Boating in Key West, FL: Everything You Need to Know
Key West, Florida is a boater’s paradise and a tropical oasis located at the southernmost tip of the continental United States. This island town, often referred to as the “end of the road” stemming from its location as the last island within the Florida Keys, offers nearly endless boating, fishing, and watersports opportunities.
The year-round sunny weather and world-renowned sunset celebrations, combined local wildlife and beautiful marine habitats, such mangroves and coral reefs, make boating in Key West an unforgettable adventure.
Do You Need a Boating License in Key West?
A boating license is not required to operate vessels in Florida, and there is no age restriction as to who can drive a boat. However, it may be necessary that boaters take a Boating Safety Education course. Anyone born on or after January 1, 1988, must complete this course and carry their Boating Safety Education Identification Card whenever they operate a boat. It is recommended that all boaters take this course before going out in a boat to ensure they know all the rules and regulations associated with boating in Key West, Florida.
Additional boating rules and regulations include:
- No boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- You must adhere to all boating speed limits.
- Stay away from marine wildlife, especially manatees.
- Stay away from designated wildlife habitat preserves.
- Do not drive through beds of seagrass.
- Those under 12 years of age must wear a U.S. Coast Guard Approved personal floatation device at all times when the boat is in motion.
- There must be enough USCGA personal floatation devices on board for every person on the boat.
Fishing in Key West
Many call Key West the “World’s Fishing Capital”. If you plan to fish in the area, you must first obtain the appropriate fishing license. Fishing opportunities are near endless in the area, offering locations with bright blue waters, natural reefs, and abundant shipwrecks, which are now home to several species of marine life.
Fishing opportunities offer those boating the area to catch everything from Marlin to Sailfish and Tuna to Wahoo:
- Offshore fishing opens up opportunities to capture a wide range of fish species;
- While backcountry fishing in Key West makes it possible to catch species such as tarpon, cobia, snapper, and grouper.
- In addition, barracuda and sharks can be found in the shallow waters just off the shoreline.
Boaters with the appropriate fishing license can participate in annual fishing tournaments held throughout the year in Key West, Florida. Annual tournaments include Lower Keys Dolphin Tournament, Screamin’ Reels Tournament, and The Key West Marlin Tournament.
Best Places to Anchor in Key West
There is not a bad spot to drop your anchor and enjoy a day out on the water in the Florida Keys; however, some of the best places to anchor are between Key West and Christmas Tree Island.
If you plan to anchor your boat in this area, be prepared for heavy boat traffic during the day. Once the sun sets, things slow down at night.
Another great anchoring location is across from the Northwest Channel from Key West in the Mule Key Basin.
Best Sandbars to Explore by Boat in Key West
The waters of Key West have several sandbars that are perfect for beaching your boat or anchoring nearby. One of the best things about visiting a sandbar is you can sit in the soft sand immersed in the ocean just enough to be in the water, without having to tread water or fight currents. In addition, spending the day at a sandbar is a great way to interact with other boaters.
- The Boca Grande sandbar is the place to go when looking for a party atmosphere. Many boaters come here with food, beverages, Frisbees, inflatables, and water toys. The more, the merrier is key when visiting this sandbar, and it can get a bit busy, especially on holidays and weekends.
- Snipe point is another very popular sandbar and one of the largest sandbars in the area.
- The Woman Key sandbar is the place to go if you are looking for wildlife, and it is located in the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. This center protects bird nesting areas in mangroves but is also a popular place for boaters to anchor and relax on the sandbar, watching local wildlife pass by.
- Other sandbars popular among boaters in Key West include the sandbars at Mud Keys and Marvin Key. These sandbars are for those who want to be a bit adventurous when visiting the area and are great places to experience wildlife and water sports.
For additional tips and tricks for navigating area’s most popular sandbars, read 6 Best Key West Sandbars.
Best Time to Go Boating in Key West
Key West has several islands and attractions to explore, and if you want to experience the area in a short amount of time, visiting during the off-season will have fewer crowds, giving you more time to explore.
The off-season for this area runs from March through May. There are fewer people during these months, the weather is still beautiful, and water conditions are perfect for boating. Temperatures during these months hover around 75 degrees, and there is a light breeze throughout the day.
It is best to avoid planning a trip to Key West during hurricane season, which runs from June through November. However, most hurricanes occur from mid-August through early October.
Best Places to Visit By Boat in Key West
Key West has so many locations that are perfect for exploring, especially if you plan on spending the day on the water. It is possible to boat or sail your way around the area, checking out all the top attractions, restaurants, shops, and beaches.
Top places to visit by boat in Key West include Bahia Honda State Park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Boca Grande Key, Boca Chica Sandbar, Sand Key Reef, Western Dry Rocks, and Cottrell Key.
Ready to hit the water? With a Boatsetter boat rental, you can enjoy all of what Key West has to offer, no matter the time of year. Rent pontoon boats, sailboats, fishing boats, deck boats, catamarans, and many other boats!