|Places to sail
in the Florida Keys.
This page updated: October 2004
Note: I don't repeat information you can find on charts or
in guidebooks. And I do focus on things that fit my cruising
style: I anchor out, use libraries for internet, don't go to restaurants and bars.
From Monroe County government site:
"Monroe County [Florida Keys] has the highest cost of living
of any county in the state of Florida."
Florida Keys Reality Check
"Cruising the Keys"
"Florida Keys On-Line Guide"
Florida Keys maps
FKNMS's "Mooring Buoy System"
Florida Keys Mooring Buoy System
Florida DEP's "Clean Vessel Act FAQ"
From 5/2005 issue of Southwinds magazine:
... There will be random inspection of all vessels in all waters surrounding the Keys
to insure that boaters are in compliance with the no-discharge zone that has
been in existence in the Keys since 2002. ...
NPR: 93.3 (WLRN) down to Marathon, then 91.3 in upper end of Marathon, but
very intermittent in Boot Key Harbor.
No broadcast TV channels anywhere in the Keys; they removed
the repeaters when cable came in.
Greyhound bus runs up and down the Keys, 6 stops in Keys,
3 busses per day in each direction: 800-410-KEYS.
Key Line Express scheduled shuttle: 866-KEY-LINE.
Dade-Monroe Express (busses between WalMart
in Florida City and Publix in Marathon; very cheap; only 5 a day to/from Marathon)
It amazes me that there is no municipal bus service in the Keys; the
geography is ideal for it and the traffic often is horrible.
General Keys weather, in my limited experience:
June - September: hot and humid, even at night, and light winds.
November/December: nice weather, mostly NE and E wind.
January: cool and windy, lots of fronts, wind quickly cycling around the compass.
Jan-Mar 2003 it blew E 20+ almost the whole time.
From Kevin Garthwaite on Sailnet FloridaKeys mailing list:
... if you run aground here in the Sanctuary (Florida's name
for the Keys Waters), they'll charge you criminally for destruction of
park property, as well as $6.60 a foot for any grass that remotely looks
like you touched it. ... [and the towing service will call the park
rangers to report you.]
- Long Key Bight / Channel Five Bridge.
Exposed to NE, but shoal stops most chop. No facilities.
- Marathon / Boot Key Harbor / Vaca Key.
- Boot Key Harbor
- Boot Key Harbor Message Board
- Boot Key bridge operates 6 AM to 10 PM.
- Easy to run aground in several places, even in middle of channel
near Sister Creek. Sister Creek is very shallow at both
ends (about 4 feet MLW at ocean end), fine everywhere else.
- Harbor is big, but gets crowded
in winter, and the city is slowly adding mooring fields (65 moorings as of 6/2004).
They're planning to have 230 moorings and more-or-less
outlaw anchoring by end of 2006.
They don't require insurance to use the moorings.
As of 6/2006, moorings are $15/day or $160/month; I think it doesn't include dinghy dockage or showers.
- Dinghy ashore to:
City marina (NW side of harbor; $4/day, $60/month).
West Marine / Marathon Boatyard dinghy dock (for using WM store only).
Bar/restaurant at SW corner of harbor (free for customers).
- Heard in early 2005: Sombrero / Dockside has been closed to liveaboard boaters; no dinghy dock.
Slips will be sold, not rented to transients.
- Hurricane hole: Whiskey Creek (off Sister Creek). When entering
Whiskey Creek, stay very close to SW side.
- Town is long and thin and usually hot; get a bicycle.
- Get charged for water, usually 5 to 10 cents/gallon.
- Hospital: 33rd st OS.
- Marathon airport, 9000 Aviation Blvd Marathon FL, 305-743-2155
- Dispose of used oil/fuel: county transportation yard on Aviation Blvd;
city marina at 36th st OS.
- There is a "workshop" at the
city marina. $2/day, have work-tables and floor space and AC power.
- Cruiser's radio net: 9 AM every day on VHF 68. May cease in summer ?
- "Smorgasboat" started 11/2004: delivers coffee and pastries and newspapers in morning; on VHF 17.
- No broadcast TV.
- NPR radio rarely receivable, on 91.3 or 90.1
- Buy/sell radio program on 104.1 each morning; need a phone and a car to take advantage of it.
- West Marine, 2055 Overseas Hwy Marathon FL 33050, 305-289-1009.
- Boaters World, 5001 Overseas Hwy Marathon FL 33050, 305-743-7707.
- Home Depot, 4555 Overseas Hwy Marathon FL, 305-289-1966.
