swimming with manatees in crystal river florida

How to Swim With Manatees in Florida

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Swimming with manatees with my family is an experience that I will never forget. During our trip to Crystal River, Florida we had a family excursion to the springs to swim with the manatees in the area. This is a trip my girls still talk about till this day. However, there are a few things you should know when swimming with manatees especially with kids. There are several laws in place to help protect the manatees as well as to protect you and the environment that the manatees thrive in. There is also gear that you should know about to help make the experience easier. 

In this guide I will go over everything you need to know about swimming with manatees, the best tours to do, gear rental, and best places to go in Florida for this adventure. I want to help break it down for you so you can be prepared for this fun family experience. 

A manatee photo with overlay that says how to swim with manatees in florida.

Disclaimer: This blog post was written in collaboration with Discover Crystal River, Plantation Resort on Crystal River, and Adventure Center at Plantation on Crystal River.  There are affiliate links in this post. This means that I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. This commission helps me to continue to run this website and provide free information and travel resources for you. To learn more about how affiliate links work please read our Disclosure Policy. Thank you for using our links and for your support.

Swimming with Manatees with Your Kids

Our overall experience with swimming with the manatees at Crystal River was surreal. My two daughters had such a great time swimming in the springs and watching the manatees eat. We even saw a calf nursing. It was so beautiful. 

My son who was two years old at the time didn’t feel to comfortable in his wetsuit. Since it gets tight around your body once you get in the water, it can feel a bit restraining. He was young and didn’t mind just chillin’ with the captain on the boat. During the entire excursion we kept him in his wetsuit and a life jacket for safety measures. However, I do hope to visit the springs again when he is older and experience this again with him. 

As something I should of done beforehand was get him used to the wetsuit before going out on our manatee adventure. He is comfortable with swimming with a life jacket on and not afraid of the water but he wasn’t used to the feeling of having a wetsuit on. I feel that getting him used to that feeling slowly in a pool or at the beach would of helped with his overall experience. So if you have a child that may react this way or a very young child, you can buy a wetsuit and test it out with them in a pool to see how they do with it on. You can also try this with the snorkels to see how they do as well with putting their heads underwater with the snorkels on. 

swimming with manatees in crystal river florida

Florida Laws For Swimming with Manatees 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has put these guidelines in place to help protect the manatees and encourage passive observation. 

The following guidelines will help protect the manatees and practice safe activities in the waters of Kings Bay and Three Sisters Springs area:

  • Do NOT initiate contact with manatees. 
  • Calmly observe manatees from a distance and at the surface. 

The following activities are PROHIBITED within all waters of King Bay and Three Sisters Springs area: 

  • Chasing or pursuing a manatee. 
  • Disturbing or touching a resting* or feeding manatee. 
  • Cornering or surrounding a manatee. 
  • Riding, holding, grabbing, pinching, poking, prodding, or stabbing a manatee with anything, including your hands and feet. 
  • Standing on a manatee. 
  • Separating a mother and calf or separating a group of manatees. 
  • Giving manatee(s) anything to eat or drink. 
  • Actively initiating contact with belted/tagged manatee(s). 
  • Interfering with rescue and research activities. 

Best Places to Swim with Manatees in Florida

There are various places in Florida to swim with manatees especially in Central Florida. We have even seen manatees at the beach all the way in St. Pete Beach and Clearwater area. However, the best places to go to for a manatee encounter are: 

  • Crystal River – Manatee Capital of the World 
  • Homosassa Springs 
  • Weeki Wachee Springs 
  • Tarpon Springs
  • Blue Springs 
  • Silver Springs State Park 
  • Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
  • Round Island in Vero Beach 
  • Chassahowitzka River 

Best Places to Swim with Manatees in Crystal River, Florida

Crystal River is the manatee capital in the world. This beautiful and historical town is known for their manatee population and conservation efforts. It’s like the gold mine of manatees. With that said, there are various places in Crystal River for you to go swimming with manatees. Here are the best spots for you to go: 

  • Three Sisters Springs 
  • Kings Bay
  • Hunter Springs Park
  • Along the Crystal River

The reason why Crystal River is the best place to swim with manatees is because around November the manatees go to the springs in Crystal River to congregate. This is like their hibernation area. Three Sisters Springs alone attracts anything between 400-500 manatees during the winter season. We went during May and still saw quiet a bit of manatees in the area. 

How to Get to Crystal River, Florida

Crystal River is located in the northwest part of Central Florida. The best way to get to Crystal River is taking 98 or 44 depending on where you’re coming from. It is located about an hour west of Ocala and an hour and 15 minutes north of Tampa. You can learn more about planning a trip to Crystal River below. 

