Boating in Florida offers endless adventure on its turquoise waters and nearly 30,000 lakes. There’s something for everyone whether you’re looking to for a slow and leisurely ride along the waterfront or a little thrill-seeking. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico and Straits of Florida, here’s where to go on your next boating vacation.
Jacksonville holds the unique distinction of being the largest city by area in the contiguous United States. It’s also the most populous city in the southeast. With more shoreline than any other city in Florida, Jacksonville offers plenty of places to explore on a boating vacation.
Boating in Jacksonville Florida
St. John’s River and the Intercoastal Waterway is massive! There are seven bridges spanning the waterway. Jacksonville is a great boating destination because it gives you access to a diverse number of attractions and marine life. Head down the river to downtown Jacksonville itself and dock your boat to enjoy year-round festivals, holiday fireworks, and incredible restaurants. Metropolitan Marina has 78 boat slips available for boats ranging in size up to 80 feet.
Ask the locals, and they’ll tell you some of the best boating in Florida can be found on the St. Johns River and Intracoastal Waterway with plenty of fishing and local wildlife, especially when the Atlantic ocean is too rough for boating.
Scuba Diving in Jacksonville
With tons of artificial reefs and an extensive marine life ecosystem, Jacksonville is a great spot for scuba diving. Spanning for more than 40 miles (64 km) the sea shelf has planes, sunken boats and more ‘treasures’ to explore from 50 – 110 feet down. Spike Reef, Blackmar Reef, Coppedge Reef and The Nine Mile Reef are favorites full of interesting shipwrecks and marine life.
Fishing in Jacksonville
Take advantage of the amazing fishing opportunities along this slow-moving river and enjoy spotting alligators, egrets, osprey, herons, and eagles too. Expect to catch, whiting, tarpon, jack and drum fish around the Jacksonville area. Jacksonville boasts the Mug Race for sailboat enthusiasts as well as the largest kingfish tournament in Florida.
At the mouth of the Intercoastal, your boating vacation includes fishing the Mayport jetties or heading offshore to over 100 reefs where the fishing is plenty. Fisherman love to catch grouper, tarpon, tuna, sea bass, dolphin and so much more. Fishing is a major Jacksonville attraction and is a great way for a boater looking for a fishing vacation to capture some epic moments.
Just south of Jacksonville, St. Augustine is also located along the northeastern coast of Florida but holds the distinction as the oldest European settlement in the country and the nation’s first seaport. It’s no wonder St. Augustine boasts a rich history, culture, and gorgeous beaches making it a boater’s paradise and a great Florida vacation destination.
Boating in St Augustine Florida
Feel like you are boating in Europe surrounded by historic bridges, buildings, and waterways. You can access the city through St. Augustine Inlet and head towards the City Marina or the Camachee Cove Marina (private). Anchorage is also permitted near the Castillo de San Marcos Spanish fortress built in 1672.
Bring your boat and enjoy San Sebastian River or the Matanzas River before exploring the nearly 500-year-old city of St. Augustine. There are also plenty of marinas, charter boats, and boat tours to enjoy. After a day on the water, wander along the pedestrian area of the historic 144 square block historic district downtown which starts at the City Marina, and grab a bite at a restaurant fit for a foodie, and browse the unique shops.
Scuba Diving in St Augustine
Enjoy diving at nearby reefs such as Nine Mile Reef, Dorothy Louise Barge, Inner and Outer Plane Reefs and Intruder Reefs where marine life is abundant.
Located south of Daytona Beach, on the Atlantic ocean New Smyrna Beach is known for its 13-miles of white sand and the nearby Canaveral National Seashore. Consistently found on the “Best Beaches” lists in travel magazines, a little known fact is that it’s a fabulous vacation destination for boating too!
Boating and Fishing near New Smyrna Beach
There are over 30-miles of shoreline to fish from along with several docks and public boat ramps in the area. Indian River is part of the Intercoastal Waterway and can land you trophy worthy black drum, flounder, snook, trout and even tarpon during the fall months. Head offshore about 40 miles (64 km) and the deep sea fishing is incredible. Try for sailfish and tuna as well as reef and wreck fish as well, think triggerfish, grouper and snapper.
A boating vacation doesn’t get much better with amazing backwater and offshore fishing, along with plenty of historical sites to explore. And if you’re feeling ambitious, head to nearby Mosquito Lagoon that’s yielded record-breaking giant redfish catches. Deep sea fishing is abundant as well.
