Everything You Need to Know About Swimming With Manatees in Florida

swimming with manatees

Swimming with manatees is by far one of the best wild animal encounters you can ever have, and the nature coast of Florida is the only place you can do so legally.

Some people equate the winter season with fun in the snow, skiing, sledding, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and all of the other activities people who live in colder climates look forward to in the winter months.

However, as a Floridian, this means I get to do some of my favorite outdoor adventures in the winter without the disrespectful heat and humidity.

More importantly, colder temperatures means an abundance of the unofficial Florida mascot, the manatee!!!

The manatees retreat into the Florida freshwater springs by the thousands as they escape the colder temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico waters and rivers. They need water warmer than 68 degrees Fahrenheit for survival.

The constant 72 – 74 degree temperature of the springs makes it the perfect environment for a manatee party.

A very popular location where the manatees converge year after year is the Crystal River and Homosassa Springs area.

Visitors come from all over the world to watch the famed sea cows in the clear waters of the numerous springs in the area. There are a number of ways you can join in the fun of manatee season.

You can rent a kayak or a paddleboard and make your way through the various waterways. The spring heads in the area are all roped off as sanctuary areas during manatee season but the manatees will still swim out into the channels.

Of course, the best activity to do during manatee season is booking a session to swim with manatees.

What to expect when you swim with manatees?

swim with manatees in florida

Photo Credit: Fun 2 Dive/ Dani Pope

Expect the best freaking day of your life. No really.

  • Book your session ahead of time with your tour operator.
  • You should be provided a wetsuit, snorkel equipment, and a flotation device by your tour operator.
  • You will be instructed to watch a short video that explains how to properly interact with manatees because they are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Manatee harassment is actually against the law and you can be fined for breaking the rules.  All of our interactions were through passive observation.
  • You will take a boat ride out to one of the designated spring areas where swimming is allowed.
  • A good tour operator provides an in-water guide.  It helps to have someone pointing things out to you while you’re in the water.
  • Depending on where you are taken, the water quality is going to vary. The more people, the more churned up the water may become which isn’t optimal.
  • Most tours provide anywhere from 1 to 2 hours in the water.
  • Tours usually will take pics and video of your experience for an extra fee. You can also bring your own underwater camera.
  • Expect these massive animals to check you out if you are being calm and quiet.  They will graze you, nudge you, and look you right in the eyes.  If you’re lucky, you may even get a kiss!  Babies tend to be the most curious!
swim with manatees in florida

Photo Credit: Fun 2 Dive/ Dani Pope

My Personal Experience Swimming with Manatees

fun 2 dive swim with manatees

I swam with manatees once in 2016 and again in 2021.   The first time was really cool but this most recent experience was unforgettable and one of the top 5 adventures of my life.

We were hosted by Fun 2 Dive in Crystal River, FL with a private VIP experience and our guide Dani was the absolute best.  Dani genuinely loves these animals and goes out of the way to provide really great information and make sure you have a memorable experience.

VIP Boat for Fun 2 Dive

The private VIP experience is a closed pontoon boat so you won’t freeze as much when you get out of the water.  Your tour is limited to your group, and not strangers. You are also provided with hot chocolate and snacks.  We had some extra time so we also cruised through King’s Bay to see some of the other springs and more manatee.

We were originally heading to Three Sisters Springs but one of the other captains gave our captain a heads up that the water was churned up so we headed to the main spring, King Spring.

swim with manatees in flordia

We were greeted by manatees before we even entered the water! This was definitely a sign that this would be a great day.

swim with manatees

Dani lead us over to the designated swimming area near the head spring and it was instant magic! There were so many manatees that at one point I couldn’t move without being nudged.  It wasn’t dangerous but it was nothing like this on our first manatee swim experience.