Where to Stay at Crystal River, Florida

There are various hotel and resort options located in Crystal River but my favorite is Plantation Resort on Crystal River. This resort also offers tours and excursions including a swim with manatees tour that is located right on the property. You can learn more about Plantation Resort on Crystal River below. 

boat at Adventure Center at Plantation Resort in Crystal River. This tour boat takes tourists and guests on a swim with manatee excursion through the springs in Crystal River, Florida.

Best Swim with Manatee Tour in Crystal River

There are several manatee swim tours to do in Crystal River. I think the best thing to look for when choosing the best option for you is the type of tour you are wishing to do and service that the tour company provides. We decided to go with Adventure Center at Plantation Resort on Crystal River for a few reasons. They have a smaller tour option which fit our family best and are very good with younger kids. My son was two years old at the time so I wanted to make sure we didn’t have a crowded boat so it can be a more personable experience and we can take a little more time with our kids in the water. It was just my family and another couple that was with us on our tour which is exactly what I was looking for with little kids. 

Another thing to look for is their certifications and regulations. There are several regulations that you have to follow in Florida when doing these tours. For one, is a tour company that is following the laws about how to interact with manatees and care for them. 

How Much Does it Cost to do a Swim with Mantees Excursion? 

The prices can range depending on the type of tour you’re doing, whether it is a private, semi-private, or regular tour. They can be as little as $70 all the way up to $120 per person. Some of these include gear rentals such as the wetsuits and snorkels but not all tour companies include that in the price so always verify with the company beforehand. 

A family on a manatee swim tour in central Florida

Best Time of Year to Swim with Manatees

While you can see manatees all year around there are times of year where you can see more of them because they congregate together in the springs. The best time of year to swim with manatees is during the winter months in Crystal River because hundreds of manatees come here to migrate looking for warmer water. When water temperatures drop below 70 degrees Fahrenheit the manatees look for warm water refuge areas. They usually do this before the water temperatures even drop. Scientists still can’t explain how they know this change in temperature is about to happen. However, manatees having a warm-water habitat is crucial for their survival. 

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Where to Swim with Manatees in the Summer

While manatees are more spread out in the summer months, you can still find quiet a few in the springs. You can find manatees swimming in various parts of Florida including Three Sisters Springs, Weeki Wachee Springs, Homosassa Springs, and Blue Springs just to name a few. 

Where to Swim with Manatees in the Winter

During the winter months it is best to swim with manatees in Crystal River or other springs. While the best spot to find manatees at are in Crystal River you can also find them in various other springs close to Crystal River. 

Best Snorkeling Gear to Use When Snorkeling with Manatees 

It is best to arrive clothed to your tour but make sure to have your swimsuit underneath. Once you arrive, you will check in, get your gear if you rented it, and be sent to put your wetsuit on and watch an informational video before proceeding on to the boat. 

Some of the best gear and essentials to use for manatee tours are: 

  • Swimsuit or Rash guard type swimsuit 
  • Wetsuit – 2.5 – 3mm wetsuit is best for Florida
  • Hair tie/scrunchy for long hair
  • Snorkels – mask and mouth piece
  • Fins – optional but it can help with getting around easier. However, it is best you know how to use fins so you don’t stir up the water or frighten the manatees. 
  • Water Shoes – optional. This is all up to your personal preference but they can help keep your feet warm and safe. 
  • Life vest for younger children – I used a red life vest with a back strap so I can easily pull my son in if needed. Red is also a vibrant color making it easier to see in the water.
  • Dry clothes to change into after your tour
  • Towel 
  • Snacks
  • Water 
  • GoPro 
  • Phone
  • Wallet
  • Sunscreen for your face 
  • A bag or backpack to put everything into 
  • A wet bag for your wet clothes and wetsuits 
  • A dry bag to keep the items dry that you don’t want to get wet
A family on a manatee swim tour in central Florida

Wetsuit Tips for Men, Women, and Children 

For men, you can wear your swimming trunks and a shirt but keep in mind that you will be in a wetsuit. Wearing tighter swim trunks may be more comfortable for you. 

For women, I personally wore a bikini and had no issues. You can also wear a one piece swimsuit if you want that extra layer of comfort between your skin and the wetsuit. 

For kids you can also use just their swimsuits. For younger children that aren’t potty trained I would recommend buying their own wetsuit since they may have “use the bathroom” while they’re in the water. Make sure to also use a swim diaper for them to prevent messes. 

