If you haven’t seen and interacted with manatees at close range, then you are really missing out on a beautiful and unforgettable experience. You surely should make a trip to Florida’s freshwater springs and get your share of fun and delightful moments with these prehistoric creatures. People are often surprised at the sheer size of these animals. Unless you are a regular scuba diver, you have probably never had your time in the water with an animal as huge as a manatee. Newborns are about 4 feet long and weigh 40-100 pounds while adult males grow to 13 feet long and 1,300 pounds — a true definition of a giant.

Why should you kayak with manatees?

But it is not just their size that makes them worth kayaking with. Manatees have fascinating features that make observing them so much fun. For instance, they are endowed with chubby, puppy-looking faces, an oversized body that they seem to struggle to move through water, and flippers with five digits over which runs a thick skin layer. A manatee also has a large, paddle-shaped evenly-rounded tail that moves up and down as the animal swims, a fascinating sight to see. And did you know that manatees fart loudly to swim and maintain their buoyancy in water? You should experience that because it’s unbelievable. On top of all that, the animals are gentle, curious and playful in nature, so they are more likely to approach you for an interaction when you are in their habitat.

When can you most easily spot them in the springs?

During the winter season from November to April, Florida weather cools down, with the waters of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts dropping to below 70 degrees and forcing manatees to seek warm water habitats. The manatees keep themselves warm by moving into the natural, warm-water springs that maintain a constant 72-degree temperature even in winter. The warmer springs provide a perfect area for the mammals to gather in large numbers for food, rest and mating. As you paddle through one of the springs, you will be able to see them come to the surface to breathe, more or less the same way a dolphin or whale does, and it is delightful to watch. The waters of these springs also are very clear, making it easier for you to see the blimp-like bodies of manatees floating smoothly just a feet from you.

Ways to see manatees in Florida freshwater springs

Well, you can jump in the water with snorkel gear to enjoy a close and personal encounter with a manatee. At Captain Mike’s, we provide personalized tours that enable you to swim with manatees in these natural springs. But there several other tour operators in the springs that will allow you to dive in and enjoy a delightful time with the gentle giants. Another way is to paddle through the springs since manatees can be seen easily from a kayak. You can rent a suitable kayak from us, launch from our dock and paddle into the springs in less than 20 minutes. The springs provide a lot of kayaking opportunities, such as in the bay, inlets and the paddling trail. There are also a number of other kayak rentals you may explore. Or you can use the boardwalks surrounding the springs or go on a paddleboard that will enable you to glide side-by-side with manatees in the wild.

Which are the best places to kayak with manatees?

While there are manatees all over Florida, you can only get in the water, kayak and swim with manatees in Citrus County located on the Gulf Coast, roughly 90 minutes north of Tampa and about 2 hours northwest of Orlando. Manatee encounters are offered in the Citrus County towns of Homosassa and Crystal River. It’s in Crystal River where you find King’s Bay, the most popular area to swim with manatees and where as many as 10 percent of all Florida’s sea cows congregate. Once in King’s Bay, you can paddle or walk to Three Sisters Springs where manatees gather every winter. Homosassa hosts Blue Springs, another freshwater spring found under a natural aquifer.

Three Sisters Springs is a group of three springs forming part of the 70 springs within the 600-acre King’s Bay. The water in the springs remains at 72 degrees during winter and about 600 manatees gather in the area to take advantage of the warmer waters. Sometimes you may find the headwaters closed, but even with that you can always explore, swim or kayak in adjacent springs and surrounding waterway. For instance, the mangrove-filled Banana Island has the Kings Spring where kayakers can see manatees in the winter. To the north of Three Sisters is the Hunter Spring City Park where many manatees congregate and visitors can swim and kayak with the animals.

Blue Springs is a great place to view manatees, but it is usually closed to all types of recreation when manatees are inside and you will not be able to move near their resting areas. However, you can still use the boardwalks around the spring and view manatees. For kayaking, you can go to St. John’s River from the Blue Springs and on your way you will see manatees swimming to the springs in the river. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge also offers sheltered picnic areas and manatees can be found there in the cooler months. Just 8 miles south is the No Motor Zone where you can find areas of shallow water, enjoy paddling and hang out with manatees for a long time. To access the No Motor Zone, you should launch your kayak at Kelly Park or KARS Park in Titusville.

How to kayak with manatees in the springs

Though seeing a huge number of manatees in one place is a wonderful experience, you should always remember that the animals are there to survive. So whether you are kayaking alone or in a group, you must interact with them from a distance and on the water surface to avoid interrupting their resting or feeding habits. Avoid approaching, chasing, touching or disturbing manatees even if you find them resting. Never poke, stab or prod a manatee with your feet or hands. You also should avoid holding, pinching, grabbing, riding, feeding, surrounding, stepping, standing, cornering or diving onto a manatee. You must never separate a manatee from a group, or a mother and calf. Likewise, you should not touch or remove any tags or gear on a research manatee and must not interfere with research activities.

Those are the basic rules. You should enjoy kayaking or swimming while allowing manatees to go on with their lives unhindered. The springs are not a petting zoo and the animals remain in the wild. That is why you must never disrupt or change their natural behavior because it could put them in harm’s way. Take your time and enjoy the experience. For more information on swimming and kayaking with manatees in freshwater Florida springs, visit the “Captain Mike’s Kayak Rentals” site.


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