Tampa bay boating guide

Tampa Bay Boating Guide

Written by Boatsetter Team
November 8, 2021

Last Updated on November 3, 2023 by Boatsetter Team

Florida’s largest estuary, Tampa Bay, covers an expansive 400 square miles when the tide is high. It has a shoreline that runs along the coasts of Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Manatee Counties. Tampa Bay is home to cruise ships and cargo ships. The entrance is spanned by the famous Sunshine Skyway Bridge that connects Saint Petersburg to Palmetto, Florida.

Over 30 miles long from Northern Hillsborough Bay, to the mouth of Sarasota Bay, and 20 miles wide, Tampa Bay is a large, busy body of water. There are many sites to see around Tampa Bay. Some are on the water, while others are ashore.

Like many of Florida’s waterfront cities, the best way to see Tampa, Saint Petersburgh, and the local islands of the area, is by boat. Knowing where you can legally and safely anchor a boat is necessary when sailing these waters. However, knowing the venues where you can anchor and have the time of your life are equally important.

Find Boat Rentals in Tampa, Florida.

Can you anchor anywhere in Tampa Bay?

No, you cannot and may get a ticket if you anchor in the wrong location. The most obvious place you cannot anchor is in the middle of a channel. This move could cause you to be run down by a larger vessel, and anchoring offshore of many housing communities is a big no, no.

There is a difference between anchoring a boat and mooring one. Anchoring is something boaters do when they stop for a few hours or even overnight. However, mooring is like docking. It is a permanent location to store your boat while in the water.

The anchoring regulations in Florida are complicated and different from city to city, and Tampa Bay touches three counties. Short-term anchoring is allowed in most locations, except in any of the Bay’s channels. 

However, overnight and long-term anchorages are highly restricted.

For day boating, with a boat rental from the vast private fleet of Boatsetter, anchorages are easy to find. There are many locations in Tampa Bay where you can anchor while you go swimming, fishing, or kick back, soaking up the sun.

Best places to anchor in Tampa Bay

You can anchor many places in Tampa Bay. Many boaters anchor outside of channels where the shoals begin or offshore of a beach. However, there are places you can anchor where other boaters gather and enjoy the unique anchorages of Tampa Bay while making new friends.

Passage Key – aka Naked Island

Passage Key is located about a mile southwest of the Sunshine Skyway, between Anna Maria Island and Egmont Key. Once a disappearing sandbar, time and many tides have built this little Key into an island covered with sugar sand and native grass, and it is now a National Wildlife refuge. However, it has always been a boater’s hangout, with its white beach and sparkling blue-green waters, even when it came and went with the tide.

Today, as in years past, it is a hangout for boaters, and you will find over 100 boaters on any given weekend enjoying the beach, Bay, and sun. Unfortunately, you cannot beach your boat on Naked Island; however, you can anchor and wade ashore.

Less than a half a mile in length and a tenth of a mile long, Passage Key is a long way from anywhere. Named Naked Key for a reason, this location has a long-lived reputation of visitors to the Island shunning clothing for the freedom of a full suntan.

Egmont Key National Park

egmont key boat rental

If you would like a more historic location to drop anchor, Egmont Key lies north of Naked Key and is home to one of Florida’s many lighthouses. Although it is almost two miles long and a quarter of a mile wide, it is still a little Island but has a long shoreline where boaters can anchor.

The lighthouse of Egmont Key National Park has stood sentinel over Tampa Bay since 1848. Constructed by the government to aid the increased shipping in the Bay, it was damaged badly shortly after construction and again in 1952. A new lighthouse was built and was reopened in 1958, along with a light keeper’s house. They were made to withstand the sometimes harsh weather of the Key, and they remain there today.

Fort Dade was built on Egmont Key in 1898, and remnants of the structure remain today. A few years ago, the United States Coast Guard kept sailors on the Island to aid boaters in distress. Today, Egmont Key is managed by the United States Park Service and is open to the public year-round.

Fort Desoto Park

Fort Desoto Park

A stone’s throw northeast of Egmont Key National Park is Fort Desoto Park and another location of one of the many forts built in Florida to protect themselves from marauders. Located at the southern end of Saint Petersburg, the park is on the northern shore of Tampa Bay, west of the Sunshine Skyway.