Don’t miss the Ponce Inlet lighthouse while you are in the area for jetty and surf fishing where you can land flounder, whiting, mackerel, bluefish and redfish.
As the second oldest city in Florida, New Smyrna Beach offers plenty of things to do off the water, too. Stopping by the antique shops, checking the calendar for performing arts, and enjoying fresh seafood help visitors unwind after a rewarding day on the water.
Known as “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village”, Destin is located just off of Florida’s Northwest Gulf Coast on the Florida Panhandle. Destin’s emerald green waters are a prime spot for boating in Florida and its many hideaways.
Boating in Destin Florida
Try Destin’s East Jettie’s, the protected inlet of Joe’s Bayou with no laws about wakes, or the Gulf Islands National Seashore. But the most popular spot in Destin for a boating vacation is likely Crab Island with a chance to relax, fish, listen to live music on floating stages, and even eat on a floating restaurant. Occasionally, you can be out with hundreds of other boaters on Crab Island, so it’s a place to be social and relax in the emerald coast crystal clear waters that they are known for.
Henderson Beach State Park is a great spot to get to boasting 6,000 feet of sugar-white sandy shoreline that is known to sparkle in the sun. The park is 208 acres and home to a variety of indigenous foliage and conveniently located on the shores of Destin. This Appalachian quartz sand stays cool in the summer and gives the Gulf waters their emerald green hue… bring your sunglasses! There are facilities on the park such as laundry, hot showers, picnic areas, restrooms, concession stand and more. Henderson Beach State Park is a fantastic spot for a quiet, uncrowded, and slow-paced getaway.
For some shopping and dining by boat, Destin has some great choices. Try Harborwalk Village which hosts a real hub of activities such as waterfront dining and shopping as well as water sport rentals and cruises. There are weekly firework displays and live music in regular supply.
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving in Destin
The Destin jetties located at the East Jetty Pass are a great opportunity to snorkel. The Army Corps of engineers create these rocky embankments to alleviate erosion and provide a natural habitat for marine life.
The Choctawhatchee Bay is another great choice for experiencing a diverse ecosystem teaming with marine life. It’s the nursery of the Gulf waters and you can often find small fish, shrimp, sea horses, and crabs on a day trip. Keep your eyes out for local dolphins.
The Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island shores have hundreds of dive sites ready for divers of different levels of experience. There are an abundance of natural and artificial reefs as well as wrecks to dive. Try to head out to ‘Wreck Alley’ which is 16 miles wide and is the location of 16 different sunken vessels of up to 90 feet.
Fishing in Destin
Try heading into Choctawhatchee Bay when the Gulf gets too choppy. Here you can boat between Santa Rosa Beach, Choctaw Beach, Niceville, Ocean City, Fort Walton Beach, Miramar Beach, Okaloosa Island and Destin. Fishing in the bay is a fantastic experience. Expect to catch redfish, black snapper, red snapper, speckled trout, among other local Florida marine wildlife.
Looking for larger fish like Grouper, Amberjack, Cobia, King Mackerel, Shark, Marlin, Wahoo, Tuna, or the elusive Sailfish? Try heading to the artificial reefs or even better the Desoto Canyon. A huge underwater canyon found due west of Destin (60 miles offshore) and south of Pensacola. The underwater Desoto Canyon is 3,000 feet deep sending cold water rich in nutrients to the surface supporting tons of marine life.
Destin, Fort Walton Beach, and Panama City Beach all have a great selection of waterfront vacation rentals for visiting boaters that need home accommodations while on vacation.
The barrier island of Anna Maria Island offers seven-miles of beautiful white-sand beaches. This laid-back oasis has an island-wide speed limit that never tops 35 mph, making it an incredibly tranquil place to visit. Be warned the bars close up at about 10 pm on the weekends so it really is perfect for people seeking a relaxing vacation.
Boating near Anna Maria Island
Between the Intercoastal Waterway running from the tip of Anna Maria Island down to Sarasota as well as Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, you can take your pick of epic boating destinations along the central western coast of Florida.
Take the boat out to Jewfish Key or “Beercan Alley” as the locals call it, lower the anchor for a relaxing day while you swim around the sandbar. There are a few local waterfront restaurants nearby the cater to boaters such as Starfish Company and Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant. You can also pull up your outboard boat to the shoreline on Beercan Island located on the northern tip of Longboat Key. It’s a great spot for photography.
Best spot to anchor a sailboat is on the Intercoastal waterway next to the Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach as well as Bimini Bay on the north end of the island.
There is an abundance of waterfront vacation rentals with docks on Anna Maria Island that cater to boating visitors and families that enjoy boating while on vacation.
