Encounters between boaters and alligators are not very common, particularly when you consider how many people enjoy recreational boating in Florida. Many people canoe and kayak in Florida waters each year, and alligators can be present in any fresh or brackish water in the state.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) occasionally gets reports of unsettling encounters between a paddler and an alligator. The majority of these appear to be situations in which the boat bumps into an alligator. This could be because the alligator was in shallow water and could not submerge to avoid contact, or the alligator was on a bank and the boat startled the alligator, causing the alligator to escape toward deeper water in an attempt to flee. In a few incidents, alligators have actually bitten canoes and kayaks, resulting in minor injuries to people and damage to their boats.
The best way to protect yourself if you are paddling is to keep your hands and feet inside the boat and to be cautious and aware when entering or leaving the water. You should be especially cautious at dawn, dusk, and at night, because that is when alligators are most active.
If you fish from your canoe or kayak, be careful when retrieving fish from the water, and if you keep any fish, do not keep them on a stringer in the water. When back on shore, avoid throwing fish scraps in the water when you clean your fish.
If you have a dog, do not allow your dog to swim in the water (whether boating or not), because dogs are at considerable risk from alligators.
Also consider the style of canoe or kayak that you use. Hard plastic boats offer more protection from puncture than inflatable boats.
If you observe a large alligator swimming toward your canoe or kayak, you should paddle quickly away from the alligator until it is no longer swimming towards you. In the unlikely event that an alligator approaches closely to you boat, slap the water’s surface near the alligator with your paddle and move as quickly away as possible. In the extreme circumstance that a large alligator lunges at or bites your boat, rap the alligator on its snout with your paddle and quickly paddle away.
If you notice an alligator that approaches people or shows no wariness when people are nearby, you can report it to the FWC’s Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 1-866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286)