Is It Safe to Kayak With Manatees? (Manatee Manners Guide)

While kayaking with manatees is a popular pastime in Florida, not all people know that the activity could result in a dangerous situation for the animals.

A kayaker approaching from behind could miss seeing manatees because they move slowly.

If you enjoy kayaking as much as I do, then this blog post will give you some helpful tips to ensure your safety while out on the water.

There is a group of kayakers slowly paddling near a group of manatees

Is it safe to be around manatees in a kayak? 

There is no threat to your safety in a kayak if you are around manatees. Despite being quiet and causing minimal disturbance to the habitat due to their activity (eating plants), kayaks do not move to disturb the surroundings and, therefore, are not liable to harm or injure the wildlife around them.

Safety and etiquette

No matter how harmless it may seem to you, manatees are in danger and need your help.

Sometimes, a seemingly harmless thing hurts animals in ways we can’t always see or understand.

Kayaking safely

When kayaking, it is safer to watch manatees from a distance.

If they approach your kayak, observe them at a safe distance to minimize injury risks.

On shorelines, look for signs indicating where you can observe manatees in their natural habitat.

The curious animal will investigate any vessel that comes too close to a manatee.

If you are unsure that the manatee will move away from your path before contact occurs, you should not paddle next to one.

What are manatees?

Tropical and subtropical waters are home to the manatee, a large marine mammal. A sea cow is also called that since they eat plants near the water’s surface, like grass, algae, and seaweed, making them look like cows on land.

In addition to having a flat tail and the shape of an egg, the manatee has no teeth that they can use for biting.

From Argentina to Florida, they can be found in the tropical or subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

How do they behave?

Manatees’ behavior is typically slow and docile, so they are relatively safe to kayak with.

Manatees eat grass underwater or floating on the water’s surface near shorelines because these are plentiful sources of food for an animal that filters food.

Even when they are not resting, they can sleep in this position, usually submerged for up to 20 minutes at a time.

Manatees usually move between two places when they’re not eating or resting. Their flippers and tails are sometimes used for walking down the bottom while they swim slowly. In this way, they can travel up to 20 miles.

Where can we find them?

A manatee lives in a body of fresh water that is warm and deeper than six feet. You can find them along the Gulf Coast of the United States and in Florida’s springs and rivers.

RELATED:  Can You Fit a 10 Ft Kayak in an SUV? [Some Tips for Kayakers]

They are also found off the coast of Antigua, on the north shore of Guadeloupe, and on Nicaragua’s Corn Islands.

Both males and females may live in mixed groups, but males tend to dominate these social groups, whereas females are more solitary or live with their calves.

Most manatees live in shallow water near the surface, where they can easily access seagrass and mangroves, which form a significant part of their diet.

There are two types of manatees in the Peruvian Amazon: West Indian and Amazonian. While the former prefer freshwater habitats, the latter can be found in both fresh and saltwater.

It is most preferable to graze on the grass close to waterlike bodies of water, such as lakes or lagoons, with abundant vegetation.

African manatees can be found in rivers and lagoons in West Africa with abundant vegetation, which is their habitat.

Although some may swim in saltwater for short periods, they prefer freshwater environments like large lakes or swamps that have various plants growing near the surface.

In Florida you can go kayaking with manatees

Florida’s springs and rivers are home to West Indian manatees.

They feed primarily on vegetation close to the surface of warm, shallow waters, such as seagrass and mangroves, along with their relatives, the Amazonian and African varieties of the manatee.

These areas may contain males, females, or mixed social groups. However, males tend to dominate, whereas females are more solitary or live with their calves.

As a rule, manatees are found in shallow water near the surface, where they can access vegetation like seagrass and mangroves, which form a significant part of their diet.

When can we go out on the water?

During the cold months, you should get out on the water. Florida’s springs serve as a haven for manatees during winter when most of the country is experiencing freezing temperatures.

Is there any danger from manatees?

You can accidentally harm manatees if you touch them or grab them, but they are not dangerous.

Grazing on seagrass and sleeping at night are among the natural behaviors of manatees disturbed by human contact.

In turn, this causes unnatural changes to their habitat. Humans should not fear manatees if we all do our part to keep them apart.

Can we swim or paddle with manatees? If so, how?

In Crystal River, you can swim with manatees in their natural habitat.

Please follow these four simple guidelines to interact safely:

  • A manatee resting or feeding should never be approached from the front; always enter from the side.
  • Keep plenty of space between you and manatees because they are slow.
  • You must not touch manatees other than on the back for movement.
  • Keep your children close at hand and stay with your group.

Are there other dangers that may affect us while paddling near manatees?

When kayaking or paddling near manatees, keep your boat at a respectful distance from them. These beautiful creatures often surface close to the shore, sometimes just a few feet away. You should move back, so the animal doesn’t feel threatened if this happens.

Keep an eye on the waterline if you are swimming. Wildlife like manatees and dolphins have been known to take a breath just below the waves.

During the warmer months, manatee calves can often be found near shorelines when the animal has young nearby. Adults will take care of them until they are old enough to be on their own.

RELATED:  How to Kayak with Your Dog (Fun and Safe Adventures on the Water)

You are too close to a manatee if it responds to your presence. Make sure you distance yourself from the animal at a distance that doesn’t affect its natural behavior.

Wild animals, including manatees, can’t be fed or touched in Florida waters and on our beaches. Inside the boat, you should keep both your hands and feet.