I was privileged to watch a baby nursing on its mother.  (Squee!!!) That was the sweetest thing to watch ever. 

swim with manatees

Photo Credit: Fun2dive/ Dani Pope

So many of them came right up and looked me in my eyes and one of them even grabbed my arm with his flipper trying to bring me with him.  It was the sweetest thing.  They swam around us and twirled and flipped, truly showing why they are the original mermaids.

swimming with manatees in florida

Photo Credit: Fun2dive/ Dani Pope

It was 2 hours of bliss to watch these gorgeous, majestic creatures in their natural habitat.  

Dani explained that we saw many manatees with barnacles still on them which means they are migrants and have spent most of their time in the Gulf.  Those manatees probably haven’t been in the channels and rivers in many months so they are genuinely happy to see people and come investigate you. 

swim with manatees

Photo Credit: Fun2dive/ Dani Pope

The highlight of the day was when it was time to head in, as I swam away I felt a little nudge alongside me. I looked over and it was my manatee buddy. There was one particular manatee that kept coming back to me in the spring and when he saw me leaving he swam after me and caught up to me.  

He escorted me all the way back to the boat until I got out of the water. 

Tips for Swimming with Manatees

1. Have a bathing suit to wear beneath your wetsuit.

2. Wear water shoes for swimming in the water to keep your feet from being cold.  You aren’t provided flippers because they don’t want you to stir up the bottom or accidentally poke or kick a manatee.

3. Bring 2 towels; one to dry off your body and one to wrap your head because it will be cold when you get out of the water. 

4. Once you get out of the water you will be cold. You can either keep your wet suit on and just pull down the top or you can change into dry clothes on the boat on top of your bathing suit. 

5. Have a plastic bag for your bathing suit and any other wet clothing.

6. You will want to have a dry outfit once you get back and change out of your bathing suit.

manatee in spring

Photo Credit: Fun2dive/ Dani Pope

Frequently Asked Questions About Swimming With Manatees

1. Question: Is it safe to swim with manatees?
Answer: Yes, it is safe in terms of the animals themselves.  Manatees are not aggressive animals. However, these are wild animals with unpredictable behavior and you must respect them and be mindful.  

2. Question: Do I need to know how to swim in order to swim with manatees?
Answer: A noodle is provided or a life vest by your tour, however, the water is too deep to stand in.  This is a water activity and you should be comfortable in the water.  If you have snorkeled before, you will probably be fine.

3. Question: When is the best time to reserve a swim with manatees experience?
Answer: Manatee season is from November to April. The best time of day is the 7 or 7:30 tour.  There will be the most manatee activity when water temperatures in the Gulf are below 68 degrees. 

4. Question: What precautions are taken for swimming with manatees for Covid?
Answer: Fun2Dive uses medical-grade cleaning products to clean all equipment at the end of every day.  Everything is one time a day use. Staff wear masks when in close contact. You are encouraged to wear your mask while inside and while in close proximity on the boat.

5. Question: Are there other animals and wildlife in the water with the manatees?
Answer: Yes. We actually saw a couple of tarpon, snook, and birds.  You are not likely to see an alligator in these areas due to the amount of salinity and water temperatures.

swimming with manatees

Photo Credit: Fun2dive/ Dani Pope

Bonus Tip:

Plan to spend a little extra time exploring the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge. It’s $20 per person to catch a trolley from the welcome center and view the manatees from the boardwalk above Three Sisters Springs. You can also park nearby and walk into the refuge and pay at the gate. It’s about a half-mile walk from the gate to the boardwalk. 

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People always want to swim with dolphins but this experience was much more rewarding. These are animals in their wild habitat, not coaxed or trained in any way.

They are interacting with you of their own free will and out of pure, genuine interest and curiosity. This is such a unique way to become one with nature.

If you live in Florida or you are planning a visit, then do yourself a favor and take advantage of this really special opportunity to swim with manatees.

manatee smiling

Photo Credit: Fun2dive/ Dani Pope

Is swimming with manatees in Florida on your adventure list? Have you done this adventure before? How was your experience? I love to hear from you!

 


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24 Comments

  • Reply
    Kemkem
    January 29, 2016 at 5:34 am

    Nope! It has never been on my bucket list. Pictures like these though make me wish l knew how to swim as l think l would enjoy it. Glad you had a good time 🙂

    • Reply
      Lauren
      January 29, 2016 at 8:42 am

      @KemKem have you considered taking swimming lessons to open up your ability to do some of the things you may be missing out on?

