November is Manatee Awareness Month, and for good reason. Florida manatees are on the move, seeking warm-water sites to spend the winter. That means boaters must be cautious and watch for Florida’s official marine mammal and for changing speed zones on waterways.
Manatees generally start traveling to warm water when the air temperature drops below 50 degrees or when the water temperature dips to 68 degrees. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) changes seasonal speed zone signs in mid-November on many waterways to accommodate manatee migration.
Boaters should scan the water near or in front of the boat, looking for swirls resembling a large footprint, a repetitive line of half-moon swirls, a mud trail, or a snout or fluke (tail) breaking the water’s surface. Kipp Frohlich, leader of the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management Section, said boaters can help manatees have a safe migration by staying in marked channels, wearing polarized sunglasses to improve vision, obeying posted boat speed zones, using poles, paddles or trolling motors when close to manatees, and having someone help scan the water when under way.
“If you think you see a manatee, give it plenty of room because it may not be alone,” Frohlich said. “It may have a calf or be traveling with other manatees.”
Besides slowing down and following the FWC’s recommendations, residents can help manatees survive by purchasing the manatee specialty license plate. The funds collected for these plates go directly into manatee research and conservation.
Winter (manatee-related) boat speed zone changes by county:
Brevard County: Nov. 15 - March 31
- No-entry and motorboats-prohibited zones – North Indian River area around discharge canals of the Reliant Corp. Power Plant and Florida Power & Light’s Frontenac Power Plant.
- Idle speed zone – West of Intracoastal Waterway in general vicinity of power plants.
Broward County: Nov. 15 - March 31
- Idle speed – Port Everglades Power Plant area, including part of the discharge canal. Portions of the South New River Canal and Dania Cut-off Canal near the Lauderdale Power Plant.
- Slow speed – Intracoastal Waterway from the Palm Beach County line through Hillsboro Inlet south to Burnham Point. (Note: Some portions are weekend-only slow speed.)
- Lower (western) portions of the Withlacoochee River and Bennetts Creek – Sept. 1 - Feb. 28 – 25 mph.
- Lower (western) portions of the Chassahowitzka River – Sept. 1 - March 31 – 25 mph.
- Portions of Kings Bay – Sept. 1 - April 30 – Idle speed or slow speed.
- Portions of the Homosassa River between the Salt River and Trade Winds Marina and southern portion of Halls River – Oct. 1 - April 30 – Slow speed.
- All waters in the vicinity of the Florida Power Corp.’s effluent canal – Nov. 15 - April 30 – Slow speed.
- Within the Blue Waters area of the upper Homosassa River near Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park – Nov. 15 - March 31 – No entry.
Dade County: Nov. 15 - April 30
- No entry – Portions of the Biscayne Canal, Little River and Coral Gables Canal.
- Slow speed – Within portions of Meloy (or East) Channel and portions of the Intracoastal Waterway in Dumfoundling Bay and Biscayne Bay between Broad Causeway and Venetian Causeway.
Hillsborough County: Nov. 15 - March 31
- No entry – Portions of the discharge canal of the TECO Power Plant in Apollo Beach.
- Idle speed – General vicinity of the TECO Power Plant in Apollo Beach.
Indian River County:
- Within Sand and Shell islands area, Channel Marker 66 south to Channel Marker 75; Indian River area from Hobert Lodge Marina to North Canal, and from Channel Marker 156 south to St. Lucie County line west of the Intracoastal Waterway – Nov. 1 - April 30 – Slow speed.
- Portion of canal system adjacent to Vero Beach Power Plant – Nov. 15 - March 31 – No entry.
Lee County: Nov. 15 - March 31
- No entry – Discharge and intake canals of the Florida Power & Light Tice Power Plant.
- Idle speed and slow speed – Portions of the Intracoastal Waterway channel on the Caloosahatchee River in the vicinity of the Tice Power Plant.
- 25 mph – Portions of Estero Bay, Hurricane Bay, Hell Peckney Bay and Hendry Creek.
- Seasonally unregulated – Cayo Costa, North Captiva, Captiva and St. James City areas.
§ Year-round no-entry zone - Manatee Springs State Park (manatee protection).
Palm Beach County:
§ Nov. 15 - March 31
§ Motorboats prohibited – Within general vicinity of Florida Power & Light Riviera Beach Power Plant discharge canals.
§ Slow speed – Outside the main channel in the Loxahatchee River, and in the north and southwest forks of the Loxahatchee River.
§ Idle speed and slow speed zones – Look for shore-to-shore speed zone changes north and south of Peanut Island near the Florida Power & Light Riviera Beach Power Plant.
§ Oct. 1 - May 31
§ 25 mph – Portions of the Intracoastal Waterway channel between State Road 706 and Lake Worth, and south of Lake Worth to Broward County.
Sarasota County: Nov. 15 - March 15
§ No entry – Portion of Salt Creek and Warm Mineral Springs north of U.S. 41.
St. Lucie County:
§ Within Moore’s Creek – Nov. 15 - March 31 – Motorboats prohibited.
§ Within Garfield Cut/Fish House Cove area – Nov. 15 - April 15 – Slow speed.
§ Within Intracoastal Waterway channel between North Beach Causeway south to Channel Marker 189 and within the Shark Cut Channel in the Fort Pierce Inlet area – Nov. 15 - April 30 – Slow speed.
- Portions of the Tomoka River and Spruce Creek – Sept. 1 - March 31 – 25 mph.
- Oct. 15 - April 15
§ Blue Spring Run – Motorboats prohibited.
§ St. Johns River, south of Lake Beresford to Channel Marker 67 – Slow speed.
- Idle speed (No wake) – Lowest speed needed to maintain steering and make headway (speed used when docking a boat).
- Slow speed (No excessive wake) – Fully off plane and completely settled in the water; not plowing.
- Motorboats-prohibited zone – Entry is prohibited for any vessel being propelled or powered by machinery.
- No entry – No vessels or other human-related activities allowed.