Can you kayak with manatees in Florida?

Florida offers kayaking with manatees.

Citrus County, located on Florida’s Gulf Coast, is a safe place to kayak with manatees. In the towns of Homosassa and Crystal River, manatee encounters are available.

Only here can you get into the water, kayak, and swim with manatees. The city is about 90 minutes north of Tampa and two hours northwest of Orlando.

Citrus County is a great place to kayak with manatees.

In Citrus County, manatees are most active from December through March.

Can you kayak at Manatee Park?

It is not illegal to kayak at Manatee Park. You can bring your kayak to Manatee Park and paddle out into the bay.

Just be respectful of our manatees and stay away from a mother nursing her calf, as this can stress them both.

There were several manatees in the water at the same time as kayakers and swimmers

Can you kayak on the Manatee River?

The Manatee River is suitable for kayaking. The Upper Manatee Paddling Trail is a 46-mile river stretch that passes through many small towns between Fort Hamer County Park and Manatee Dam.

What is the best time to kayak with manatees?

If you want to kayak with manatees, the best time is December-March, when manatees are in large numbers, and the weather is most pleasant.

It will be warm enough for kayaking during December, January, and February, but not too hot on land or water.

Where can I kayak with manatees?

Crystal River

Florida is the premier place to see manatees.

Crystal River has many natural springs, including Three Sisters Springs, one of Florida’s most famous springs.

You can kayak with manatees at Three Sisters Springs and Get Up and Go Kayaking in Crystal River.

Kayaking near manatees in the springs requires caution.

Homosassa Springs

If you are ever in Florida, you have to see this place, but it can be an incredible experience. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen.

The spring is very shallow and warm, so if you stay there for more than a few hours, your boat will get pretty warm.

Remember that manatees are wild animals that need space when kayaking with them. Make sure you keep your distance, enjoy the experience from afar, and don’t forget to take pictures.

Blue Springs

Every year, many people visit Orange City’s beautiful spring.

Blue Spring State Park, commonly known as the “Manatee-sational” park in Orange City, FL, features boardwalks with viewing platforms for viewing manatees and other wildlife.

Tarpon Springs

To see manatees in their natural habitat, you can visit the Tarpon Springs area. It is home to the Tarpon Springs Aquarium and also has a number of manatee tours for kayakers.

Merritt Island

Merritt Island, which is on Florida’s east coast, is a great place to see manatees.

NASA acquired the land in 1961 and turned it into a wildlife refuge after they used it for rocket tests.

It now serves to benefit a variety of animals throughout the year.

Why should you not touch manatees?

Their behavior will change as a result.

RELATED:  Kayaking with Alligators in Florida (Fun, Dangerous, and Necessary)

Because they tend to check things out often, manatees get run over by vehicles and boats because of their curiosity.

Too much human contact can also cause injury, which means these gentle creatures will have a more difficult time surviving in the wild for long periods.

It would be best if you always took pictures of these animals when you see them, so the manatees could remain in their natural environment.

The manatee makes contact with a group of divers

What is the best time of year to see manatees in Florida?

Winter is the best time to see manatees in Florida.

During their mating season, between December and February, you can see manatees in Florida at their finest.

You are much more likely to see manatees during this time of year than at any other time of the year. Experts and biologists have confirmed this.

Due to a lack of food supply, manatees aren’t as common in Florida’s waterways during the summer.

Even though you will likely see a few during your stay in Florida, make sure to take a trip to one of its world-class sanctuaries instead (e.g., Crystal River, Homosassa Springs).

Paddler guidelines for successful manatee watching in Florida

  1. Keeping your distance from manatees and knowing when to fade away will help you prevent stress. You will both enjoy the experience if you do this.
  2. Exercise caution when near manatees and give them room to move.
  3. You should not approach or surround manatees to avoid endangering them. Give them enough space to feel comfortable.
  4. Manatees should not come in contact with your kayak to prevent it from overturning. Even after you bump into the manatee, they can flip the boat.
  5. Offer clients lenses to use or encourage them to use a camera to zoom in closer.
  6. Sunglasses with polarized lenses make it easier to spot manatees.
  7. Avoid talking loudly and making loud noises when viewing manatees. Manatees will be able to approach you rather than run away from you if you do this.
  8. Providing food or water to manatees is prohibited because it affects their foraging behavior and may be considered harassment.
  9. Avoid paddling your vessel over manatees. If you block a manatee’s path to the air, it will startle awake and may collapse into the ocean.
  10. It is adorable to see a young manatee and its calf, but you should not touch them. The calf must remain with its mother.
  11. Devices have been attached to manatees that allow researchers to monitor their health and track their movements. It should not be removed or tampered with.
  12. During the mating season, manatees seek out members of the opposite sex in a herd. It is advisable to watch these mating herds from a distance because the animals do not acknowledge intruders.
  13. Make sure you lower the anchor slowly to avoid harming manatees if you want to keep your boat safe at all times.
  14. Photographing manatees is okay as long as you don’t touch, hold on to, or pose them.
  15. Make sure you set a positive example for others so they can learn how to observe wildlife without disturbing it.


A manatee is a friendly animal, so you can kayak safely near one. You’ll want to make sure that no harm comes to anyone in the manatee zone by following these guidelines.

Thanks for reading this kayaking guide. I hope it’s been helpful! I wish you safe paddling and happy adventures!

Last updated on June 19, 2022 by Duncan Barrett

Leave a Comment