Snorkeling and Diving near Anna Maria Island
Egmont Key State Park located at the mouth of Tampa Bay northwest of Anna Maria Island, you can find the ruins of the Fort Dade Civil War base and a lighthouse which offers a secluded getaway that only boating in Florida affords. Anchor on the west side for snorkeling and diving the stone ruins which now serves as an artificial reef for an abundance of marine life like rays, sheepshead, and other smaller fish. The south end of the island is a wildlife refuge.
The sunken molasses barge called the “Regina” is located just off of Bradenton Beach on Anna Maria Island and is a Florida Heritage Site now home to tons of tropical fish as an artificial reef.
Perched along the Florida Gulf Coast just west of Tampa, Clearwater Beach is famous for its powdery, white beaches and warm waters. Travelers looking for boating spots in Florida are rewarded with Clearwater’s expansive waterfront, fishing options, and tucked away spots like Sun Dollar Island for an afternoon of exploring.
After a day riding along the water, enjoy the live entertainment in Downtown Clearwater, shopping, dining, and live entertainment. If you have kids in your boating group don’t leave the area without visiting Clearwater Aquarium’s famous dolphins, Winter and Hope, and indulge in a photo op. If you are unfamiliar with these dolphins watch the movie “A Dolphin’s Tale” to get acquainted with them.
Boating near Clearwater Beach
There are tons of places to boat to around Clearwater Beach, including several state parks to enjoy. Caladesi Island State Park, Honeymoon Island State Park and Fort De Soto State Park. Two of these pristine islands have been voted “Best Beach” by TripAdvisor.
Caladesi State Park is home to an abundance of wildlife such as osprey, bald eagles, and pelicans. It offers boat docks, an amazing beach, kayak rentals for mangrove tours, a concession stand and marina. Honeymoon Island has four miles of sandy shoreline, with nature trails to hike and a dog-friendly beach.
Fort De Soto State Park is huge with 1,136 acres and 5 islands. This park boasts over 328 bird species so it’s perfect for bird watchers. It’s also a sea turtle refuge where you will find them nesting from May through to October each year. Fort De Soto has eleven floating docks for boaters and an 800-foot long boating launching area. It also boasts 2 fishing piers a museum, nature trails, dog park,, swim centers, food concession, restrooms, and picnic shelters. Oh, and did we mention a fort listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Fishing near Clearwater Beach
Year-round fishing is fantastic west of Clearwater Beach anywhere from 5 to 30 miles offshore. Enjoy catching big game fish that love to fight such as Mahi Mahi, Snapper, Marlin, Tuna, Grouper, Amberjack, Barracuda, Shark and more.
For nearshore fishing, you can expect to hook Tarpon, King Fish, Grouper, Snapper, and Mackerel to name a few.
Clearwater Beach, Treasure Island, Madeira Beach and Indian Shores are all good bets for an abundance of accommodations suitable for boaters that prefer to have a home base for their excursions. Check out the perfect Florida rentals with boat slips and docks in the area.
Siesta Key Beach in the Sarasota area regularly earns the title of Number #1 best beach in America. It also has a good choice of with marinas, water recreation, boating, dining, and shelling. Spending the day on the water is a popular past time with boaters, jet skiers, para-sailers, and private boat charters dotting the water.
Make time to walk along the quartz-white sand and explore Siesta Key Village’s outdoor dining, coffee shops, and live entertainment on a nightly basis. This eight-mile long island is the perfect place to go boating in Florida in proximity to resort-like condos, vacation homes, and recreation. Be sure to catch the “Drum Circle” held each Sunday night on the beach.
Nearby Lido Key, located just north of Siesta Key and the bridge to Longboat Key is another boating spot to visit. At the northernmost point of Lido Key lies City Island a great place to drop anchor and chill out. You can also enjoy the amenities at City Island Park where there are fishing docks, picnic areas and a playground for kids. Due north is Mote Marine Aquarium, a fab spot for the kids to visit and get personal encounters with all types of marine life.
Perfectly positioned on the Gulf of Mexico in southwest Florida, Marco Island and the Naples area are known for high-end shopping, culture, and fine dining but is also an affordable boating vacation destination. It’s chocked full of places to take your boat to enjoy nature and get away from the hustle and bustle. Getting out and exploring the area by boat is truly one of the top things to do for an epic vacation in this area of Florida.