Fort Desoto offers fishing, swimming, sunbathing, and camping if you are so inclined. Boaters can anchor around most areas along the park’s shore but are excluded from anchoring here to keep boaters, swimmers, and small craft protected from each other.

Fort Desoto Park has camping spots that overlook the Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. They have a snack bar, bathrooms, and showers, and for boaters, it is a great place to anchor and snorkel or dive in the area’s clear waters. A local haunt of anglers, pleasure boaters, and sailors, Fort Desoto Park is a great place to drop anchor and stay awhile.

Shell Key

shell key tampa

A little north of Fort Desoto Park is Shell Key and is another location where you can anchor on the Gulf side. Shell Key is a barrier island with pristine white beaches and beautiful blue-green water for swimming and snorkeling. There are fewer people here than other places you can anchor, around Tampa Bay.

Accessible only by boat, Shell Key is a wildlife preserve. People come here for the solitude, wildlife, and shelling. Yes, they are shelling because some people find a lot of pleasure in finding the perfect shell. Shelling is quite a pastime in Florida for tourists and locals alike.

Pine Key – aka Beer Can Island

beer can island boat rental

About 20 miles east of the Skyway, back inside Tampa Bay and not far from the shores of Apollo Beach, is Pine Key, aka Beer Can Island. A private island owned by its 2200 members welcomes guests to their private club and tiki bar, but only when weather permits.

The members of the Island will cater to an event for you and give you access to their paradise in Tampa Bay, and best of all, this is a great place to anchor. Maybe one of the best on the list, but that’s for you to decide when you visit Beer Can Island in a boat rental from Boatsetter.

The Island is small, but 11 acres are forested and encircled by a sandy white beach. You can come to Pine Key and stay for an hour, or you can stay for the day. The only place you will see smaller crowds will be at Shell Key. But hey, they don’t have a Tiki Bar.

Weedon Island Preserve and Sandbar

Weedon Island boat rental

Covering over 3000 acres of wetlands, Weedon Island Preserve is a haven for the wildlife of Tampa Bay and a wonderful place to relax for locals and visitors. Sandbars are all the rage, and Tampa Bay has one at Weedon Island Preserve, off the Bayside of Saint Petersburg.

The Weedon sandbar is located between the mainland and the Weedon Island Preserve, where 72 nd Avenue ends. This is one of Tampa Bay’s few sandbars and is visited by hundreds of boaters every weekend, weather permitting. Boaters can anchor anywhere along this pass. However, it would help to anchor your boat near the shoreline so that other boaters can pass.

What is a good size boat for the Tampa Bay?

Boats from 24 to 28 feet are as small of a boat you want if you are traversing the expanse of Tampa Bay. However, you will see the fearless in Jon boats, small sailboats, and bass boats as they traverse the expanse of Tampa Bay. The size of the boat you need for Tampa Bay will depend on your skill level and what you want to do while on the water.

However, when renting a boat from Boatsetter, you can get a bareboat rental or rent a Tampa boat with a captain. Then, all you need to do is enjoy yourself as your captain pilots the boat for your outing.

No matter the time of year you spend on Tampa Bay, the weather can go from beautiful and sunny to a raging storm in no time flat. This is very open water, and little boats don’t fare well when the winds rise, and you need to drive into four-foot swells to get to the dock.

Little boats do fine in the Bay if the weather forecast is for a fair and balmy day. However, if you want to explore the expanse of Tampa Bay, a larger boat will be more comfortable. It will enable you to stay in the water, even if a small chop comes up.

There is a lot to see by boat on Tampa Bay.

Homes and businesses surround Tampa Bay. However, the residents of the Bay counties have left many areas alone and in their natural form. As a result, the above locations are great places to visit whether you live in the area or are visiting from afar.

With a boat rental from Boatsetter, you will have the opportunity to visit a place to anchor your boat and relax. Or, with the right boat, you can hit every venue on this list and still be ashore for cocktails at sunset. But, of course, that is if you want to go ashore.

Browse Available Boat Rentals in Tampa, Florida.

Browse by experience

Explore articles