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Information for Boaters and PWC Operators

Boat speeding past a slow speed sign

This boat operator is speeding in a Slow Speed (minimum wake) zone. All boat and PWC operators must comply with posted waterway signs.

Boater's Guide to Living with Florida manatees

Guidelines for Protecting Florida manatees 

Waterway signs - multi-Lingual information 


We must all be responsible boaters....

All boaters use Florida’s marine ecosystem. As boaters, we should pay attention to the effect we have on the environment since the waters that we enjoy may be impacted by our actions.  Every boater should learn and use safe boating practices that will protect Florida’s waterways.


As a personal watercraft (PWC) rider, you are a boater.

Personal watercrafts are defined as Class A inboard boats by the U.S. Coast Guard and are required to follow standard boating regulations. Personal watercraft operators are required to comply with all posted boat speed regulations.

In regard to ecosystem impacts, personal watercraft operators may increase the water turbidity in areas where they operate their vessels, which not only makes it harder to see things in the water but also blocks the light that seagrasses and other plants need to survive. In addition, if not operated in appropriate areas, these vessels may also blast out holes in seagrass systems and may disturb manatees or other wildlife in prime habitat areas. As a personal watercraft operator, you should understand how your vessel can affect wildlife and habitat in order to operate your vessel in a way that minimizes ecosystem impacts.


Causes of Manatee Deaths in Florida

Approximately 25-30% of manatee deaths statewide are attributed to watercraft. In recent years, manatee deaths caused by blunt-force impacts (non-cutting) have outpaced manatee deaths caused by propeller cuts, with a small portion of the deaths/injuries attributed to both causes. 

The faster a boat goes, the more force is applied to a "strike." For instance, the force of a strike at 30 miles per hour is four times that of a strike at 15 miles per hour, all other factors being equal. If a watercraft strikes a manatee in the head, such as while the animal is taking a breath, the animal may die immediately. Strikes in other areas can result in acute injuries that quickly result in death but also can result in chronic injuries that linger for days, weeks, or longer before the manatee finally succumbs. Internal injuries, such as broken or dislocated ribs, can result in death from internal bleeding or infection.

Manatee Mortality information


What can you do?

  • Abide by the posted speed zone signs while in areas known to be used by manatees or when observations indicate manatees might be present.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare on the surface of the water, which will enable you to see manatees more easily.
  • Try to stay in deep-water channels whenever possible.
  • Avoid boating over seagrass beds and shallow areas. Manatees are often found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, lagoons, and coastal areas.
  • Remain at least 50 feet away from a manatee when operating a powerboat.
  • Please don't discard monofilament line, hooks, or any other litter into the water. Manatees and other wildlife may ingest or become entangled in this debris and can become injured or even die.

What do you look for when trying to see manatees?

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 the animal when it surfaces to breathe.


Other information

Boating Accidents in Florida

Florida leads the nation in boating fatalities, injuries and accidents. With close to a million vessels registered in the state, Florida leads the nation in the number of vessels, and, as a negative consequence of high vessel numbers and our mild climate, has the highest number of boating fatalities annually. 

Boating Safety Education

With Florida’s current boating safety education law only applying to boaters born on or after January 1, 1988, face-to-face contacts by FWC officers and our partner agencies are a critical part of our outreach efforts and education to the boating public. Statistics show us that the boat operator most likely to be involved in a boating accident is a middle aged or older male who has plenty of boating experience yet has never learned the most important safety considerations by having taken a boating safety course. 

Please visit the FWC Boating Safety section for more information.


If you do hit a manatee while boating

Report accidents by calling the Wildlife Alert Hotline 888-404-FWCC (3922). Cell phone users may call #FWC or *FWC. It is important that you obtain immediate help for the animal! The sooner the animal is located, and its condition is assessed, the better its chances for survival. Please be responsible for your actions while on the waterways and take immediate action if something does occur.

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