Educated and watchful boaters play a critical role in protecting manatees. Manatees are slow moving and must regularly surface to breathe air, and collisions between manatees and watercraft are unfortunately common. Nearly every living manatee bears scars from encounters with boat propellers, and high-speed collisions with fast-moving watercraft is a top cause of manatee deaths.

Everyone on the water can help protect these gentle giants by following these manatee-safe boating guidelines:

A living manatee bears scars from a boat hit.
A living manatee bears scars from a boat hit.
    • Always obey posted speed zones. (If you will be in an unfamiliar area, look for a boater’s guide for the county or counties you will be visiting so you can become familiar with the location of manatee speed zones in advance.)
    • Wear polarized sunglasses while boating to eliminate the glare of the sun and see below the water’s surface. Have a designated spotter on your vessel to watch out for manatees.
    • Check around your vessel before starting the motor to make sure manatees are not nearby.
    • Look for a snout, back, tail, or flipper breaking the surface of the water. A swirl or flat spot on the water is also created by the motion of the manatee’s tail when it dives or swims.
    • Stay in deep water channels when boating. Avoid boating over seagrass beds and shallow areas where manatees might be feeding. However, be aware that manatees also use deep water channels when traveling.
    • If you see a manatee while operating a boat or personal watercraft, remain a safe distance away—50 feet is the suggested minimum. If you want to observe the manatee, cut your motor.
    • If you like to jet-ski, water-ski, or participate in high-speed watersports, choose areas that manatees do not or cannot frequent, such as landlocked lakes or waters well offshore.
    • Report injured or dead manatees to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by calling 1-888-404-FWCC (3922). 

Request free public awareness materials from Save the Manatee Club—including a waterproof banner for boaters, and a “boating safety packet” including a decal, waterproof manatee protection tips card, posters, and brochures—by emailing or calling 1-800-432-JOIN (5646).

Waterproof waterway card with manatee protection tips and the boat decal with a number for reporting injured manatees.

If you are at all concerned that a manatee may be sick, injured, entangled, or orphaned, or if you see a manatee that is being harassed or wearing a “tag” or tracking device, please immediately report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) 24-hour Wildlife Alert Hotline by calling 1-888-404-3922 (FWCC). Outside of Florida, please make a report with a local wildlife agency or stranding network.

Signs that a manatee may be in distressReport healthy manatee sightings

Watch to learn how to Boat Safely Around Manatees

Additional Videos

Other Ways To Help

Stash Your Trash

  • Recycle your litter or throw it in a proper trash container. Debris in waterways, such as discarded plastic bags or six-pack holders, is dangerous to manatees and other forms of wildlife.
  • Discard monofilament line or fishing hooks properly (better yet, recycle them!). Not only are they dangerous for manatees, other aquatic animals, and swimmers, but discarding monofilament line into or onto the waters of the state of Florida is against the law.

Hands Off: Please follow these guidelines anytime you encounter wild manatees:

  • Look but don’t touch. Practice “passive observation” and observe manatees from above water and at a distance.
  • Do not feed manatees or give them water.
  • Avoid excess noise and splashing.
  • Do not chase or block the path of traveling manatees.
  • Never separate a mother and calf.
  • Do not enter designated manatee sanctuaries for any reason.
  • When paddling, stay two kayak lengths away from a manatee.
  • When encountering a manatee while in the water, stay one human body length away.
  • Resist the urge to feed manatees or give them water. Not everyone loves manatees and feeding them, or giving them water could encourage them to swim to people who might harm them. Their natural feeding patterns may also be altered by encouraging them to “hang around” waiting for food or water. When hand-fed lettuce or water from a hose is no longer available, manatees may not know where to find or identify natural, reliable sources of food.
  • “Look, but don’t touch” is the best policy when swimming or diving. By quietly observing manatees from a distance, you will get a rare opportunity to see the natural behavior of this unique animal. Any other actions might be considered harassment, which is against the law.
  • Learn more about manatees and harassment.