Manatee Safety Information for Boaters
October 20, 2021
All boaters in Florida use Florida’s marine ecosystem. As boaters, everyone should pay attention to the effects on the environment, since the waters we enjoy may be impacted by our actions. Every boater should learn and use safe boating practices that will protect Florida’s manatees, all wildlife, and waterways.
With regard to ecosystem impacts, personal watercraft operators may increase the water turbidity in areas where they operate their vessels, which not only makes it harder to see things in the water but also blocks the light that seagrass and other plants need to survive. In addition, if not operated in the appropriate areas, these vessels may also blast out holes in seagrass systems and may disturb manatees or other wildlife in prime habitat areas. As a personal watercraft operator, you should understand how your vessel could affect wildlife and habitat in order to operate your vessel in a way that minimizes ecosystem impacts.
Approximately 25 to 30 percent of manatee deaths statewide are attributed to watercrafts. In recent years, manatee deaths by blunt-force impacts have outpaced manatee deaths caused by propeller cuts, with a minimal portion of the deaths/injuries attributed to both causes.
The faster a boat is driven, the more force is applied to a strike. For example, the force of a strike at 30 miles per hour is four times that of a strike at 15 miles per hour, all other factors being equal. If a watercraft strikes a manatee in the head, such as while a manatee is taking a breath, the animal may die immediately. Strikes in other areas can result in acute injuries that quickly result in death but also result in chronic injuries that may linger for days, weeks, or longer before the manatee passes away. Internal injuries, such as broken or dislocated ribs, can also result in death from internal bleeding or infection.
Here are some things you can do when boating or operating a personal watercraft to make sure you are not injuring manatees:
- Abide by posted speed zone signs
- Wear polarized glasses to reduce glare on the surface of the water, which will help you to see manatees more easily
- Try to stay in deep-water channels
- Avoid boating over seagrass beds and shallow areas, where manatees are often found
- Do not discard monofilament line, hooks, or any other litter into the water, as manatees and other wildlife could ingest the debris or become entangled in it and become injured or die
- If you see a swirl on the surface of the water or see the animals back, snout, tail or flipper break through the surface, keep your distance, so you don’t hurt the animal with your boat