When purchasing a wetsuit make sure that it is a 2.5mm to 3mm wetsuit to help keep you warm. Keep in mind that when you get in the water, the wetsuit will feel tight around your body and will make you more buoyant as you swim. This really helped my girls feel more comfortable in the water and be able to float better so they can observe the manatees. 

swimming with manatees in crystal river florida

Tips for Swimming with Manatees in Florida

  1. I remember when my daughter was watching a manatee eating. She was looking down at him when all of a sudden the manatee decided to swim up for air and pushed her out of the way. One thing we told her to do was freeze, float, and stay calm. She was scared to touch it and get in trouble. However, this was probably the best tip that was given to us before our tour started. Manatees may approach you or nudge you and that’s ok. As long as you are not touching them back you’re good. As visitors in their home, the best thing we can do is just watch and admire them. 
  2. Wear a bathing suit underneath your wetsuit. You can also wear a rash guard swimsuit instead for extra protection and warmth. For extra warmth, you can also wear water shoes. 
  3. Once your tour has ended and you’re on the boat heading back you may get cold. You can choose to leave your wetsuit on or take off your wetsuit and put on a long sleeve shirt/rash guard over your swimsuit. 
  4. Bring a wet bag to put your wet clothing in. 
  5. If you’re iffy about using other peoples snorkels you can bring your own. Just make sure they fit comfortably before going on the tour. Having a good snorkel mask is important. 
  6. Don’t forget to bring dry clothes to change when you arrive back. 
  7. You can bring a thermos with hot cocoa, hot coffee, or even hot tea to stay warm afterwards. 
  8. Bring a small snack. You will most likely get hungry with all the swimming around. 
  9. Always be mindful of your captain and tour guide. They are very knowledgeable when it comes to these tours and will provide the best guidance and safety protocols for you and your family. Plus they share some very cool facts about manatees. 
  10. Bring a waterproof camera such as a GoPro to capture this experience. Before your tour make sure to have enough memory on your SD card and that it is fully charged. For best measures, bring an extra battery and SD card to be safe. However, most of the tours will take pictures and videos which you can purchase after your tour as well. 
  11. If you’re purchasing a wetsuit for your kids make sure to choose a color that is vibrant and won’t be camouflaged in the water. Pink, Yellow, Orange, Red, Purple are all colors that would be easier to spot in the springs versus blues, aquas, and greens.
swimming with manatees in crystal river florida

FAQ About Snorkeling or Swimming with Manatees 

I’m sure you have many questions about going on a swim with manatees tour. I’m going to do my best to answer as many as I can below. However, for more specific questions, it is best to reach out to the tour company you’ve chosen for your tour as they can give you more accurate answers. 

What to Do When You See a Manatee

Freeze and float. You don’t have to be stiff as a board but as long as you’re floating and not touching, bothering, and poking the manatees you’re good. Just float and admire how cute they are. 

What to Wear When Going Swimming or Snorkeling with Manatees 

I would recommend wearing a wetsuit, swimsuit underneath, water shoes, a hair tie for long hair, and snorkels. I go more into details about the gear and other things to pack above. 

Do manatees bite? 

Manatees love to chomp and eat grass but NEVER bite humans. They’re very gentle and curious mammals. 

Are manatees dangerous? Is it safe to swim with manatees? 

Not at all. They’re very gentle creatures. I like to think of them as cute water puppies that you can’t cuddle with and touch. 

Age limit for swimming with manatees? 

All ages are welcome, however, when you are booking your tour for younger children, most tour companies will have you book a private tour. Some may not have rental gear for younger children so you will have to purchase the gear ahead of time. Amazon has affordable options. I paid about $35 for my son’s wetsuit and it kept him warm. 

Fishes seen during a manatee swim tour in florida

Can you touch the manatees when you swim with them? 

No you can NOT touch manatees. While they’re all cute and may touch you, you are not allowed to touch them in any way. 

Can you feed manatees? 

You are NOT allowed to feed manatees anything. 

Do I need to know how to swim in order to swim with manatees? 

Basic swimming and floating is all you really need. However, the wetsuits are very buoyant which help you float and a noodle is also provided to those who need a little extra help to float and swim around. It is important to feel comfortable in the water. If you have gone snorkeling in the past then you shouldn’t have any problems doing this tour. 

Can you see other marine life in the water? 

Yes you can! We actually saw various types of fishes swimming around the manatees. You can also find oysters, some shells, and other small marine life. However, seeing an alligator in these springs is unlikely if that’s what you’re most worried about for this tour. 

A little girl swimming with a manatee in Florida

Summary about How to Swim with Manatees 

Well I think that wraps up this guide for swimming with manatees in Florida. This was truly such a magical experience for us as a family. We love seeing animals in the natural habitat but to actually go in the water and see manatees face to face with our kids was something so much more magical for us! Definitely a family activity that we would do again. 

Have you gone swimming with manatees before? What was your experience like? If not, is it something you would want to do? 

Hi, I'm Jessica!

I am a wife and mother to three amazing kids. A coffee addict and wine lover. I also have a huge love for the mountains and the the ocean. Through my blog I hope to inspire families to spend more time outdoors. 

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