with manatees legally
Manatee in Crystal River

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My experience: Best time to swim with manatees in Florida:

According to me, the best time to swim with manatees in Florida is early May to mid-June. I’m sure you’ll argue with me, but let me tell you why.

In mid-May, I came to Crystal River accompanied by my friend Soniya. Although we didn’t have the opportunity to swim among a crowd of 400 manatees, we experienced something equally special. 

We peacefully swam alongside a group of 20 resident manatees, relishing the tranquility and forging a deeper connection with these magnificent creatures.

To my sheer delight, two playful manatees swam right beside me, curiously sniffing my presence. Their joyful energy was palpable, as they seemed incredibly active and content.

Astonishingly, one of them even wrapped its flipper around my waist, as if embracing the moment with a heartwarming gesture of connection.

I did my second Manatee tour with Explorida’s site, ranked as No.3 in Top Overall Experiences in the U.S. in Tripadvisor’s Traveller’s Choice Best of the Best rankings. 

I took their Sunset snorkel tour which cost me $74. I was able to click so many great pictures of the cute marine giants against the setting sun in peace.

Soniya held our GoPro camera, and to our astonishment, one of the manatees became incredibly curious. This unexpected encounter led to a remarkable close-up video capture.

If you prefer private tours that will cost $575. You can choose to stay on a cruise and not dip into water too, the cost will be less in that case.

manatee swim in Florida
Sunset manatee snorkel tour, Picture – buddythetravelingmonkey

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The Best Place to Swim with Manatees in Florida

Located on the West Coast of Florida, the Crystal River is a verified treasure for snorkelers, divers, and swimmers alike. Here you’ll find 10% of Florida’s captivating sea cow population

Witnessing the graceful swimming and playful antics of the manatees in Crystal River is an indescribable delight. However, it’s important to note that only a few specific places in Crystal River are accessible for such encounters.

So know those places:

1. Three Sister Springs

Three Sister Springs is a refreshing natural spring in Florida where sea cows often enjoy human interaction. It is a 57-acre wildlife refuge in Crystal River. 

During my visit, I was astonished when a manatee turned over, exposing its belly, as if inviting me to give it a gentle rub. It swam alongside me and even playfully nibbled on me, creating an unforgettable and interactive experience.

Make sure, you’re not too jumpy in the water because that can bring the sediment rising from the bottom of the river. 

If the Gulf of Mexico temperature becomes 62 degrees Fahrenheit, The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation closes the springs for the good health of manatees.

Note: Currently, due to the Three Sister Springs Canal Stabilization Project the spring is closed till 15th November 2023.

Tip: Selfie sticks and drones are not allowed

crystal river, three sister springs
Three Sister Springs

2. Kings Springs

Kings Springs sits adjacent to Banana Islanda beautiful mangrove forest, one of my favorite places to swim with the manatee spots.

I encountered numerous young manatees that swam over us, rolling onto their backs, inviting us to pet and scratch their tummies. 

Engaging in playful interactions, we found ourselves joyfully immersed in a delightful game with these charming creatures.

The Ultimate Guide To Swimming With Manatees In Florida
Manatee tour

3. Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park

If your dream is to see manatees in Orlando, Florida, Homosassa Springs is the best family-friendly spot to visit. 

For those who prefer to admire manatees without entering the water, Homosassa Springs is an ideal destination. 

This modern-day zoo offers a unique experience where you can rent a kayak and observe these gentle creatures from a distance.

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The park sits a few miles south of Crystal River and is home to not only manatees but various varieties of fauna like alligators, black bears, and birds.

Manatees that have been orphaned or injured are kept in the park to take care of and research. They run educational programs for the public too.

Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park
Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park

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Where to See Manatees in Florida?

  • Fort Myers at Lee County Manatee Park
  • Miami at Seaquarium
  • Tampa at Lowry Park Zoo
  • Chiefland at Manatee Springs State Park
  • Spring Hill at Weeki Wachee Springs
  • Titusville at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
  • Cape Canaveral at Manatee Sanctuary Park
  • Orange City at Blue Spring State Park
  • Fort Pierce at Manatee Observation and Educational Center

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Best Time to See Manatees in Crystal River

The best time to swim with manatees in Florida is early morning because they love to sleep in the afternoon. Also, the water is clear, calm, and clean.

Mark, my local guide told me two interesting things about manatees. They do not love cold water and they eat 100- 200 pounds of vegetation per day.

In the morning, the spring is a little cold because of the cool morning so they huddled up in the warm spring enjoying the warmth.  

All the photos you see on Instagram – crystal blue water, are all clicked during the morning. Also, the manatees are active during this time of the day.

See, I’m not saying you won’t spot manatees in the afternoon. You’ll spot them but I guarantee they act differently in the later afternoon.

I felt they were less interactive. Moreover, they’re marine wild animals and their behavior is very unpredictable. Again, they’ve teeth. I cannot take the risk of going near them in the afternoon!

I did not hear any stories of manatees biting humans but it is preferably better to be cautious. Also, once my guide told me not to swim between a mother and her calf.

Additionally, I recommend taking the experience from Monday to Thursday, excluding the weekends. During weekends the crowd is huge!

Swimming with Manatees
Swimming with Manatee

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Crystal River Manatee Tour

A guided tour is bound to give you a surreal experience! Crystal River sits west of Orlando and north of Tampa, making it one of the great spots to explore.

Moreover, tour operators and the super quiet marine giants know each other so well that your eco-experience in Florida will no doubt be more cherishing.

Did you know that to swim with manatees you need to wear a proper wetsuit and gadgets? There is no way you can compromise with wetsuits and types of equipment.

