Frequently asked questions
You really don't have to. We feel that our 6:00 am tour is the best because there are fewer other people out there looking for the same manatee. But honestly, everyone who takes our 11:00 am or 2:00 pm tours have a great time.
Yes. But by the time everyone is geared up, briefed, watches, the video, and we get to the snorkeling location it is light.
Yes. We include wetsuits, masks and snorkels, and in most cases, fins.
It pretty much is, yes. The water is 72F (21C) year round. That may seem warm, but you have to be very calm and quiet in the water, so you're not generating much body heat. You are essentially just floating for up to well over an hour and sometimes as much as two hours. It gets cold.
No. If you can swim just a little and you're not afraid of the water you should be fine. Wetsuits make you a lot more buoyant than normal and we have "noodles" on board. We encourage everyone to use them. Let your Captain know before you leave the dock and they can give you some pointers and stay with you for a few minutes while you get used to it.
The first thing you need to know is that our Captains are generally in the water, not on the boat. If it doesn't work out with a younger child one of the parents would have to stay with them on the boat. Usually kids start doing well somewhere between the ages of 6 to 8 years old.
We cannot allow pets on the boats. Another passenger could be allergic. But we all have pets and love them. Service animals are allowed, of course.
Actually, the time we list is the arrival time. Before you get there the Captains are very busy getting ready for the trip, so if you get there too early they won't be able to help you, anyway.
Please call the shop to discuss the logistics.
We accept walk-in's, but we may not have room on the boat. We will run a tour at a random time for a group of 3 or more, but without a reservation we may not have a Captain available.
We leave our dock in the time that it takes to suit up, watch the video manatee manners, and brief our group. Our tours meet at 6:00am and 11:00am, (2:00 pm in winter months only).
Small group tours meet at 8:00 am.
Our Pontoon boats are Coast Guard certified vessels. They are 29, 28, and 24 feet in length. Our max. capacity on the larger vessels are 12, and 11 people. The 24 boats hold 8 people, and our small group tours are conducted on a 24-foot pontoon boat that does not exceed 6 passengers. Tues – Thurs are the least crowded days on the water in our short, popular manatee season. Weekends and holidays from Christmas to Spring break are very busy, Kings Bay of the Crystal River is a small body of water and manatees gather in specific warm water areas.
You are welcome to buy out all the seats on the vessels mentioned above. If two people want our 29-foot boat, can by 12 seats, or 8 seats on the 24-footer. We do offer a "small group" 6-person tour for $90 per person (minimum of 4), which includes a meal, it is a longer tour focused on education, covers more areas of Kings Bay including the office of the Fish and Wildlife on weekdays. Remember, there is no such thing as PRIVATE WATER, so don't be fooled by some who make you think you will be all alone out there by paying extra for a "private" tour.
Manatee snorkel tours are for all ages; we have wet suits for all sizes. Unfortunately we cannot discount children because the Coast Guard limits the "seats" we can sell as mentioned above. Our limits are determined by the number of people, not their size. We have a 10% military and group (10 or more) discount, group requirements apply.
Kings Bay of the Crystal River is approximately 3 miles in diameter and 600 acres of fresh spring water. Travel distance from our water front location to the south side of Kings Bay is one mile. There is very little distance travelled, we move more in a circle and travel canals that lead to springs which are 72 degrees all year around. These springs are what the manatees seek out for warmth and shelter.
Crystal River is home to the largest concentration of West Indian Manatees in the world, and the winter population is growing every year. Over 1,000 manatees visited Citrus County in the 2014 winter season, that is an amazing number. The 72 degree springs provide warmth from the cold 55 – 65 degree waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the winter. Unfortunately, the limited vegetation in Kings Bay cannot support this large number, so manatees must leave the bay to feed during the mid day hours if temperatures allow. On frigid days, most of the manatees refrain from eating and remain in a resting state near the springs.
Three Sisters is famous for it's clear water and the hundreds of manatees that gather there in the winter. It is highly popular all year around for kayaking and swimming, especially for photography since there is no other place with equal water clarity in Kings Bay. Unfortunately, the manatees and people have increased to such a point that ever changing restrictions are being put in place as the city of Crystal River and Fish and Wildlife come to terms with how to sustain manatee safety and tourism. This FAQ will be updated when we are given further information on regulations. For now, Three Sisters will be closed when temperatures are near freezing, or manatee counts are so high the small headsprings cannot sustain people and manatees. This will be determined by the Fish and Wildlife on a daily basis. Our tours are simply routed to other parts of Kings Bay.
All of our tours are educational. Before we leave our dive shop, you will view the mandatory 8 minute CD "Manatee Manners" which can also be viewed on our website. You will then be briefed as a group, once again, on the do's and don'ts while in the water. Our Captains are experienced in eco tourism and trained to answer all general questions on manatee behavior and biology. We encourage your questions and focus on making sure that everyone knows the proper laws for swimming with, and boating in the areas of this endangered species. If you are a certified diver, it is possible to get a certification card through PADI, Professional Association of Diving Instructors, and SDI, Scuba Diving International. We do NOT scuba dive with manatees, this is a distinctive snorkeling specialty. We will donate 25% of the cost of your card to our local refuge office for Manatee Educational Funding. You can also make a direct donation to the Friends of the Chas Wild Refugehere.
This is a controversial question. Most literature that you read will tell you that petting a manatee is against the law. In a State Park it is against the law to even be in the same body of water with a manatee. Crystal River and Homosassa Rivers are the only places in the United States where you can swim with the manatees. Although, Crystal River is not a petting zoo. There must be a balance between our love and desire to actually touch and have a close encounter with a manatee, and respect for the space of the animal. This is a difficult and often argued balance. It is best managed by simply making sure that YOU do not approach a manatee. We float, and observe. Although sometimes manatees are very curious and playful, and will come up to you, even rub up against you. Petting is still discouraged because it can cause everyone to want to pet the animal at the same time, so common sense must be applied on a case by case basis, but you will not be arrested if the manatee initiates the activity, and you do not in any way harass the manatee as detailed in the video, and literature that you are required to read and sign before each tour. Never pursue, let them come to you.
You better believe it. All rules are clearly laid out, and the Fish and Wildlife, as well as many volunteers are watching our waterways and behavior. Our guides have no tolerance for people who break the rules, pursue manatees, especially over zealous photographers. We are working under a permitted process and must maintain control over our customers. Proper respect for the manatees is our lifeline to the continued privilege of swimming with the manatees.