Boating Destinations: Florida Keys

Table of Contents

The Florida Keys are one of the top boating destinations in the world. As the southernmost point of the continental USA, this small chain of islands is a boating hotspot, perfect for those who want to turn heads when cruising. The crystal-blue waters of the Keys are popular for speed boaters, fishermen and thrill seekers looking for a Caribbean-style vacation, only 90 minutes from Miami. If you’re a boater, you don’t want to miss out on this one of a kind aquatic adventure.

Florida Keys and Boating: General Considerations

The Florida Keys are one of the best boating locations in the continental United States. That’s not by accident. With plenty of premiere fishing spots, crystal-clear water and perfect weather, this chain of islands and sandbars is perfect for all kinds of boaters. In fact, there are over 26,500 boats registered in the Florida Keys alone, with more arriving during the fall and winter months as tourists flock to the marinas and resorts that dot the area.


To operate a boat in the Florida Keys, you’ll need some documentation ahead of time. Florida state residents will need a local boater education ID card. Out-of-state residents, however, will need a valid boater’s license to legally operate any watercraft in the Keys. The good news is that you can likely get this by completing an online boater safety course. We recommend you still take a Florida Keys specific boater safety course, even if you have a boating license in your home state, so you can learn how to effectively navigate the islands and what you need to do to maintain this pristine ecosystem.

Boating Itineraries in the Keys: What To See?

The first step of planning your Florida Keys vacation is simply getting down there. Luckily, you have a few options depending on the size of your boat. If you have a larger vessel, that’s more than 30 feet long, you may consider boating down from Miami for a unique, once-in-a-lifetime voyage. While Key West is only 90 miles from Miami, it can take five hours to get there by boat, so make sure you plan accordingly.

The preferred rou te to Key West is to take Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway from Miami down to the island of Marathon. There, you can quickly top off on fuel before taking Hawk’s Channel east to the ocean, where you can follow the curve of the Keys down to Key West. Most boaters prefer taking this route because, while it takes you out into the ocean, there’s limited risk of running aground on the shifting and unpredictable sandbars that are east of the Keys.

Click on the image to enlarge. Source: OnTheWorldMap

If you have a smaller vessel, you may consider trailering it down to Key West on Route 1, on Florida’s Overseas Highway. While this might sound noticeably less romantic than boating down yourself, you won’t want to miss the great views you can get taking the bridges between each island. Make sure to take a break before driving along the 7-Mile Bridge, which connects Knight’s Key and Little Duck Key. The bridge gives you stellar views of the turquoise waters around the islands, and will certainly get you excited to launch your boat when you get to your destination.


Boating Activities in the Keys: What to Do?

Whether you want to catch an exciting experience or a buzz, there’s something for almost everyone in the Florida Keys. However, there are a few things to keep in mind before setting out on your exclusive Keys adventure. Here’s a brief overview of everything you can do in the Florida Keys.

One of the best ways to get around in the Florida Keys is on the back of a jet ski. If you don’t have your own, there are plenty of places where you can rent one. Jet skis are excellent for zipping around the Florida Keys because they don’t have a propeller, meaning they’re generally safe for reefs and sea life. This is a unique way to reach some remote beaches and sandbars, like Dry Tortuga which is just a few miles west of Key West.


If your preferred method of making memories is catching them, you don’t want to miss out on the excellent trophy fishing that the Florida Keys has to offer. Throughout the year there are several fishing tournaments, including dolphin and sailfishing contests. There are some restrictions on where you can fish, however. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, home to excellent snorkeling and scuba diving options, is off-limits for fishermen, so make sure you chart your fishing spots accurately.


For those who prefer to get along on their own power, there are plenty of places to swim and explore in the Florida Keys. Snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking and paddle boarding are some of the best ways to get around and check out exclusive reefs and islands. However, if you’re looking for excellent surfing, you might want to vacation elsewhere. The Keys are not particularly known for their large waves, and the extensive coral reef system makes it dangerous for surfing.


