Do’s and Don’ts for Swimming With Manatees in Florida

Manatee and snorkeler

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By now you’ve heard about the unbelievably cute and docile Florida Manatees. You’re itching to experience swimming with manatees for yourself. Your mind is exploding with a million questions about how to see manatees in the wild.

As former Florida locals, we have made many manatee trips, so we put together this list to encourage everyone to have positive and rewarding manatee experiences. We think there is no better eco-experience in Florida than swimming with manatees.

Do Take Manatee Tours During the Winter

2 Manatees
Photo Credit: Discover Crystal River Florida.

Florida Manatees roam from Texas to Massachusetts during the summer but congregate in the warm waters of springs and power station discharge during the winter. Manatees fill these sites when the water temperature drops below 68 degrees. Usually, the peak manatee season is between December and March.

Don’t Go During Holiday Weekends (if you can help it)

Birds-Underwater-swimming-with-Manatees-in-Florida-Sand-Beach-at-Hunters-Bay via Culture Trekking
Photo Credit: Daniel Green @CultureTrekking

The week between Christmas and New Years and President’s Day Weekend are the busiest times for tour operators. Not only does this present logistic challenges for booking rooms and trips, but it increase the chance that there will be “one of those guys” in the water with you.

Tour operators do a great job keeping down egregious behavior, but it takes super quiet guests for the manatees to feel safe enough to initiate interaction. (more on that later). That being said, if the only time you have available is a holiday, then it’s still absolutely worth going.

Do Take Your Friends to See Manatees

Birds-Underwater-Group-Photo-Swimmingwithmanatees-ManateesinFlorida
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

We know first hand about the previous warning because of Our President’s Day Manatee Trip. Two friends came to visit because that was the only weekend they could make it out for a Florida getaway.

We added a local friend and his girlfriend, so our travel posse was set and ready to go. This was the first manatee trip for most of the group. They fell in love with manatees, President’s Day Weekend and all.

Don’t Take Trouble Makers to Swim with Manatees

A female snorkeler touching a manatee. Some backscatter in the turbid water.
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

You’re the leader of your group. The tour company isn’t there to supervise your friends acting like kids. Bringing well-behaved kids to swim with manatees is fantastic, but it’s wise to avoid awkward moments by not bringing disruptive individuals into the water. Good behavior benefits both the animals and your experience.

It’s important for everyone to appreciate manatees and their conservation. Educate those who might not grasp the significance; they might be the ones breaking rules later. Assess whether your kids or friends will follow the rules or be comfortable in the water before going. If not, consider observing manatees from places like Three Sister Springs Park or Blue Springs Park instead.

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Do Swim With Manatees in Crystal River

Manatees in Crystal River
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Winter manatee aggregation is unique to Florida Manatees because they are tropical animals. The only reason they can live this far north is because of Florida’s springs pumping out warm water year round. Witnessing manatees is great, but being in the water with them is a whole new experience.

Crystal River/King’s Bay stand as the largest natural manatee gathering spot in winter. It’s the sole place where you can swim with them during this time. Crystal River, located west of Orlando and north of Tampa, serves as the primary destination for manatee tours.

Don’t Swim With Manatees Without a Wetsuit

2 Manatees swimming away
Photo Credit: Discover Crystal River Florida.

Actually, this entry could be about proper gear in general like a swim noodle to enhance your buoyancy and a good mask and snorkel so you can see the manatees while keeping your eyes down in the water. You’ll need two pieces of gear that are fairly specialized – a wetsuit and dive flag.

We’ve repeated “warm spring water” a couple of times already, but it’s only 72 degrees. Floating in 72-degree water will sap your heat in no time. You need a wetsuit to be comfortable and, besides, it helps with the buoyancy too.

Guided manatee tours provide all the required manatee equipment you’ll need, which is the perfect segue to the next topic…

Do Book a Guided Tour to Swim with Manatees

Manatee-in-Crystal-River
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Manatee tours offer much more than specialized gear and instructions on manatee manners. They are your local guides who know how to have the perfect manatee encounter. Often times during peak season, the guides ran a sunset tour the day before.

The local tours know where the manatees went to sleep after a day of grazing, so they know exactly where to find them in the mornings. They give radio updates to each other, so they know where the manatee action is happening.

We went with Birds Underwater, one of the premier ethical companies in Crystal River. Even on President’s Day, they found plenty of manatees and put together a great trip.

Don’t Be Afraid to Wake Up Early

Photo Credit: Janiel Green @CultureTrekking.