Boating near Naples and Marco Island
Naples is located to the north of Marco Island but regardless of the city, you are based out of both are excellent choices for your next Florida boating vacation. Be sure to take the boat and explore nearby Rookery Island or Keewaydin Island located between the two cities. There are multiple boat launches in the area and better yet you can rent a vacation rental condo or home with your own private dock. the city of Marco Island does have 14 bridges to navigate so be sure you get the bridge height clearance before booking a home with your boat.
Keewaydin Island is an uninhabited barrier island off the southern coast of Naples one of the locals’ best-kept secrets only accessible by boat. The seclusion of Keewaydin is a popular spot for a serene walk and shelling along the beach or wading along the sandbars before grabbing a snack at the floating food boats! You can buy burgers and hot dogs to nachos and adult bevies. It’s also one of the few dog-friendly beaches in the area where your pup is welcome. Head to the southern tip of the island then up the eastern shore to anchor be alert to the tides to avoid getting stuck.
Marco Island is actually the largest island of the Ten Thousand Islands which runs from the southern tip of Naples past Marco Island to Chokoloskee. Marco Island is within the estuary of Great Cypress Basin and the Everglades. The Ten Thousand Islands are part of the National Wildlife Refuge. The native wildlife is diverse and offers amazing opportunities for photography. You can even get up close and personal with kayak tours through the mangroves too. This group of islands is perfect for the naturalist and people interested in the local ecology and natural setting.
Fishing near Naples and Marco Island
The 10,000 (Ten Thousand) Islands is also home to many fish species and is great for year-round fishing. The south rivers offer a marked boating trail that runs for 99 miles through the Everglades National Park.
The shallow waters and mangroves serve as the nursery grounds. It’s a great boating and fishing vacation destination. Explore the estuary tidal creeks, sheltered water, and incredible mangrove mazes if you have a small craft. The rivers running the length of the 10,000 islands provide excellent spots to fish on sand and mud flats, river mouths, runoffs, feeder creeks, and oyster bars. The passes that tidal waters run through create holes that are sometimes up to 20 feet deep supporting larger fish (especially in the cooler months) like small groupers, black drum, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, tarpon, and cobia.
Expect to catch a variety of fish in the area such as tarpon, snapper, grouper, shark, cobia, permit, trout, snook, redfish, pompano, sheepshead, tripletail, kingfish, mackerel, bass to name a few.
Offshore you can enjoy fishing off of natural and artificial reefs that hold tons of fish. Beware of sharks and giant Goliath groupers going after your hooked fish which makes a great fish tale.
Diving near Naples and Marco Island
With water temperatures rarely dipping below 70 degrees the Naples and Marco Island area is a good choice for diving year-round. Nearshore dives are great when conditions are clear with dive depths ranging from 25 – 45 feet. When the nearshore waters are unclear due to the watershed from the Everglades freshwater outflow head out to the Middle Ground which is located beyond the ‘wash out zone’. In this area, you can find a mix of artificial reefs and wrecks.
- The Black Hole 60 to 200 feet for advanced divers exploring underwater caverns about 27 miles off the coast of Naples. Be on the lookout for sea turtles
- The Baja California lies 55 miles west of Marco Island in 115 feet of water. A victim of World War II this freighter was torpedoed by a German U-boat and is now home to lots of pelagic fish and sharks.
- Santa Lucia is one of the most popular dive and fishing reefs 3.8 miles off the coast of Gordon Pass. This 47-foot boat sits in about 24 feet of water making it an ideal dive spot for novices.
- There are several more wrecks to dive in the area like The Paddlewheeler from the 19th century located 30 miles off the coast of Marco Island. The Isabell wreck, Bubby Barge, and Pegasus Tug Boat. There is also the Tea Cup Ledge a natural ledge and Collier 5-mile reefs that have tons of marine life.
Miami’s reputation as a cosmopolitan city with a thriving nightlife and Art Decor architecture makes it a popular spot for travelers. It’s position along the Atlantic Ocean, and Biscayne Bay also draws travelers looking for the best boating in Florida.
Boating near Miami Florida
Miami’s well-earned nickname of the “Magic City” draws visitors looking for amazing beachfront and warm weather. There are plenty of places to explore by boat dock at one of the local marinas and head to the Miami Beach Architectural District. Better yet take the boat out to Nixon Sandbar, Billy Baggs Florida State Park at Key Biscayne or enjoy a slow and leisure cruise down the many canals to see the stunning luxury mansions.
Miami is also home to the namesake Miami International Boat Show held annually during President’s Day weekend. If you don’t have a boat yet… get one!