- Publix Super Market, 5407 Overseas Hwy Marathon FL, 305-289-2920.
- K Mart, 5561 Overseas Hwy.
- Winn Dixie Store, 5501 Overseas Hwy Marathon FL, 305-743-3636.
- Mailboxes Etc / UPS Store, 5409 Overseas Hwy Marathon FL 33050, 305-743-2005.
Internet access for $12/hour, charged in $3 increments; only 1 computer.
- Specialty Hardware: MTWRF 9-5 ? No credit cards.
- Auto parts etc: Napa Auto (7 days a week), Discount Auto, Island Auto and Marine (going out of business 6/2004).
All at far east end of town, 105th St and further.
- Welding / machine shops: Bobcat metal fabrication (east of West Marine;
not sure if he does welding),
another across from West Marine,
Hot Arc (107th St gulf side; 305-743-6758; MTWRF 7-4),
another on 107th St gulf side (won't do plain steel).
All are very busy and not particularly cheap, and first three have done
decent work for me (haven't used the 4th shop).
Hot Arc is the biggest and most professional (in terms of communication
- Walgreens, Office Depot, Radio Shack: around 109th St gulf side.
- Storage: Bonefish Bay (MM 55, 305-743-4633),
Island (10730 4th ave GS, 305-743-0231).
- Car storage: L&L Auto/Marine, 800-700-2946, 305-743-9334, 2188 Overseas Hwy GS, MM 48.5, $35/month to park car.
But my car got vandalized while stored there, and they wouldn't
pay a dime of the damages.
- Pizza: Papa John's 5105 Overseas Hwy OS 305-743-3232.
- City marina: 800 35th st OS (entrance at 36th St OS through park),
- Boatyards: cheapest are Marathon Marina (at west entrance to harbor)
and Keys Boat Works (on gulf side, 700 39th St).
Others are Marathon Boatyard (near West Marine) and another at
east end of town (about 120th St OS).
- Fuel docks: three near west entrance to harbor (Marathon Marina, Pancho's, Burdine's). None is consistently
cheaper than the others, and prices can vary a fair amount; check all three.
- Propane refills and tanks: AmeriGas at 11th St OS: MTWRF 8-5; 305-743-2021.
- Propane tank exchange: Home Depot, several convenience stores.
- Sea Wiz Marine at 2250 Overseas GS: refrigeration and electronics, some boat parts, will order
from lots of marine catalogs, free internet computer; 305-289-4044.
- Marathon Library, MM48.7, 3251 Overseas Hwy. 33050, 305-743-5156.
Internet access is free but limited to 1/2 hour; 10-4 often there is a line of
$0.10 per black-and-white page printed; no floppy allowed.
MW 10-8, TRFS 10-6.
- BWISK internet services, 6363 Overseas Hwy OS, MM 50.5 oceanside, 305-743-9609.
Internet access for $10/hour; FTP is allowed; connection a bit flaky;
software and customer service very idiosyncratic.
MTWRF 9-7, Sat 9-12.
Also rents a local-call-only phone line for $6/hour, so your own
laptop can dial your internet service.
- WiFi access in the harbor: see Roy at Dockside. $20/month for short-term,
$15/month for long-term. Antenna is near Dockside, and reaches
only the 1/3 of the inner harbor nearest Dockside.
- Internet access in the harbor: Digital Sail (60th St) has high-speed access with
an antenna near the bridge. Have to use their proprietary high-speed modem,
which is AC-powered. Antenna on boat is directional; might
have to adjust as the boat swings ? Start-up fee $79, monthly fee $40.
- Internet access: Marathon Computers, 11400 Overseas Hwy suite 121.
- Airport-to-airport: Keys Shuttle: 6 times per day, 7 days a week, to
Miami and Ft Laud airports. 888-765-9997.
- Monroe Express / JGT bus: from Publix in Marathon, up to Walmart in Homestead.
- Leaving: about 50 NM N to Little Shark River.
- Bahia Honda.
Bahia Honda state park (mile marker 37).
From Bill and Charmaine on the SailNet liveaboard-list:
That "broken bridge" IS Bahia Honda State Park. ... It is a LOVELY anchorage. Showers
available, etc. Also, there is a marina there but I believe it is for
drafts of five feet or less.
Anchor as close to the beach as feasible, where there is a nice,
sandy bottom, and avoid getting too close to the new bridge.
I always set two anchors in there, as you are sitting
in the middle between two bridges. ...
When you enter, be sure to stay to the west side of the small sandy island
near the bridge as it gets rather shallow over there. There is otherwise
plenty of room to get in comfortably. ...