Two things about manatees, they hate cold water and love to eat. Manatees eat about 100-200 pounds of vegetation a day. That means they’ll be grazing for seven hours a day. Since they hate cold water, they will feed during the warmest seven hours in the afternoon.

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In the morning, the manatees will be huddled up at the warm, clear spring heads during the cool mornings. Try to take the first trip out if possible, which is another thing we love about Birds. They offer a 6:00 am manatee tour.

Do Plan Other Activities Around Your Manatee Tour

Devil's Den Florida- Photo via Canva
Photo Credit: Canva.

Crystal River sits on Florida’s west coast, just 90 minutes away from Tampa, Orlando, or Gainesville—quite a trek for a morning manatee tour but ideal for a quick getaway or vacation add-on. Nearby activities include:

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park: Home to the famous mermaid show in a stunning nature preserve.
Homosassa River Boat Tour: Discover bars, more manatees, monkey island, Gulf sunsets, and an old Florida ambiance.
Devil’s Den: Dive or snorkel in a natural cenote, a unique Florida dive site.
Rainbow River: Florida’s 4th largest spring run, offering diving, tubing, and kayaking.
Homosassa Springs State Park: Explore the manatee rescue center to learn about conservation efforts.
Silver Springs: Paddle along the spring run inhabited by around 200 wild monkeys or take a glass bottom boat tour.
Clearwater Coast Cruise: Visit Tarpon Springs, known for sponges, and Dunedin, where Scottish culture thrives.
Lake Panasoffkee Airboat Tours: Encounter alligators in the swamp—an opposite experience to swimming with manatees.
Withlacoochee State Trail: A 46-mile trail through rivers, forests, and small-town Florida, perfect for biking or hiking.

Parting Thoughts and Quick Hitters

Manatee kiss
Photo Credit: Discover Crystal River Florida.

Ready for a manatee tour in Florida? Got your do’s and don’ts covered but need more info? Check our quick FAQ below. Drop any extra questions in the comments!

Where to Stay in Crystal River:
Best Western or Holiday Inn Express, for varied accommodations and hot breakfast, but we recommend the boutique hotel Retreat at Crystal Manatee

Eateries in Crystal River:
Norton’s Riverside Sports Bar & Grill for a sports vibe.
Highlander Café, a local fave for a relaxed meal.
Crump’s Landing for a fun night with live music.
Vintage on 5th offers upscale dining and (in our opinion) the best she crab soup this side of Panama City. Reservations recommended.

Getting to Crystal River:
– From I-75, take exit 329, then head 33 miles west on Fl-44 to reach town.
From Orlando, head west on Florida Turnpike for 55 miles to reach I-75, exit 329.
From Gainesville, take I-75 south to exit 329.
From Tampa/St. Pete, choose from three main routes—coastal, toll road, or I-75/US-98—taking 1.5 to 2 hours.

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Hope this helps plan your perfect manatee tour! These creatures are amazing—enjoy one of Florida’s best natural experiences!

Read More From Coleman Concierge:

Manatees in Crystal River
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Where can you find manatees in Florida? Can you swim with manatees? Where do manatees come from? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the amazing Florida manatee.

Swimming with Manatees in Florida – Everything You Need to Know

A Dozen Stunningly Beautiful Florida Springs You Must Visit

Crowded of people enjoy floating, swimming, kayaking, jumping off deck, scuba in turquoise blue water of Morrison Springs County Park, Walton County, Florida, USA. Aerial view lush bald cypress tree
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

The enchanted waters of Florida springs are a wonderland for swimmers, anglers, paddlers, and boaters, with unique spots for everyone to enjoy. The abundant spring water forms a vibrant network of rivers that leads to the warm Gulf of Mexico. Join us as we explore Florida’s best springs and see which one you want to visit next!

A Dozen Stunningly Beautiful Florida Springs You Must Visit

Kayaking Silver Springs – Monkeys, Manatees and Gators…Oh My!

Baby manatee
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Silver Springs State Park in Florida is one of the largest artisan springs ever discovered and the only place in America you can see manatees and wild monkeys on the same trip. There is no other paddling experience quite like Silver Springs.

Kayaking Silver Springs – Monkeys, Manatees and Gators…Oh My!

Breathtaking Beaches Near Orlando Florida You Can Reach on a Day Trip

turquoise water and golden sand with shells and sea stars and "florida" written on it
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Where’s the closest beach to Orlando? We’ll give you the local lowdown on six of the best beaches near Orlando, and you can pick your favorite.

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Hi! We are Jenn and Ed Coleman, and together we are Coleman Concierge. It is our goal to inspire you to get out, expand your world, and to seek adventure, even in your own backyard.

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