A Miami poker run is an incredibly thrilling experience. Brash and thrill-seeking boaters from all over take part in these runs from Miami to the Florida Keys, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico and also to the Florida Bay area too. Poker Runs are a ‘game/race’ where boaters draw poker cards along the route to see what kind of hand they can get. The point of the race is to get to all of the designated locations to get the best hand possible to win the grand prize.
Fishing and Diving near Miami
Miami boasts the warm and fast-moving Gulf Stream currents creating an ecosystem ranging from coral reefs to mangrove areas. This has created an area teeming with sport fish and pelagic marine life. There are fishing flats found in the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay or Florida Bay, which is accessed through the Everglades perfect for fly fishing. Expect to find permit, tarpon, snook, redfish, and bonefish in the flats.
Deep-sea fishermen will love to catch tuna, grouper kingfish, mahi mahi, marlin, sailfish amberjack, snapper, cobia, and giant tuna further off-shore. Both Divers and fishermen love the abundance of wrecks to explore off the coast of Miami. There are too many to mention so we’ll do our best to condense them to the top ones.
- Brewster Reef 50 ft located just south of Fowey Lighthouse
- Cuban Freighter Reef 30 ft home to tons of spiny lobsters
- Emerald Reef 30 ft Miami’s largest natural reef
- The Fish Hole 52 ft a crater with tropical fish, eels, sharks and lobsters
- Belcher Barge 60 ft
- Belzona Barge 45 ft
- Biscayne Wreck 55 ft
- Half Moon Preserve 12 ft
- Jose Cuervo Bar 15 ft… yup is real bar start mixing those cocktails
- Lady Frei 60 ft
- Miss Karline – Miss Patricia 60 ft
- The Conception 50 ft
- The Mathew Lawrence 50 ft
10. Florida Keys
The Florida Keys stretch 120 miles off of the southernmost tip of Florida and boasts a Caribbean-style and laid-back vibe with hundreds of islands to enjoy. Affectionately called “the Keys,” travelers looking for an idyllic boat-friendly vacation come for the fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, and day on the water. The Florida Keys are a true boater’s paradise and the best way to experience the area.
Boating in the Florida Keys
The Florida Keys is home to the United State’s most precious natural living coral barrier reef. Take a few minutes to educate yourself of how to boat responsibly in the Keys by using mooring buoys and taking precautions not to disturb the reef by grounding, boat propellers, turbidity, garbage, boating speeds, catch limits, etc..
Take the boat to a number of islands and keys such as Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Key Colony, Bahia Honda Key, and so many more options. Key Largo is located just 18 miles south of Miami and where John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is located. This is where you’ll find a diverse group of aquatic life and the well known 11-foot bronze “Christ of Abyss” statue.
For a little more action try heading to Key West itself where you can find lots of nightlife, amazing architecture, award-winning restaurants and of course author Hemingway’s favorite haunts.
Bahia Honda Key is perfect for the boater looking for a secluded and quiet destination. It’s located west of Seven Mile Bridge and is known for its pristine 500 acre Bahia Honda State Park.
On our bucket list are the epic Dry Tortugas National Park and John Pennekamp’s Coral Reef State Park for jaw-dropping outings. A visit to the Grassy Key’s Dolphin Research Centre also offers a chance to get right in the water and swim with the dolphins. And of course, a slice of Florida’s famous Key Lime Pie is a must whenever you’re boating in Florida’s southernmost tip.
Fishing the Florida Keys
About a half hour south of Key Largo is Islamorada, which runs about 20 miles and is called the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World” so you can’t go wrong here for an awesome fishing vacation.
With the abundance of the coral archipelago, flats, bridges, channels, and reefs of hundreds of islands fishermen can find tons of options for bay, and shallow water fishing.
Expect to catch redfish, kingfish, permit, shark, mutton snapper, dolphin, blackfin tuna, bonefish, swordfish, sailfish, wahoo, and more. There are tons of fishing tournaments held throughout the year in the Florida Keys with huge payouts so if your a serious fisherman be sure to book a trip to coincide with one like The Key West Marlin Tournament, Lower Keys Dolphin Tournament, Screamin’ Reels Tournament.
There’s plenty to see and do while boating in Florida, but wherever you choose to go, make it an adventure you’ll never forget. Need ideas on where to stay for your boating vacation?
Florida’s #1 Owner Preferred Website. Skip the fees and get more for your boating vacation. No Traveler Fees, No Booking Commissions, and Direct Communication with the Owner always gets you the best price! Start your journey to Florida’s amazing coasts.