Kayaking: Things You Need to Know Before Pushing Off for the First Time


Having some fun in the sun is one of the best things about living along the Gulf Coast of Florida, and kayaking is one of our absolute favorite ways to do just that here at the Villages of Citrus Hills. Our community is surrounded by popular kayak destinations, so if you are looking for a fun activity to enhance the summer, we have the perfect idea for you!

While there isn't a whole lot to know when it comes to paddling your kayak, purchasing one and getting out to use it can actually be pretty intimidating for a first timer. In order to help with that, we put together this simple guide to make pushing off as easy as possible for you.

Buying a Kayak

The act of purchasing a kayak that will best suit your needs can be as complicated as you want to make it. As long as it floats, most any kayak can get you where you want to go, but there are an endless number of different options you can tweak to make sure that you get the most out of your investment.


The most important factor in evaluating how well any kayak will fit your needs is the size of the kayak. You will find that the longer and wider kayaks offer more stability, are faster in the water, and can carry more equipment with you. On the flip side, shorter and narrower kayaks are easier to maneuver in the water, and the fact that they are lighter makes them easier to transport.

Another factor that you will want to consider is the shape of the hull. Kayaks with flat hulls will offer greater stability, while kayaks with round hulls will allow you to change course much more efficiently.




Tips for Beginners

The most important thing to remember any time you are out on the water is that safety should always be a top priority. And the most important safety precaution that a kayaker can take is to always wear a properly fitting life vest. On top of that, it is always safer to kayak with a friend or a group of friends so that you have someone to help you if something goes wrong.

One of the best ways to get started kayaking is to go on a group trip with an experienced guide. This will help you learn the basics like how to hold the paddle and steer the boat in a completely safe environment.

When you are ready to head out without a guide, make sure that you always have a plan for where you will be kayaking, and it never hurts to have a change of clothes with you…just in case!

Where to Kayak

You don't have to look very hard to find a great kayak destination near the Villages of Citrus Hills, and most of our residents get started by exploring the crystal-clear water of the Rainbow River just north of the community.

Kayak the Withlacooch.jpg

Once you have mastered the Rainbow River, we recommend taking some time to explore other nearby destinations like The Withlacoochee River, the Chassahowitzka River, and the Crystal River.

In addition to exploring local rivers, there are also lots of state parks that feature boat launches, and don't forget to hit up all of the popular manatee destinations as well!

No matter how much boating experience you have, kayaking is the kind of thing that just about anyone can learn and enjoy. And with so many local destinations surrounding the Villages of Citrus Hills, there is no reason not to spend your summer getting out and exploring our local waterways.

The Manatees are Back for the Winter

There are dozens of reasons why Florida is a great place to live, but one of the top reasons has to be that the weather is nice and warm during the winter months.

Many of our friends and neighbors here in the Villages of Citrus Hills go north for the summer only to come running back at the first sign of winter.

Ironically, our local manatee population demonstrates the exact same behavior!

West Indian Manatees are extremely popular animals in Citrus County due to our year round population of them, which gets especially large during the winter months.

Despite their enormous size, these sea mammals have relatively little body fat and require warm water in order to survive. For that reason, they tend to migrate to the warm spring waters such as Crystal River and Homosassa Springs during the winter months. 

Another way that manatees are similar to our snowbird friends and neighbors is that once they find a place they like, they will return to the same spot year after year. It is not uncommon for a mother and her calf to go their separate ways out at sea for the entire summer and then be spotted hanging out together in their usual winter habitat the following year. 

As the manatees begin to migrate back towards our local springs for the winter, now is a great time to be planning your next manatee encounter. Whether you are looking to swim alongside the manatees, kayak near them, or observe them from dry land, there are great places to do all of those in Crystal River and Homosassa Springs!

Crystal River


The best places to see manatees in the Crystal River area are Three Sisters Springs and the Kings Bay Manatee Sanctuary. Both of these places are best accessed by boat, but you can only get so close. In order to get up close and personal you will have to be in a kayak or canoe.

There are also a number of tour companies that operate out of the Crystal River area that specialize in manatee tours. These companies can take you right up to the popular manatee areas and many will instruct you on swimming right along with the manatees!

Homosassa Springs 

If you are looking to learn more about manatees, Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is the best place in the region. There is a daily educational program that gives visitors some background on manatees including their history and the rehabilitation efforts that are conducted at the park. 

The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park also has what they call the “Fish Bowl,” which is an underwater viewing area similar to what you would expect to find at an aquarium. This gives visitors the chance to get up close and personal with manatees without even getting wet!

