Boaters who comply with manatee speed zones will not be cited if they accidentally hit one of the animals, said Florida officials.
The announcement comes as the slow-moving sea cows begin their annual migration from open water to warm-water springs and power plant discharges.
"I think in past years some boaters were reluctant to report hitting a manatee because they were afraid they would get the citation," said Henry Cabbage, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "When manatees are in shallow water, they can't dive down to get out of the way of a boat. If a boater doesn't see them, it can happen," he said. "In fact one of our officers hit one that way a couple of years ago."
Boaters who accidentally strike a manatee, or observe another vessel striking an animal, are asked to call the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline at (888) 404-3922.
Boaters should be prepared to provide the incident location, weather conditions, boat specifications and other relevant information.
"The information we gather from reported accidents can help guide manatee conservation efforts in the future," said FWC executive director Ken Haddad.
Also, he added, the prompt response to an accident may increase the chance of success in attempts to rescue and rehabilitate an injured animal.
According to the state's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, preliminary data show 323 manatee deaths this year, through Oct. 20. Of those, 75 - or 23 percent - were attributed to watercraft.
An additional 110 deaths were due to undetermined causes.
In data gathered through Sept. 30, 2006, Brevard and Lee counties reported the highest number of manatee deaths.
State figures show 334 manatee deaths in 2005 and 238 in 2004. The five-year average is 288 manatee deaths a year, according to state data.