Avoiding Manatees with Your Boat

As we all know, the venerable Manatee, or Sea Cow, is under considerable stress from human activity. The Miami Herald reports that the Manatee death rate hit a record high in 2009 (that report isn’t all bad news though—the total number of manatees grew, causing officials to say, in effect, that policies are working, numbers are going up, hence more accidents.)

Manatees live in many aquatic habitats in fresh or salt water. They prefer calm rivers, estuaries, bays and canals—places people prefer as well. In the wintertime, they seek out warm microclimates, and so they may gather in discharge areas of power plants and also near natural warm water springs.

While it’s encouraging that the numbers are slowly headed in the right direction, it’s sad to see these animals at risk from human activity, especially leisure activity. So what can boaters do to avoid tangling with one of these big cuddly aquatic lugs?

First of don’t feed them or spray them with fresh water. They like these things and are drawn to them, however, it’s bad news because then they’ll learn to hang out near people, and therefore boats. Better to teach them to keep their distance from people’s vehicles.

If you are in seagrass beds or in quiet shallow areas, you’re in manatee habitat. Stay in the marked deep water channels when traveling. Slow down when you are in known manatee travel corridors. Most of these are marked with idle or “slow speed” signs. Peak travel for manatees is when the water starts to cool down in November and then again in April when it begins to warm up. Manatees will travel farther north to the Georgia and the Carolinas if the weather is warm enough. Stay alert during these months.

Look out for signs that manatees are present – swirls on the water, mud plumes or trails, coconut shape snout, flipper or tail, exposed backs. Wear polarized sunglasses so that you can see just below the surface of the water. Assign someone to help keep a lookout for them.

Hopefully the population will keep rebounding. Let’s help the manatees come back full force!


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