Bring Your Own Boat
Bringing your own boat to Dry Tortugas National Park will provide you with the most opportunities to explore this remarkable national treasure. Situated approximately 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, with no food, water, or fuel available in the park, proper planning is a must.
Dry Tortugas National Park is filled with cultural artifacts that tell a rich and fascinating story of human exploration. Situated at the westernmost edge of the third largest coral reef system in the world, you are sure to discover some of the most pristine living coral and marine life found anywhere in the Florida Keys.
Recommendations and Suggestions
Garden Key is the second largest island of the Dry Tortugas, and home to historic Fort Jefferson. Garden Key should be your first stop when visiting Dry Tortugas National Park. Here you can check out the visitor center, check in with a Park Ranger at the park headquarters and receive your required free permit.
The largest of the 7 islands in Dry Tortugas National Park is Loggerhead Key, and should not be missed. Loggerhead Key is home to the historic Loggerhead lighthouse, which has now been automated using photovoltaic solar panel.
Dry Tortugas National Park is an excellent birding destination, especially during spring migration. Keep a lookout for pelagic seabirds on your journey out to the park as well. These seabirds spend almost their entire life over the open ocean. With a little luck you may be able to spot such rarities as the elegant White-tailed Tropicbird.
The same coral reefs that create the protected sheltered harbor in the center of the Dry Tortugas have also proven themselves treacherous to mariners attempting to reach this remote anchorage. Dry Tortugas National Park is home to nearly 300 hundred shipwrecks. These shipwrecks tell a rich and fascinating story, and are one the parks most valued and protected resources.One of the most popular and easily accessible shipwrecks in the park is located just south of loggerhead key and has a mooring ball provided for day use only. Commonly referred to as the windjammer wreck, the Avanti was a steel hulled sailing vessel that ran aground on the loggerhead reef in the early 1900s. Situated in approximately 20' of water, this wreck makes for a wonderful snorkel or SCUBA dive.
Although 51% of the park is designated Research Natural Area and closed to fishing, you are still allowed to fish in the other 49% and on your journey to and from the park. Whether you choose to fish for sport or food, make sure you bring along your Saltwater fishing license and follow the Gulf of Mexico fishing rules and regulations. Please note there is no spearfishing or collecting of lobsters allowed in the park.
You are welcome to drop anchor in the Garden Key anchorage and sleep on your boat, or you may choose to bring camping gear and camp in the Garden Key campground. Camping is $3.00 per person, per night, and self-registration is available in the campground.
Things to Keep in Mind While Planning Your Trip
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. http://www.weather.gov/
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. http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/
Dry Tortugas National Park is 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.
Pack it in, pack it out. Dry Tortugas National Park is a remote destination with no trash or recycling facilities available to the public.
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. http://www.charts.noaa.gov/OnLineViewer/AtlanticCoastViewerTable.shtml
Check out our suggested camping pack list to get an idea of what to bring on your trip. http://www.nps.gov/drto/planyourvisit/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=121133
Permits and Licenses
All boats entering Dry Tortugas National Park require a permit. You can pick up your free permit at the park headquarters on Garden Key, after entering the park. If you plan on fishing you will need to have a saltwater fishing license as well.
Anchoring is only allowed in sandy bottom within 1 nautical mile of the Garden Key lighthouse. All other areas of the park are off limits to anchoring. You are welcome to use any of the 7 mooring balls in the park during the day, but you must return to the Garden Key anchorage at sunset.
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 can check with a Park Ranger once you arrive at Garden Key for details on the special protection zone boundaries.
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.