From Michael Trautman on SailNet FloridaKeys mailing list:
I agree about Bahia Honda State Park, it's a really neat place. One
suggestion ... in most anchorages, you look for clear sandy bottom and try to
place your anchor there for the best set.
At Bahia Honda the current washes through the anchorage, first into and then out
of Florida Bay, and this effectively scours the sand from the bottom,
leaving hard pack.
At Bahia Honda you want to look for the grassy patches and place your anchor
there because that's where the sand is deep and penetrable. I would strongly
suggest snorkeling down and checking the set. I would also suggest not
relying on one anchor, especially if there's a strong wind. Remember the
current can be strong and reverses direction.
If there was a serious storm I would either go inside the protected harbor
if the park people will let you, or move somewhere else, since you are
surrounded by the two bridges and have little "leeway" or choice in escape
Bahia Honda is a great place to spend a day or two, with snorkel trips from
the park docks, a nice "convenience store", and freshwater showers on the
From Ray Taylor on Great-loop mailing list:
Dinghy in to the
marina, no charge to tie up. Good swimming beach (no charge), small store,
A bit of traffic noise from the highway bridge, and occasional motorboats flying
through between ocean and gulf. About 10-foot depths.
- Newfound Harbor.
As of 9/2006, there is a proposal to establish a no-anchor zone
for masted vessels between Big Pine and Little Torch Key (Pine Channel, just off Big Pine Key),
because loose sailboats have hit powerlines.
Lots of powerboat traffic in the channel.
Can dinghy ashore to "Sea Center" on Big Pine Key near highway
(large beige/yellowish building with "Sea Center" on the end) during working hours.
Could dinghy ashore through mangroves near highway on Big Pine Key.
Also can dinghy ashore to "Dolphin" on Little Torch Key ?
Winn-Dixie supermarket on Big Pine Key.
- Saddlebunch Harbor.
From Ray Taylor on Great-loop mailing list:
Bottom is hard, would not recommend in bad
weather. Also, not much room.
- Stock Island (anchorage between Stock Island and Boca Chica Key).
Chart says 60-foot power lines across Boca Chica channel, but the lines
go underwater now.
Anchor off E side of Stock Island, from ocean side, up Boca Chica Channel.
Many shoal areas.
Dinghy in to Peninsular Marina, at extreme SE tip of Stock Island (but call on VHF 16 first;
they allow dinghy-docking on space-available basis; $5/day for one-person-no-pet).
Bus to Key West is across the street.
Some people pull dinghy up to mangroves near boat-ramp in NW corner of harbor, but it's shallow and looks unsafe.
Rough area at night ? Always lock the dinghy.
Approximately 2 miles to KW shopping on North Roosevelt Blvd;
4 miles to KW downtown.
NPR: 89.9 intermittent.
- Key West (mile markers 8-0).
- Boca Grande Key.
From Charmaine and Bill Aboard on SailNet FloridaKeys mailing list:
Boca Grande Key is fabulous, located about 15 miles west of Key West (and a
great place to anchor and decide whether or not to continue to the Dry
Tortugas). White sand beach and you can literally step off your cat and
step on white sand if you wish. The water is beautiful and very warm
because it's so shallow near the beach. The key itself is an explorer's
dream. I believe there is actually a fresh water "lake" within the key as
eagles and bird drop down from high above to get in there. I've never
explored inside, but I bet you won't be disappointed. Snorkeling is
wonderful too, especially if you have a dinghy to take out to the shallows.
- Marquesas Keys (about 20 miles W of Key West).
Mosquito-infested and uninhabited.
- Dry Tortugas (about 70 miles W of Key West).
SailNet - Sue and Larry's "Discovering The Dry Tortugas"
National Park Service - Dry Tortugas
Do not enter via (shoaled) channel NNE of Garden Key; use channel NW of the key, and circle
around the W and S sides of the key. Also, Bush Key now connects to Garden Key; no way
to get down east side into anchorage.
Holding is mixed. Deep spots close to the key get crowded, and anchor may slide off
into deeper water. Shallow areas are grass and sand.
$5 per person per week. Limited to 14 consecutive days, and 30 days per year.
Pay by putting cash in envelope on wooden ferry dock.
Park Service keeps track of boat arrivals and departures; good idea to call them on VHF 16.
Park Service posts a printout of the latest NWS forecast every morning, in the room on the ferry dock.
Reception of VHF weather channels is very poor.
Get free maps/guides in small bookstore in visitor's center, inside the fort.
