4 Tips for an Ethical and Fun Manatee Swim at Crystal River

Manatee rising for air and covered in algae.

Swimming with the manatees of Florida is one of my favorite activities. I also always want to maintain an ethical and responsible tourism approach. As we embark on these incredible encounters, it’s crucial to prioritize ethical practices to ensure the continued well-being of these amazing animals. If you’re looking to have fun, commune with gentle giants, and ensure you have minimal impact on their manatee mojo, then follow these tips for a successful manatee swim.

Best Practices for an Ethical and Fun Manatee Swim

Manatee tour boat and swimmers in the water at Crystal River, FL
Crystal River, FL manatee swim tour only one hundred yards from the dock!

Respect Manatee Space and Habitat

Manatees are wild animals even though they are rather gregarious and docile. It’s important to give them their much-needed space. Avoid touching or chasing them, as this can cause unnecessary stress. Do not separate cows from their calves.

  • wear eco safe sunscreen
  • keep trash and belongings from flying out of your boat
  • don’t chase marine life or birds while in or out of the water
  • be aware of manatee behavior (feeding, resting, nursing)
  • Remember, manatees are safe to swim with if you keep your distance!

Practice Passive Observation During Manatee Swim

Manatees are amazing educators and these manatee swim tours are fantastic for respectful kids. 

Instead of actively seeking interaction during your manatee swim tour, let the manatees approach you if they feel comfortable. Observe their graceful movements and enjoy the privilege of witnessing them in their natural habitat. If a manatee decides to interact with you, let it do so on its own terms. You can hear them munching away underwater from a good distance away. It’s an out-of-this-world sound! You may even have a manatee surface for air or rise up from underneath you. Stay calm and still. Try to avoid the manatee tail area as it’s a seriously powerful propeller!

  • let the manatee guide the experience
  • enjoy the fish and other marine life around you
  • try not to kick and flail about
  • use a pool noodle if you are not confident while floating

Support Responsible Manatee Tour Operators

Manatee rising to the surface for air.
Manatees are unique and may have mossy growth or scars.

Choose tour operators that prioritize the well-being of manatees and follow ethical guidelines. Look for those who educate visitors about manatee conservation and enforce respectful behavior. My longtime go-to for manatee tours (and a great place to stay while in Crystal River, FL) is the Plantation on Crystal River and their collocated Plantation Adventure Center. Pay attention to the US Fish and Wildlife Service video shown before your tour and the instructions of your guide.

  • tour operators are permitted to guide in the area
  • in-water guides are always best
  • the tour operator offers guest education prior to trip
  • guides and boat captains are informed about the area and wildlife
two kids posing outside Plantation Adventure Center before manatee swim
Outside the Plantation Adventure Center – only steps from the hotel before the manatee swim.

Plantation Adventure Center

I always hire my tours from the Plantation Adventure Center after over seven years of returning to swim with manatees and having amazing tours. Here’s why:

  • location and ease of tour from the hotel
  • friendly and experienced in-water guides (most tour companies are not in-water)
  • ethical and knowledgeable captains and guides
  • GoPro photos during your tour
  • proven safety and quality experiences for years

Spread the Love

Swimming a safe distance from that powerful manatee tail.

Share your experience with others, emphasizing the importance of protecting these incredible creatures. Encourage responsible tourism and educate others about preserving manatee natural habitat. Give back to the community by supporting local guides and businesses. Make sure to share the love by recommending ethical tour operations to others.

Our actions have a direct impact on the well-being of these magnificent creatures. We can support ethical tourism with our tourism dollars. Make them count! Ensure that future generations can also experience the joy of swimming with manatees by treating them with the utmost respect and care.

Have you ever had the chance to swim with manatees or encounter any other fascinating marine life? Share your experiences and let’s continue to appreciate and protect our incredible oceans!