Finally, there’s no better way to enjoy the Florida Keys than in the cockpit of a speedboat. Every November, the Keys host the Key West Offshore World Championship. The weekend comes with plenty of high-speed boating action, raft-ups, a poker-run boat race, and more. If you love fast boats and excellent adventure, you don’t want to miss this.

Image source: Powerboat P1

Safety First: What to Pay Attention to?

The marine animals that call the Florida Keys home are unique compared to many other locations in the continental United States. The warm water surrounding this chain of islands means that they’re home to everything from colorful fish, sharks, dolphins, and unique seabirds. Here’s what to look out for when you go boating in the Florida Keys.

When most people go swimming in Florida, their first concern is usually alligators. Luckily, the water in the Keys is far too salty for alligators and caimans, which prefer the swamps in the Everglades, just west of Miami. However, if you do choose to go swimming, you want to keep an eye out for sharks. Over nine species of sharks call the reefs and waters around the Florida Keys home, ranging from the placid nurse shark to the fearsome tiger shark. While it can be scary to know that you’re sharing the water with sharks, it’s important to keep in mind that shark attacks are quite rare in the Florida Keys. Practice common sense when snorkeling, avoid wearing jewelry in the water and keep any cuts or scrapes covered, and you should be fine to explore the brilliant reefs around the keys.


There is an abundance of other exciting animals around the Florida Keys, including friendly dolphins, that may want to wake surf near your boat. Keep in mind that while dolphins are friendly, it’s illegal to swim with them due to the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Don’t get in the water and avoid feeding them any bait or snacks you have on board. Dolphins and all other animals in the Keys should be enjoyed from afar.


The best way to stay safe when planning a Florida Keys vacation is picking the right time to set sail. The peak times for boating are between October and May. That’s because the biggest threat to boaters and vacationers in Florida is actually hurricane season. Sticking to the winter months will keep you well out of range of any strong storms that could bring destructive weather to the area. If you’re planning a trip to the Keys during the late spring or summer, make sure to keep an eye on the National Weather Service so you can stay protected if the winds make an unpredictable turn.

Best-Match Boat Types for the Keys

Now that you know the best parts of boating in the Florida Keys, we bet that you’re eager to get out there and explore them for yourself? There are several ways to island hop, so here are our three favorite boats that will allow you to explore the Keys in style.

Center Console Boats

With plenty of room for guests and all their gear, our top pick for boating in the Florida Keys is a center console boat. You might think that only sport fishermen are interested in center consoles, but think again. These days, speedboat manufacturers like MTI and Cigarette are outfitting center consoles with ultra-luxurious interiors and award-winning amenities, so they’re more comfortable than ever. Center consoles can handle the rough waters of Hawk’s Channel, and the shallow inlets between sandbars and shoals, so they’re perfect for cruising down to Key West, or hosting a raft-up party with friends.


Motor Yachts

With so much to do in the Florida Keys, you’ll likely want to sleep right on your boat to make sure you never miss a thing. Houseboats are popular for many individuals, but they may move too slowly between islands, meaning that you’ll miss some of the exclusive experiences in the Lower Keys. The best way around this is to stay on a motor yacht. With comfortable accommodations and the speed to get you from Marathon to Key West, a motor yacht brings you the best live-aboard experience that money can buy. There are plenty of marinas with exclusive accommodations for their guests, including private bars, beaches and pools, so that you can enjoy a one-of-a-kind Florida Keys vacation.



There’s nothing like sailing through pristine, crystal clear water. Sailboats provide a unique experience for those visiting the Florida Keys. Since they’re quiet and environmentally friendly, you’ll likely get up-close and personal with unique marine wildlife, like friendly dolphins, elusive sailfish or gregarious seabirds. Staying aboard a sailboat lets you live a slower way of life in the Florida Keys, one that allows you to appreciate the unique culture and island mindset that has people coming back, year after year.


Are you ready for your Florida Keys vacation? We bet you are! Now, all you need is the best boat to get you there. Luckily, we have the perfect boat for you available right now! We have lots of vessels listed in the state of Florida right now, and more to come. Find the perfect boat for your Florida Keys vacation today at