The best water activities in Key West

Posted Jan 03 2022 in Destinations

Want to experience the best of Florida boating life? Then rent a boat and sail on a trip to explore Key West! The area promises a journey full of excitement with scenic natural and historical sites, amazing wildlife encounters, and wonderful places to explore above and under the water.

Best boating spots in Key West

Key West is one of the finest boating destinations in Florida, and in the US. Boating enthusiasts love exploring the tranquil waters and the beautiful islands near the scenic Florida key. 

Along with dock-and-dine restaurants, coral reefs, shopping zones, and historical sites, there are numerous marinas available to anchor a boat rental in this boaters’ heaven.

While exploring Key West, here are the top islands and destinations to visit by boat:

  • Bahia Honda State Park
  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park
  • Boca Grande Key
  • Boca Chica Sandbar
  • Sand Key Reef
  • Western Dry Rocks
  • Cottrell Key

Of course, we cannot miss the Dry Tortugas National Park - the most famous destination for boating in the Key West region. Located 70 miles west of Key West, the park is a unique natural site, home to an undisturbed ecosystem, cultural artifacts, and the 3rd largest coral reef in the world.

Water activities in Key West

If you are looking for recreational water activities around Key West, there are many prospects to have fun on the water. Some of the most popular activities in Key West are boating, fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, jet-skiing, and wildlife watching. 

Need a boat? No worries. Browse through available Key West boat rentals on the platform and book the boat of your dreams for the trip of your life.


For those who enjoy being on the water, Key West offers fantastic views and has amazing shorelines to explore or admire from the comfort of your boat. With its spectacular sceneries, even simply sailing on your boat or yacht rental will be a worthy experience. 


Key West is a perfect place to practice watersports and have unforgettable experiences on the water. The most popular adrenaline water activity in the area is jet skiing. Some of the visitors also enjoy kayaking, paddleboarding, and parasailing activities.

Wildlife watching

Home to various types and species of wildlife, Key West is a top-notch location to spot marine creatures while boating. In most cases, you do not even have to look hard for marine animals, they appear out of nowhere all the time. 

The most common wildlife you can watch on the water and on land in Key West is:

  • Loggerhead sea turtles
  • Bottlenose dolphins
  • Key deer
  • Iguanas
  • Cormorants
  • Flamingos
  • Pink Ibis
  • Herons

Snorkeling and scuba diving

With numerous scenic diving spots, snorkeling and scuba diving are some of the most popular water activities in Key West. Some of the marine life you can see underwater includes dolphins, stingrays, spiny lobsters, rainbow parrotfish, mahi-mahi, yellowtail snapper, and pelagic fish.

The best places for snorkeling around Key West are:

  • Cottrell Key
  • Sand Key
  • Rock Key
  • Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
  • Eastern & Western Dry Rocks
  • Higgs Beach

If you decide to dive around Key West, be mindful of the natural marine habitat and protect the reefs. Secure your diving gear to avoid contact with coral, keep your distance and avoid touching or standing on reef corals. Do not pollute, do not approach sea life, and do not collect any type of souvenirs from your dive.


The Florida Keys are known for their great fishing sites. Key West is famous as one of the best angling spots due to its immense abundance of fish. 

Local fishermen and enthusiastic visitors are welcome to indulge in their favorite hobby and hook the catch of their life by line. The only thing you need to be wary of is you might need a fishing license if you are going out with a boat rental. 

Key West regulations, licenses, and boating rules

Being aware of license and permit requirements, as well as environmental regulations is essential to boating in Key West. So before you rent a boat, let’s get you acquainted with local rules and requirements. That would ensure your safety and the safety of the boaters, the marine life, and the reefs.

Wildlife preservation regulations

The best way to preserve wildlife in Key West when boating is to avoid close encounters. Do not approach the animals because coming in contact with wildlife is not allowed. That includes feeding and touching dolphins, birds, and other animals even if they are the ones approaching you.

When it comes to preserving reefs, abstain from anchoring on reefs with living coral. Be wary of speed limits and wake zone laws. Be careful not to damage or remove any buoys, markers, and scientific gear in the coral reef areas. Additionally, note that coral collection without a permit is strictly not allowed. 

If you want to go on a fishing trip with your boat or boat rental, note that there are severe rules when it comes to catching fish. In most cases, cruise charters would not require a license for fishing. Yet, in case you rent a boat or sail on your own boat, having a relevant fishing license is a must.

Boating license in Key West

Florida laws require everyone over the age of 18 and born after 1988 to obtain a local boating license. A great way to avoid getting a license is by renting a boat with a captain. By letting a licensed captain operate your boat rental you get to fully enjoy the boating experience without worrying about driving the boat.

Boating permits in Key West

Sailing in some areas of Key West would require boating permits. The most popular one is the Dry Tortugas National Park. 

If you plan on stopping or indulging in any activities at the park, the recreational boat you sail on must self-register and obtain a permit at the Garden Key dock house. In case you are just passing through the park area by boat, a permit is not required. 

Best time for boating in Key West

Key West is famous for its warm and welcoming weather all year round. The favorable climate conditions for boating attract many visitors, so the area is often overcrowded by tourists and this may not be the best experience. The peak tourist seasons are winter and summer. 

So what can advise you to do is to rent a boat in Key West during the slow season, between March and May. That is when the seas are calm, the weather is nice and there is no risk of hurricanes. With few visitors during those months, you can avoid the long waiting lines and grant yourself a dream on-the-water vacation for a lower price. 

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