Safe Boating in the Florida Keys

Navigating Florida's shallow waters can be a challenge for even the most experienced boater. Unfortunately, inadvertent or careless boating practices can cause serious trouble for the Florida Keys ecosystem. With a little care, you can avoid damaging valuable Keys habitat (and your boat) and avoid fines, fees, and other costs associated with running aground.

boat grounded in the sanctuary


Before hitting the water...

  • Take a safe boating course.
  • Familiarize yourself with the local waters where you plan to boat.
  • Study your charts. Always use up-to-date nautical charts of the area.


While on the water...

  • Use marked channels where they exist and stay in deeper water where your propellers and hull won't damage shallow-water habitats. Know the draft of your boat and how much water you need to operate safely
  • Always pay attention to signs, markers, navigational aids, and information buoys, which may indicate shallow areas closed to motorized vessels and/or provide user information for that area.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to help you "read" the water and remember this jingle: "Brown, brown, run aground. White, white, you just might. Blue, blue, sail on through. Green, green, nice and clean." Shallow water appears dark (brown) to the observer, while deeper water appears blue or green. Sand-covered bottoms appear white and may or may not be deep enough for your vessel to navigate.
  • Keep track of the tides. The greatest range of tides (shallowest and deepest water) occurs during a full moon and new moon. Use extra caution when boating on a low tide.
  • When in doubt about the depth, slow down and idle. Make sure the bow of the boat is down and the motor is trimmed or tilted up.
  • If you run into a seagrass flat, you will be leaving a sediment trail behind your boat, making the water murky and probably cutting seagrass roots. Stop immediately and tilt your engine. Pole or push the boat into deeper water.