How I (legally) swam with wild manatees

At the time I’m writing this, it is prime “swimming with manatee” season– between November and March, so I thought I’d write an entry about my trip to Florida, where we actually swam with wild manatees.  And no need to alert the authorities, there’s actually one last place in the country that it’s legal to swim with them and we went there: Crystal River, Florida.  

I flew out to Florida for my brother’s graduation from FAU.  He showed me all over the state–we checked out the Everglades, we went on a scuba dive through the Florida Keys, but top of the heap was definitely the manatees.

The day of our swim, we showed up early in the morning at Bird’s Underwater Dive Center, they fitted us for a wetsuit, mask, snorkel, and then loaded us onto the pontoon boat and we were on our way.  There was a lot of education on what was and wasn’t appropriate interaction with the manatees (and what was/wasn’t legal).  It was a really short boat ride, but once we got out there, there were manatees everywhere.  When we got in the water, there was a young manatee that swam right up to my brother and sniffed/kissed his mask and then it came over for some attention from me.  They were so slow moving and peaceful.  With a tiny bit of swimming, we found tons of manatees that seemed just as curious about us as we were about them.

What you need to know:

This is one of my favorite Before You Die Guy activities because it requires no experience, it’s super cheap (less than $50) and it was absolutely amazing!  If you don’t know how to swim, don’t panic.  It’s super shallow and if you request, the dive shops can give you floaty noodles or a life jacket.  

It’s tightly regulated, but if you go with one of the licensed dive shops, you can literally show up, give them money, and they’ll take you to swim with wild manatees.  It’s that simple.  We only signed up the day before our tour and the next day we were on a manatee tour.  And unlike most nature tours, they basically guaranteed manatees if you go during the months that they’re there.  

They’re so curious, so beautiful, so peaceful, and unfortunately, so vulnerable.  95% of them are covered in prop scars which is really sad, so they have notices for motorboaters to try to help protect them and they try their best to educate you so that you can be respectful duringyour interaction with them.

They have super strict rules about how you’re allowed to interact with them and they’re all designed to protect the manatees.  Rules like no riding them, only open hand touch.  They’re not joking about their manatee rules either.  They’ll fine the crap out of you.  And when we were in Crystal River, a woman had just been been put in jail for riding a manatee.  

This is super safe, really cheap, and requires no experience.  The only thing I would have done differently on this trip, would be to push for a thicker wetsuit.  My brother and I were in the water for about two hours with a 3 mm wetsuit and if I could go back and do it again, I would have requested gloves and a thicker wetsuit.  Other than that though, it was amazing and I can’t wait to do it again!!!