Viewing Guidelines

Manatees are difficult to see, especially when moving in a boat on the water.  Observations may include a swirl on the surface caused by the manatee when diving; seeing the animals back, snout, tail, or flipper break the surface of the water; or hearing it when it surfaces to breathe.

Manatee-snout  Manatee-tail
Manatee snout Manatee tails or backs
Water swirl "footprint"

Protection by law

The manatee is protected under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which make it illegal to harass, hunt, capture or kill any marine mammal. The manatee is also protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978, which states: "It is unlawful for any person, at any time, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee."

Anyone convicted of violating this state law faces a possible maximum fine of $500 and/or imprisonment for up to 60 days. Conviction on the federal level is punishable by fine of up to $50,000 and/or one year in prison. The State of Florida can pursue prosecution under federal law in circumstances of extreme harassment, resulting in the death or injury of a manatee.

I want to swim with Manatees.  Where should I go?

Before you get too excited about swimming with an endangered species, please realize that there are guidelines you MUST follow so that these animals are not harassed. Your presence impacts their natural behavior and habitat and you are responsible for following the Do's and Don'ts below!

Manatee Interaction

The Crystal River and Kings Bay area is the only area in Florida where swimmers are monitored around manatees. Viewing guidelines and sanctuary rules must be followed. Please respect the directions from manatee volunteers and law enforcement officers who are looking out for the best interest of manatees in this area. Keep contact with manatees to a bare minimum as the manatees that stay in this location need the warm waters of the springs in order to survive the cold winter. Please visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife site for more information about the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Crystal River, Florida. Contact the Crystal River Chamber of Commerce to find out information about hotels, tours and boat rentals in the area.

Do's and Don'ts

The West Indian manatee is an endangered species and is protected by state and federal law as stated above. Please avoid harassing or disturbing manatees. Harassment is defined as any activity which alters the animal's natural behavior. By altering the manatee's natural behavior, you may create the likelihood of danger that is bad for the animal and against the law.


  • Look, but don't touch manatees. Also, don't feed manatees or give them water. If manatees become accustomed to being around people, they can alter their behavior in the wild, perhaps causing them to lose their natural fear of boats and humans, which may make them more susceptible to harm. Passive observation is the best way to interact with manatees and all wildlife.

  • Do not pursue or chase a manatee if you see one while you are swimming, snorkeling, diving or operating a boat.

  • Never poke, prod or stab a manatee with your hands, feet or any object.

  • If a manatee avoids you, you should avoid it.

  • Give manatees space to move. Don't isolate or single out an individual manatee from its group, and don't separate a cow and her calf.

  • Keep hands and objects to yourself. Don't attempt to snag, hook, hold, grab, pinch or ride a manatee.

  • Avoid excessive noise and splashing if a manatee appears in your swimming area.

  • Use snorkel gear when attempting to watch manatees. The sound of bubbles from SCUBA gear may cause manatees to leave the area.

  • Float at the surface of the water to passively observe the manatees. Remember, look, but don't touch.

Do not enter areas designated as "NO ENTRY-MANATEE REFUGE"

These areas have been identified by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as crucial for manatee survival.

Remember - Look but don't touch

Remember - Look but don't touch!


If you are planning to operate a vessel,
please read our Information for Boaters
Florida manatees - A Florida treasure
Guidelines for boating, diving and snorkeling around manatees
PDF (5.4Mb)

FWC Facts:
The Hunter Safety Mentoring Exemption enables newcomers to purchase a Florida hunting license and hunt during a one-year trial basis.

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