  • Reply
    Keisha
    January 29, 2016 at 6:19 am

    The manatee looks like an underwater pup. You really do live for the outdoors! I’ve been seeing a lot of features in mass media lately about Black people enjoying the outdoors. Maybe we will see you soon! 😉

    • Reply
      Lauren
      January 29, 2016 at 8:41 am

      Thx Keisha! I sure hope so.

  • Reply
    Heather
    January 29, 2016 at 9:48 am

    This sounds like such an amazing experience! So wonderful that you were able to actually get into the water with them. Now I want to go back and try it myself!

    • Reply
      Lauren
      January 29, 2016 at 10:23 am

      Heather do it!!!! You will LOVE it.

  • Reply
    Janelle
    January 29, 2016 at 10:44 am

    Aww, this is lovely. I am from Florida so I know all about these places and spaces. Living in GA now seeing this and reading your fun makes me miss home though =(

    • Reply
      Lauren
      January 29, 2016 at 10:47 am

      Awe Janelle! You’re just a quick road trip away! Come on down and get some of this Florida fun.

  • Reply
    Nadeen
    January 29, 2016 at 11:54 am

    These pictures are so beautiful!! Great advice to have an underwater camera! They are cute and you are brave!!

  • Reply
    Allison Jones
    January 30, 2016 at 12:50 am

    I’ve swam with dolphins and stingray, but never with manatees! This looks like a lot of fun and your pictures are awesome.

    LiveLifeWell,
    Allison

  • Reply
    Jamila
    January 30, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    Looks like something I would love to try. I love animals, so swimming with them would be fun.

  • Reply
    Reginia Cordell
    January 31, 2016 at 3:43 am

    You’ve captured some great shots. I think I would be afraid to swim with manatees. I’ve done snorkeling once.

    • Reply
      Lauren
      January 31, 2016 at 11:44 am

      Regina I hope you can conquer your fears one day! It’s an amazing experience

  • Reply
    Holly
    January 31, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    They look like such gentle creatures. I love your adventures! Sorry you lost your camera.

  • Reply
    Valerie robinson
    January 31, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    Way cool! So glad you caught some underwater pics!

  • Reply
    Kiwi
    February 1, 2016 at 3:38 am

    Girl you really went swimming with the Manatees! So fun and adventurous I enjoyed this post!

    • Reply
      Lauren
      February 1, 2016 at 7:54 am

      I’m so glad you enjoyed reading about our experience Kiwi!

  • Reply
    LaShawn
    February 1, 2016 at 9:56 am

    i love the photos! This looks like so much fun! Manatees are like big underwater puppies. My son would love this, I have to look into it.

    • Reply
      Lauren
      February 1, 2016 at 9:59 am

      It was a great experience! I hope you can make it happen for you and your son. Do you live in Florida LaShawn?

  • Reply
    Haley
    February 1, 2016 at 11:37 am

    I’ve never swam with manatees (that I know of), but we just went to the manatee viewing center last week and it was awesome!!! I never knew there were so many of them in one spot. I guess the weather was perfect for them to visit the plant that week since it was so cold and they just wanna get warm.

    • Reply
      Lauren
      February 1, 2016 at 11:55 am

      Haley, we went to the viewing center last year and that’s when I made up mind that I wanted to go swimming with them LOL I just love them!

  • Reply
    Kayvona
    February 2, 2016 at 10:15 am

    I’ve never been to Florida but its definitely on my list of places to go! This looks so fun, but I don’t know how to swim haha!

  • Reply
    Beth
    June 25, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    This looks absolutely amazing! Definitely adding this to my travel bucket list!

  • Reply
    41 Spectacular Things to Do in Orlando for Adults - ThemeParkHipster
    July 21, 2020 at 9:43 am

    […] swimming with manatees, the real life “mermaids” or at least our version of it, in Crystal River, […]

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