Swimming With Manatees In Crystal River 

Last Updated on March 23, 2021

Updated March 2021

Enjoy the unique chance and privilege to swim with manatees in King’s Bay Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s nature coast. Manatees are the most docile and defenseless creature there is. Swimming near and watching them in their natural habitat is nothing short of incredible.

We have put together this guide about swimming with manatees, so you’re able to prepare before your adventure.

Table Of Contents

About Crystal River

Crystal River is a coastal city in western Florida. Situated around Kings Bay, 50 springs feed the bay, keeping the temperature at constant 72 degrees F. When the water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico cools in winter, over 400 manatees can be found in Kings Bay. The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge shelters manatees year-round.

Swimming with Manatees In Spring-Fed King's Bay Wildlife Refuge 

About Manatees

Manatees do not go onto land. Every few minutes they will rise to the surface for a few breaths. If they are resting, they can stay underwater for 15 minutes without needing to take a breath.

Manatees use their tails in an up and down motion to move forward. They are strong swimmers and in small bursts can reach speeds of 15 miles per hour.

The Florida manatee does not have any natural enemies. Because of this, it is believed that manatees can live 60 years or more!

Swimming with Manatees In Spring-Fed King's Bay Wildlife Refuge 

Where Is The Best Place To Swim With Manatees?

Crystal River is home to the world’s largest population of endangered manatees. They rely on spring-fed King’s Bay to keep them warm during the winter season, including a small population in the warmer months. Crystal Bay and Homosassa are the only places in Florida where you can legally enter the water and go swimming with manatees in the wild.

Swimming with Manatees In Spring-Fed King's Bay Wildlife Refuge 

Is It Safe To Swim With Manatees?

Manatees are very calm and peaceful marine mammals. They are curious and enjoy human interaction. Manatees are not known to attack or harm anything. They are the most docile, defenseless creature there is!

Swimming with Manatees In Spring-Fed King's Bay Wildlife Refuge 

Why Should You Not Touch A Manatee?

Touching a manatee can trigger a change in behavior in the animals. With their easygoing nature, manatees are at risk of being harmed or injured, including being mowed down by boats.

What Time Of Day Are Manatees Most Active?

Manatees will graze 6-8 hours a day. You want to get on an early boat if you want to see them at their most active. The later you arrive, the more likely you are to find the manatees grazing or resting.

Manatees In Spring-Fed King's Bay Wildlife Refuge 

Do I Need To Know How To Swim?

We would recommend it. You are given a pool noodle or a life jacket, but I would not get in the water if you are not completely comfortable swimming. The water is deep.

When Is The Best Time To Go?

The best time to view the manatees is November through March. Even though manatees can reach weights over one-thousand pounds, manatees are able to get hypothermia. The springs at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge on Kings Bay are consistently at 73*F, giving the manatees the perfect temperature to thrive.

Get On The Early Boat

Go early. We were driving a couple of hours to get to the manatees, so we were able to get onto the second boat trip of the day, at 10 am. The water visibility already was not great and with so many people in and out of the water already, it really did not help the water visibility as you can see from the photos.

Taking the boat out to swim with manatees

Manatee Manners

Before you are allowed to get into the boat, you have to watch the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge’s Manatee Manners video. It teaches you all the do’s and don’ts when you are interacting with the manatees and you will not be able to participate in the experience without watching it. Even if you rent a kayak, the video must be viewed.

Swimming with Manatees In Spring-Fed King's Bay Wildlife Refuge 

Manatee Protection Zone

There is an off-limits Manatee Protection Zone that you may NOT cross. You are also not able to jump into the water or stand, only float. Chasing after Manatees is not tolerated, or approaching them to touch. However, if they are curious and pursue you, it is considered acceptable to use one hand to reciprocate.

In 2017, Manatees were moved from the endangered list to the threatened species list. While that is a great improvement, it does not mean that you can do what you want because everything is magically better (it isn’t). Do not put the manatees in a stressful situation. They will go into the Protection Zone when they want to be left alone. Otherwise, it is your job to only passively observe and to be thankful for the incredible opportunity.

Even though the water temperature was warm enough to not have a wetsuit, it did help to keep us warmer longer so that we were able to stay in the water right until the boat was ready to go back. You will also want a mask, snorkel, and a pool noodle, to help keep you buoyant.

Will You See Any Other Wildlife In The Water?

We saw a lot of massive Tarpons. Some of them were seriously huge.

King's Bay Wildlife Refuge marina

How Much Is It To Swim With The Manatees In Florida?

Tours with Captain Mike’s Swimming With The Manatees start at $65 US and last three hours.

Swimming with Manatees in Spring-Fed King's Bay Wildlife Refuge 

Tips For Swimming With Manatees

  1. Bring a bathing suit to wear under your wetsuit.
  2. Bring a change of clothes. It will be cold when you get out of the water. You’ll be most comfortable if you can change out of the wetsuit.
  3. Bring a plastic bag for all your wet clothing.
  4. You will not be given flippers to prevent manatees from being poked. However, you are able to wear water shoes.

Swimming with Manatees In Spring-Fed King's Bay Wildlife Refuge 

An Incredible Experience

Being able to encounter these curious, gentle giants within their natural habitat is an experience that we will never forget. We were in awe as they swam along near us. Next time we are in Florida we are keen to try again to see if we can get some better water visibility.


What has been your favorite natural environment animal encounter?