The “warm spring water” is capable of sapping your heat within a few minutes in the water. Also, wetsuits are necessary for buoyancy too! 

I took my third manatee tour with Viator. It started at 6.00 am. And, also it is one of the premier manatee swim tour companies. 

I was asked to get on a pontoon boat with two female snorkelers and one captain in the area. After 6 minutes of the ride, we spotted three manatees just below the water.

That day! The estuary looked fantastic… the birds, wildlife, sky, water, and manatees! With their knowledge, I submerged myself in the marine world!

Hence, it’s better to embark on your swimming or snorkeling manatee tour with a certified company as they act as your in-water photographers, educators, story-teller, and chaperons. 

They’ve numerous tours which you can choose according to your preferences and price. It is three hours tour – offering you all the tips and facilities required.

If you want to swim with Manatees in Orlando, then I recommend choosing the Viator service. 

Here are my suggestions for a great Crystal River Manatee Tour –

  • Explorida
  • Viator
  • Bird Underwater
  • Fun2Dive
  • River Venture
  • Homosassa Manatee Snorkelling Centre (100% Women owned and operated)
  • Hunter Springs Kayak & Tours

Expectations while swimming with Manatees adventure:

  • Safety brief instructions with videos and narration
  • A wetsuit
  • Snorkeling equipment’s
  • Float noodle
  • Hot chocolate on cold days
manatee tour in Florida
Manatee Tours in Florida, Picture – Facebook

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Swimming with the Manatees in Florida: Without a Wildlife Tour

Swimming with manatees in Crystal Springs, Florida without a wildlife tour is feasible if you have prior knowledge of the appropriate locations and methods to do so.

In Crystal Springs, Florida, there are selected spots where manatees are accessible for swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking alongside you. As a tourist or traveler unfamiliar with the area, I highly recommend opting for a guided tour. Consider why you came here in the first place and make the most of your experience.

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Indeed, one of the common reasons for visiting is to spot manatees or engage in snorkeling activities while adhering to the designated guidelines.

Therefore, if you do not know where to go then how will you spot them or have fun with them? 

Moreover, I’ll tell you where you’ll find manatees but still, it’s preferable to go on a wildlife tour. Here are some legal spots in the Crystal River to swim:

  • Three Sister Springs
  • Hunter Springs Park
  • Kings Bay Park

Read More: 11 Best Places to Kayak With Manatees In Florida

Swim with Manatees Adventure Vs On your Own – Best Experience

The local tour guides know the place better. They know where manatees sleep, where they love to graze, and where to find them in the morning.

It’s like their day to day work. Imagine when a friend comes to your house and you give her a home tour. How will you be? 

You’ll be best at it because you know your house in and out. What if the same thing happened with your mother, who only visits you twice or thrice a month?

The tour companies have “spies” who keep them updated on the radio about the manatee’s actions. 

Their experience and provision of equipment such as a dive flag, a wetsuit, and everything you need to swim with manatees are the reasons why you should choose them.

Solo planning is a lot of tasks and spending a hefty amount of time on researching. Therefore, an experienced tour company is far better compared to jumping solo.

Safety brief instructions with videos and narration
Safety brief instructions with videos and narration, Picture – Manatee Tour & Dive

Tips: Swim with Manatees in Florida

  • Float on the surface when watching the creatures
  • Never fees a manatee
  • Never corner yourself with a manatee
  • Do not think of standing on a manatee
  • Never try to separate a calf from its mother or group. They’re known as “herds” because they love to swim in a group
  • Never initiate active contact with a manatee
  • Never chase or disturb a manatee
  • Never book a Crystal River manatee tour during the period between Christmas, New Year, and President’s Day weekend. It’s the busiest time of the year
  • If you’re getting your kids to swim with manatees, please educate them before actually taking them. No matter what their age is they should know the rules and respect it.
kids swimming with manatees
Kid swimming with a manatee

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Interesting Facts: Swim with Manatees Legally

  • In Florida do not expect to see African manatees and Amazonian manatees
  • Though manatee has teethed they are herbivores animals that love to eat aquatic plants, water hyacinth, water lettuce, and seagrass
  • Manatees can hold their breath for 20 minutes and live for 60 years in the wild. Did you know they’re near-sighted?
  • Manatees eat 200 pounds daily which helps them to keep their body shape round and beautiful
  • Manatees are protected by laws– The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, The Endangered Species Act of 1973, and The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978
  • Additionally, manatees have been placed on the endangered species list in 1966. Since they’re protected by law, remember to interact with them ethically and lawfully
  • A kid whose age is 3 years old is legally free to swim with a manatee. But, you must ensure that he/she is comfortable and confined around giant marine animals

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FAQ: Swimming with Manatees in Florida

1. Where can I swim with manatees in Florida for free?

A. Crystal River in Citrus County, renowned as the “Manatee Capital of the World,” this extraordinary location solidified its reputation by offering us a glimpse into the captivating realm of these magnificent creatures, the manatees.

2. What time of year can you swim with manatees in Florida?

A. With water temperatures averaging around 72 degrees Fahrenheit, the winter season undoubtedly presents an excellent opportunity to swim with manatees in Florida. However, it’s important to be prepared for larger crowds during this time.

3. Can kids swim with manatees in Crystal River?

A. Yes, a kid at the age of three can swim with manatees in Crystal River if he/she follows the ethical ways to swim.

4. How much does it cost to swim with manatees?

A. The cost varies in accordance with the type of tour you choose. Normally it starts from $65 and can range higher to $115.  

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