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Safety Tips and Boating Information.

The safety tips for navigating in the waters of the Straits of Florida presented in this chapter are basics that every adventurous boater, fisherman or sailor should know. *These basic techniques also apply to navigating anywhere worldwide and not only in our coastal waters.

Since coral reefs, sea grass and shallows are abundant here all around the islands there are things that you need to know to ensure a safe return home; these corals, rocks and sea grass are within inches of the surface in many areas, some near shore and others on the open waters.

A boat navigating through a navigation channel marked by buoys.

Navigating in the waters of the Florida Keys requires that you know some important things.

Some navigation instruction, training or education should be attained before trying to navigate these waters, remember that so many ships sunk in these waters in the past, that the Florida Keys became the wrecking capital of the world. Check in Florida Keys History "And shortly after...the wrecking began!"

The Great Florida Coral Reefs Track is the third largest coral system in the world and it extends from the Biscayne National Park, south of Miami and all the way to the Marquesas Islands, 30 miles west of Key West. So navigating any where in these areas near the Keys requires that you know how to avoid "running aground" with your boat, the use of navigation charts, safety and good seamanship.   

The color of the water.

*The color of the water is a very important factor not to be ignored. Remember these safety tips.

*CAUTION! Brown water.*Don't go through any colored brown water; find your way around, brown color means that the water is too shallow and that coral formations might be  present. Running aground is dangerous for you; your boat and it will damage our very sensitive coral reefs.

A small fishing boat navegating through a shallow water canal.

The color brown indicates a shallow water area or coral reefs.

*CAUTION! White water*. The water around sand bars will appear white, sand bars are shallower than you can predict and any boat will run aground here. Stir your way around sand bars.

An old fishing boat grounded on a sand bar and surrounded by white colored waters.

White water indicates the presence of sand bars and shallows.

*SAFER! Green water*. Safer for skiffs, small size and flat bottom boats. Larger size boats should be cautious on green waters! And also take in consideration the tides and the ocean currents.

A fishing charter boat navigating through a canal of the Florida Keys.

Green waters are safer for small boats but pay attention to signs, indicators and buoys.

*SAFE! Blue water*. Deep waters appear blue. Normally these waters are free from corals, sand bars or sea grass but keep in mind those coral reefs formations could increase in high surprisingly in some areas. Use the reef mooring buoys or the sandy areas to anchor, never anchor in the coral.

A small motor boat navigating at full speed in blue open waters.

Blue water indicates that the water is deep enough and safer for navigation.

Use the navigation charts.

*THE NAVIGATION CHARTS. Boaters should carry, know how to read and use marine charts, tide and current tables for the waters they are navigating.

A sailor using a navigation chart.

The NOAA navigation charts and tables for U.S and international waters are complete, reliable and updated regularly.

These charts are printed in high quality paper, colored and detailed for clear understanding.

*Contact the NOAA charts publication department for more detailed information. They are also available at every marine supply store of the Florida Keys.

Using Navigation Charts.

These charts are printed in high quality paper, colored and detailed for clear understanding.

*Contact the NOAA charts publication department for more detailed information. They are also available at every marine supply store of the Florida Keys.

NOAA nautical charts website.-

What to do and not to do if you run aground.

*RUNNING AGROUND means that your vessel had run onto a reef, sand bar or the bottom of the ocean floor and now you're helpless and stuck in the middle of nowhere.

First of all don't panic, turn off your engine right away. Radio the Coast Guard Marine Patrol, using the VHF channel 16 for assistance; give an account of the situation, your coordinates, location and a description of the vessel.

Boaters should have a good operational radio with batteries. A cell phone could be used if not too far from shore but the communication is limited in the water, (dialing CG-coast guard works in some areas)

*Don't try getting out by yourself unless you're a very experience captain because it will damage your boat and the reef farther more creating more damage, do not shift into reverse or try to push free across" assess the situation. Be cool! Check for hull damage, condition of the tide, and your location.

Other safety tips for navigation.

*BOATING EQUIPMENT. Life jackets for each person on board and an additional floating device that can be throw over board , hand held and dated flares, at list three for night and day distress signals, a sound producing device, horn, bell or whistle, fire extinguishers, an navigation lights.

Children and parents learning to use life jackets on board of a snorkeling tours charter boat.

Life inflatable jackets and floating devices should be on board.

Shop all Life Jackets and PFD's at West Marine

*SPEED. The speed is regulated on busy or dangerous navigational channels and is marked by speed zones and markers. Never speed up in shallow waters.

A sign indicating that boats should be going slow at idle speed in this area of the Florida Keys.

Watch the signs, buoys and speed indicators.

*DIVERS DOWN FLAGS. One of the Florida Keys recreational activities is diving. Thousands of scuba divers and snorkelers come to admire the coral reefs and dive sites. Watch for divers in this areas that should be marked by the diver down flags, don't run ever them, go around.

Divers in the water marked with flags to warn of their precense in the area.

Divers are required to make aware of  their presence in the area by using flags on floats.

*WEATHER. Don't navigate with rough weather; check the weather prior to going out, the weather channel provides 24 hr. information.

*PROTECTED SPECIES. You find many animal protected species and plants in the shallow waters. Green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, green sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles and fresh water turtles, manatees, the American crocodile, dolphins are all protected species.

The coral reefs are also protected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And are part of the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary.

Manaties swimming in the water.

Florida manatees can be found in fresh water rivers, estuaries and coastal waters.

My honest recommendation is that you should study and get educated on all of the aspects of boating safety and navigation before you go out at sea. Study the curses offered and approved by the U.S Coast Guard and qualified institutions. The safety tips and techniques offered in this section are just a small fraction of the things that you need to know to become a proficient boater.

For more information about boating in the Florida Keys go to the NOAA and the U.S Coast Guard

*Instructional videos are a good way to learn and make boating more fun!

West Marine Video Library
Boat at full speed intering the navigation channel of the port of  Miami and passing near a red buoy.

Be safe, fallow our safety tips and we'll see you soon!

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