Tips for Boating in the Florida Keys

If you had to describe the Florida Keys with the name of a color, it would definitely be blue — every shade and hue you can imagine. You’ll find aquamarine waters in shallow sand flats, iridescent navy blues in the deep ocean, and then there’s the sky that blends perfectly with the water to create the ultimate designer show room.

There’s no better way to enjoy these spectacular blues than from a boat. You’ll also find plenty of adventure on the water. Great fishing is all around and incredible spots for snorkeling and SCUBA diving are as close as the coral reef.

Boating in the Keys is great fun, but it can be challenging. The waters get shallow where you least expect. If you’re a novice boater, it’s best to hire a guide or book a charter

These shallow sand flats can produce great fishing, but only experienced boaters with knowledge of local waters should venture into these “skinny” waters.

Learning to read the colors of the water in the Florida Keys is one of the best ways to stay safe and protect our delicate environment.

You’ll find mooring balls at most of the Marine Sanctuaries in the Florida Keys.

. Experienced boaters can rent a boat or bring your own. Most accommodations in the Keys offer dockage and when you stay at Captain Pip’s Marina & Hideaway the use of a 20-ft. foot boat is included.

Don’t miss the chance to enjoy all the shades of blue aboard a boat. Read on, as we dedicate this edition to boating in the beautiful Florida Keys.

Coral reefs and seagrass beds in the Florida Keys grow within inches of the water’s surface and can be found close to shore or several miles from shore. Learning to read water color in the Keys is important. It will help ensure a safe boating experience and it will help preserve our irreplaceable marine communities.
Brown, Brown run aground
Reef formations that grow close to the water’s surface and shallow seagrass beds will make the water appear brown. Such areas should be avoided to keep from running aground and damaging both your boat and sensitive marine habitats.
White, White you’ll be there all night
Sand bars and shallow rubble areas appear white. These areas can be deceiving and may be much shallower than they appear. Navigate with caution around these areas.
Green, green nice and clean
Green water usually indicates an area free of shallow reefs or seagrass beds. Navigation of small, shallow draft boats in these areas is generally safe. However, larger, deeper draft boats should exercise caution. All boaters should carry and consult the appropriate
NOAA marine chart.
Blue, blue cruise on through
Deep water areas, such as the ocean side of a reef may appear blue. Navigation in these areas is free from hazardous contact with reefs or seagrass beds. Remember, however, that coral reefs rise abruptly from deep water so give yourself plenty of room to maneuver.
If you run aground
Turn off your engine immediately. Do not attempt to use your engine to power off the reef or grass flat, which could damage your boat as well as these important habitats. If possible, raise your lower unit or outdrive and allow your vessel to drift free from the shallow areas. If you cannot drift free, radio for assistance on VHF channel 16. Boat groundings can instantly pulverize coral, leaving areas open to infection by disease and devastate a thriving coral reel community that may take hundreds of years to rebuild. Damage to seagrass beds can be equally devastating. Seagrass beds act as a nursery and feeding ground for numerous organisms. They also filter excess nutrients and trap sediments, thereby providing the clean, clear water essential for coral reefs. By running aground or even motoring in very shallow water, boats can scar seagrass beds. These narrow sand channels can grow wider and wider, decreasing the seagrass bed’s ability to protect the reef and provide a healthy community for marine creatures.
Helpful navigation tips
Use extra caution when there is extensive cloud cover, a glassy calm sea state, extreme sun glare or murky water. These are condition when colors may not be apparent. Mooring buoys are located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to keep boaters from damaging coral with their anchors. Some mooring buoys are located near extremely shallow reefs. Do not attempt to motor across a reef to reach a mooring buoy. Polarized sunglasses are very helpful in distinguishing water colors.
Do not approach these markers
Reef light towers are prominent metal A-frame structures with a number posted on them. Shoal markers are solitary steel I-beams, standing approximately ten feet, usually with a diamond-shaped DANGER sign attached. Many shallow reef areas are marked by reef light towers or shoal markers. If you look closely, you can determine where the shallow edge of these areas are located. Along the reef, there will often be a series of breaking waves. Along the edge of seagrass flats, you will frequently see a ripple effect or surface water texture change. Shallow sandbars will appear glassy.

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