Florida boating safety tips: Protecting Manatees

Manatees are protected under the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to help protect them from harm and harassment from boaters. These large mammals are found in salt, brackish and fresh water and because they are mammals, they need to come to the water’s surface every two to four minutes to breathe, however, they can stay submerged for approximately 20 minutes while resting.

While these large, peaceful creatures can live more than 60 years, too many are injured or killed due to watercraft collisions due to propeller lacerations or impact from the vessel itself. For that reason, Florida has rules and regulations in place to help protect manatees. These guidelines are important for boaters to know to ensure their safety and to avoid any potential penalties that may come with harming a manatee.

First and foremost, it’s important to know that Manatees are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. It is illegal to feed, harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, annoy or molest manatees.

Examples of this type of behavior includes intentionally disturbing resting manatees, feeding them any type of food, blocking their swimming path, using fishing equipment to disturb them, chasing them, or purposefully moving your vessel or body closer to manatees when you could easily avoid them.

Also Read: Identifying common wildlife on Florida waterways

These broad guidelines should help any boater understand how to treat manatees when encountering them, although there are some important specifics you should also know.

First, it’s essential to know that accidentally colliding with a manatee does not mean you’ll be cited if you are obeying posted speed zones. Reporting the collision and allowing a chance for the manatee to be cared for is much better than ignoring it.

While it can be difficult to know exactly where manatees are, there are a few things you can do to better recognize them, such as wearing polarized sunglasses and looking out for large swatches of swirling water where they are diving. It’s also important to know that manatees thrive in warmer water, which can help you identify danger areas as well. Florida also posts signs to help you identify areas where manatees are commonly seen.