Tiny lending-library in visitor's center.
Garden Key / Fort Jefferson is fairly lively from 10 to 3, when people from two ferries are ashore.
From Ben on Cruising World message board:
I have spent many a day and night - for that matter weeks at the Dry Tortugas.
If you are leaving from the west coast do yourself a favor and plan
to arrive in the daylight hours.
From BJV on Cruising World message board:
We left Naples and got within 6 miles of the DT and it was 3 AM.
The fort is surrounded by reefs and is not safe at night.
We anchored in 110' (no windlass). That is the biggest mistake to make.
Count in weather, which we did not.
Once you arrive within the boundaries, I suggest going to the southwest yellow
buoy (I want to say Q, but I am not sure). Bypass loggerhead to your port,
follow the buoys but be aware. The green on your port is difficult to see
as well as the next red on your starboard.
Once inside the harbor choose to anchor a little east of the fort, nearer Sandy Key.
You will encounter local fisherman and they are just as us. Making a living.
Prepare yourselves with tobacco or rum. I say this because I have bartered
many a lobster, fish or Crab with them.
The fort listens to not only 16, but as you get close change to channel 11,
they monitor that as a park service.
The employees are great. All will give you whatever assistance you may need.
If you go to the DT and wish to stay (2 week limit but they do not enforce it)
be sure you have the provisions you need. The Sky Planes charge you a flat $65
to bring you supplies. So a case of Bud will cost you about $100.
Check with the ferry boats about bringing you fresh supplies.
I have found they do not charge you because they are there daily.
I would suggest tipping them.
As a private boat you are allowed to fish within the boundaries
(2 miles). Dinghy or take your boat just west of the fort, maybe about 300'
just outside the channel. It's about 30' and the grouper are great.
The most important thing to remember is DO NOT TRY TO ATTEMPT THE FORT AT NIGHT!
Main (only??) anchorage is by Garden Key, good holding and the park service
comes over to check you out (make sure you close off and seal your throughhull
from holding tank). Make sure you make a day trip over to Loggerhead Key.
If you have a good dinghy use that, or you can also take your boat over
and anchor and dinghy in from there. Far side of the key has some great
snorkeling and some fantastic beach area and a big lighthouse as well.
This spot is virtually empty as the large ferrys and float plans stick
with Garden Key and the Fort. Off the south end of Loggerhead key is an
old wreck which is in very shallow water. Tried to snorkel on it but
the currents were too strong the day we tried.
Park staff are very helpful and polite, as well when we were there
they conducted tours and in the evening a slide presentation on the fort.
Traded some cool ones for a bag of shrimp with the fishermen.
So we ended up one night sitting in the cockpit enjoying large shrimp
on the barbie as the sun set over the Fort. Doesn't get much better than that!
Suggest you plan for min of 3 days there, and more if you can.
Summarized from article by Karen Hermanson in 1/2003 issue of Southwinds magazine:
Entering Fort Jefferson: stay close to green markers.
Anchor as far S/SE of R-12 as possible.
Park is open sunrise to sunset, can be crowded 10:30 to 3:30.
May be lots of fishing boat traffic in early morning.
No supplies, no garbage disposal, no cell-phone coverage.
From Charmaine and Bill Aboard on SailNet FloridaKeys mailing list:
The Dry Tortugas is a blast. Crystal clear waters, Fort Jefferson to
explore. It is located
72 miles west of Key West and includes a passage of about 16 miles through open
water. If you're experienced, the reward is worth it. You could easily
spend the entire week there.
From article in 5/2003 issue of BoatU.S. magazine:
- Crossing from Key West to DT's is roughest in winter; lots of northerly wind.
Best in summer; ESE wind.
- 200 known shipwrecks to dive or snorkel on.
- Route south of the Marquesas is best.
- Near Fort Jefferson, overnight anchoring is limited to within one mile of Garden Key Harbor Light.
In all areas, anchor on sand or rubble bottom only.
- No-discharge; must lock through-hulls.
- Stay is limited to 14 days. No spearfishing. Garden Key dock and fort close at sunset.
Main anchorage: east side of Garden Key, south side of Bush Key.
Windjammer / Avanti wreck: in about 20 feet of water, about 1 NM SW of Loggerhead Key,
4 NM from main Garden Key anchorage as the crow flies, maybe 7 NM by big boat.
Lat 24.37.413 long 82.56.548. Maptech chart has it mis-positioned, and
doesn't show how to get around reefs south of Loggerhead Key.
Apparently there is one mooring buoy near the wreck.
NPR: 90.1 (intermittent).