Boating in Dry Tortugas National Park

Bringing your own boat to Dry Tortugas National Park will provide you with the most opportunities to explore this remarkable national treasure.


Boating in Dry Tortugas

Never underestimate the weather when embarking on an open sea expedition. A sudden tropical storm can arise in the Gulf of Mexico any day of the year. Generally speaking the summer season has the calmer rainier months, and the winter season brings high winds and dry weather. For current weather conditions click here.

The tidal change in South Florida may not seem like much compared to the tidal changes of New England, but they certainly make a difference in the shallow marine waters of the Dry Tortugas. For tide charts click here. You will have to travel across open-ocean, with no land in site, in order to reach Dry Tortugas National Park. You will need NOAA nautical charts 11438 and 11434 to safely navigate to and from the park. For a NOAA chart click here.

Dry Tortugas National Park is a remote destination, no food, water, or fuel is available in the park. You must bring all provisions you will need for your entire journey to the park, at the park, and back home from the park. Please do NOT plan on “catching” your food. While fresh caught seafood is an excellent addition, you should not count on fishing to provide you with food. In addition to planning to bring enough provisions for the entire length of your expedition, you should also plan on bringing a few extra days’ worth of food and water. The weather can change from a beautiful clam sunny day, to tropical storm wind and rain in a moment’s notice. You should be prepared to spend an extra day or two in the sheltered waters of the Dry Tortugas should a storm sneak up on you. Having planned for a couple extra days of food and water will only be a little extra work if not needed, and a tremendous benefit should you need it.

Do not forget to take your trash with you. Dry Tortugas National Park is a remote destination with no trash or recycling facilities available to the public.

Boat Permits

All private boats entering Dry Tortugas National Park must first stop at the Garden Key headquarters located inside Fort Jefferson before recreating within the park. If you are simply transiting through the park, a boat permit is not necessary.

Boat permits are required for all recreational vessels including kayaks and dinghies, vessels operating under a Commercial Use Authorization and commercial fishing vessels. Vessels greater than 50 meters are required to have a Special Use Authorization in addition to the boat permit.

Overnight anchoring is only allowed in sandy bottom within 1 nautical mile of the Garden Key lighthouse (with the exception of the Special Protection Zones, see next paragraph). There is no anchoring allowed anywhere within the Research Natural Area (RNA). Within the RNA, mooring buoys are available for day use only for a maximum of 2 hours.

Public Dock

Yes, the main dock and the 3 finger piers closest to the main dock are available for public use at Garden Key. Visitors can tie up their vessels to the dock or visitor-use finger piers for a maximum of 2 hours per day between sunrise and sunset. Please do not use finger piers that are designated for Government Vessels Only.

However, there are some exceptions: The main dock is occupied from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, due to the presence of the passenger ferry boat. On certain days, the main dock is not available for use when the park supply boat unloads cargo or unloads fuel.

There may be other instances when the dock is not accessible. If this is the case, please contact park staff on VHF 16 for further questions.

The park does not have a shuttle service for boats anchored in the harbor. If you have a small enough dinghy, kayak, canoe or small boat, you can secure it at the dinghy beach located on the left-hand side of the main dock at Garden Key. Or, you can use either of the 3 finger piers closest to the main dock up to a maximum of 2 hours per day.

Personal Watercraft

The use of personal watercraft (e.g jet skis) is prohibited inside the park and cannot be used as tenders. Visitors are allowed to beach their kayaks, canoes, small dinghys in the dinghy beach located at Loggerhead Key and Garden Key.

Spearfishing and Lobstering

Neither spearfishing nor lobstering is allowed in the Park. Taking fish by pole spear, Hawaiian sling, rubber powered, pneumatic, or spring loaded gun or similar device known as a speargun, air rifles, bows and arrows, power-heads, or explosive powered guns are prohibited. Operators of vessels within the park must break down and store all weapons described in this paragraph so that they are not available for immediate use.

Special Protection Zones

While you are free to explore most areas of the National Park, there are a few areas with special protection status and are thus off limits to visitors. These area include the “Shark Special Protection Zone”, the “Coral Special Protection Zone”, Bush Key during nesting season, and East Key, Middle Key, and Long Key are closed all year round. You must check with a Park Ranger once you arrive at Garden Key for details on the special protection zone boundaries.

Prohibited Items

No spearfishing or collecting of lobsters is allowed in the park, all spears must be dismantled and stowed away. If you have collected lobsters or speared fish outside of the National Park, you must radio in your catch to the park on channel 16 before entering National Park waters. Firearms are prohibited inside any government building.

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