Manatee Spring Cave System
The Manatee Spring cave system is not among the most popular cave diving sites in north-central Florida. Strong currents tend to make penetrating difficult and reduce visibility. Nevertheless, it can be an interesting dive when you are looking for something different — or when flooding makes other sites inaccessible. In fact, Manatee is at its best when conditions are at their worst elsewhere. When the Suwannee River is up, the flow in Manatee diminishes and visibility actually improves.
The cave is located in Manatee Spring State Park, six miles west of Chiefland on County Road 320. Admission fees and certification requirements are the same as those at Peacock; however, there is a limit on the number of cave diving teams allowed in the system at one time. Arrive early on weekends or you may be shut out.
Unlike other systems, you do not enter the cave at its main entrance. The opening is simply too restricted and the flow too high. Instead, you get in at Catfish Hotel, a slightly offset sinkhole that gives you a huge window into the side of the cave. A deck and stairs make entering the water easier (but take a look below the duck weed before you leap).
From Catfish Hotel, you turn right and head upstream along the main line. How far you get depends on factors such as flow, your breathing rate and how much gas you are carrying. When conditions are favorable, you may pass below Sue and Friedman’s Sinks.
Depths throughout the cave vary widely, from 35 feet down to 90 feet. There is considerable up and down; don’t dive when you are having problems with equalizing or vertigo. The deepest depths are just upstream of Catfish, so remember that you will be getting deeper as you approach the exit (it may affect your deco).
Among the best ways to get to know Manatee is to dive under supervision of an experienced guide — someone who knows both the cave and your abilities and gas consumption. Armed with this information, a guide can set up traverse dives, such as Freidman’s to Catfish, or Catfish to the main spring entrance. In times of highest flow, by far the easiest way to dive the cave is to go downstream with the flow, while relaxing and enjoying the ride.
The next three pages contain detailed maps of the first 2,000 feet of the Manatee system. Clink on the links appearing below to go to a specific map page.
Map 1 »
A detailed road map showing how to get all of north-central Florida’s most popular cave diving sites is available for download in Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF). 2 pages; 1,002K