Tampa Electric Company 

Because manatees are attracted to warm waters, they also tend to be attracted to power plants. One really interesting place to observe them is from the Tampa Electric Company near the mouth of the Hillsborough River. The warm water that the power plant discharges into the river is like a magnet for manatees, and the company has built a visitor center, overlook, and walkway for visitors to observe this phenomenon. 

Whether you prefer to break out your kayak and meet the manatees in their natural environment in Crystal River or stay on dry land and observe them from a distance at Homosassa Springs or the Tampa Electric Company power plant, make sure you take some time to get out and see these amazing sea mammals near the Villages of Citrus Hills this winter.

Bird's Underwater: A Highly Rated Local Tour Company

If you are looking for a tour company to take you and a group of friends out swimming with manatees or on a scalloping adventure, you are probably going to start your search using a website like Yelp or TripAdvisor.

Because those types of sites tend to attract people who are looking to complain more often than complement, we have all learned over the years that we have to take negative reviews with a grain of salt. But what if there was a company that had hardly any negative reviews? Wouldn’t that be the one you wanted to hire?

 Bird’s Underwater in Crystal River is that company!

At the time of this writing, they are rated 5 stars on both Yelp and TripAdvisor with virtually no negative reviews. In today’s eager-to-complain environment, that is really something special! 

About Bird’s Underwater Dive Center

Bird’s Underwater Dive Center is located right on Kings Bay in Crystal River. Bill “Bird” Oestreich and his wife Diane started it back in 1989. They have since grown the business to include a number of certified and insured “captains” that lead all kinds of tours, training classes, and other adventures.

In addition to being popular among local residents and regular vacationers, Bird’s Underwater has also been featured on TV shows like Small Planet, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, Lonely Planet, and The 700 Club.

But being featured on those shows is nothing compared to the way that customers talk about Bird’s Underwater. Here is what Kayecee G. had to say about her recent scalloping trip on Yelp: 

I can't say enough good things about our trip."

Scalloping with Bird's Underwater was an amazing experience. On our drive home we had already decided we will be making a yearly trip from Daytona to Crystal River to go scalloping with Bird's Underwater.

Captain Cody was absolutely amazing! He even got in the water to help us since it was our first time. He went above and beyond by taking us out where the grassy beds drop off and we were able to see a huge variety of fish and coral that you don't find in the grassy area where you find scallops. As long as he is there we will always request to go out with him! He has made lifetime customers out of us!” 

Manatee Tours & Scalloping Trips

Swimming with manatees is probably the most sought after experience in the Crystal River area, and nobody delivers on that experience quite like Bird’s Underwater. They have tours leaving daily that seat anywhere from 6-11 passengers. You can also book private tours for parties of 6.

During scalloping season, another popular option is to head out on a Bird’s Underwater charter so that you can catch your fill of scallops without having to worry about getting a fishing license or bringing any equipment. Bird’s Underwater takes care of everything for you.  

Manatee tours can be booked right from their website, and scalloping tours can be booked over the phone during scalloping season.

The Dive Center

On top of delivering amazing tour experience, Bird’s Underwater is also your one-stop shop for all things diving in Crystal River.

Never been scuba diving before? That’s no problem, because Bill “Bird” Ostreich himself teaches regular dive classes right at the facility. With dive experience dating back to the early 1970s, Bird is a wealth of information and an excellent teacher.  

Devils Den

Devils Den

Bird’s Underwater also offers guided dives that will allow you to experience some of the best dive spots in Citrus County with a local expert guiding you through to all of the best underwater spots. If you are tired of hearing about places like Blue Grotto and Devil’s Den and are ready to see them for yourself, this is a great way to get there! 

As for any diving equipment needs, Bird’s is a Scubapro Platinum Dealer and an authorized Scubapro Service Center. So if you are already an experienced diver, they can fix you up with the best of the best equipment and make sure it is always in tip-top shape.  

Bird’s House Rentals 

If you are looking to really take your Bird’s Underwater experience to the next level, you might want to consider booking one of their two rental properties to stay at during one of their multiple day dive tours.  

One of the houses is located right on the Homosassa River, and the other is on the Halls River. Both of the Bird’s rental houses come with kayaks, TV and internet, and fully equipped kitchens.  

No matter what your level of experience, Bird’s Underwater has an amazing adventure that is perfect for you. So the next time you find yourself thinking about manatees, scallops, or scuba diving, stop thinking about it and book a tour with Bird’s. According to the hundreds of satisfied customers on Yelp and TripAdvisor, you will not be disappointed.