An update on the current conditions in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida Keys. Yes, we got hit hard by Hurricane Irma, but we'd love to see you!

Boot Key Harbor After Irma

To say I’ve gotten a lot of inquiries about how Boot Key Harbor is doing post-Irma and whether boaters should come here this winter would be an understatement.

I originally wrote this November 12, 2017 — two months after BKH was hit by the nasty NE eyewall of Category 4 Hurricane Irma and have now updated it through December 30, 2017. All info is to the best of my knowledge.


Yes, Boot Key Harbor is open for new boats. Mooring balls have been inspected and repaired where necessary, however, there is one part (the downline) that cannot be inspected and the office says you “use them at your own risk.” We’re on the same mooring ball we were on during the storm; it’s blown 25+ several times since the storm and I haven’t heard of anyone having a problem with their mooring. But no guarantees!

As of December 30, the office reported that the mooring field is 90% full (less than usual for this time of year), with several new boats arriving every day. You may want to contact the office as to how full it is and, if it’s full, what anchoring options exist close to when you plan to arrive.


The marina phone is finally working as of December 1 — 305-289-8877. If you are in VHF range, call them on channel 16; you can also email the office at


Both the west entrance channel and Sister’s Creek are open, but both are missing some markers. For the west entrance, hug the greens (used to be hug the reds, so this is a change).

In general, for either entrance, it’s best to come in near high tide, while it is still rising. Go slowly and watch the depth sounder closely. If you draw close to 6 foot, call any of the tow operators — Tow Boat US, Sea Tow or Tow Boat One — on VHF 16 to get more specific up-to-date info (things change as more and more debris is removed).

Anywhere that you see a fender floating or a pink/red marker, assume it’s marking underwater debris and steer clear. Also, please don’t pull these up as “trash.”

As always at this time of year, there are a lot of crab and lobster traps out across all of Florida Bay and in Hawk Channel. Keep a sharp lookout!


The mooring field is pretty well clear of debris and sunken boats but always watch out for “floating fenders” and pink/red markers — these are put out whenever anything new is found.

Check out the diagram of the shoals in my previous post on Things to Know Before Entering BKH. They’re still in the same locations and still not marked as well as they could be!


City Marina (the official name of the Boot Key Harbor mooring field) is up and running pretty normally. The only big change is that the outer dinghy dock no longer exists (well, the pieces can be found strewn around) and the floating dock is now entirely for dinghies.

Important: treat the entire harbor area as a no-wake slow speed zone and the area near the dinghy dock as idle speed only. This is not only courteous to other boaters but critically important to the manatees in the harbor (yes, they’re back!) who can’t move very fast to get out of your way.

All marina services are up:

  • Pumpouts
  • Water
  • Shower rooms
  • Laundry
  • Workshop is open
  • Credit cards are accepted
  • Ice
  • Mail delivery (and all parcel services such as UPS, Fed Ex, DHL)
  • Vehicle parking
  • Bike parking
  • Wifi at the office — I had been told it was working and now I’m told it’s not but it may get repaired soon after January 1. Free wifi is available at the library, which is a 10-minute walk away. There are also some coffee shops around with “free” wifi (for customers, of course).


Most businesses are open, some with limited hours or services. To name a few things important to cruisers:

  • Buses are running on schedule, as is Keys Shuttle to the Miami and Ft. Lauderdale airports.
  • Taxis are available — $5 will take you anywhere on the island. Bob Narley taxi did not re-open after the storm; the other local companies are.
  • Publix is open; Winn-Dixie is not.
  • West Marine, Home Depot, Specialty Hardware and NAPA are all open and well-stocked.
  • Sea-Tek (aka “Alex”) and SALT marine services are open.
  • Most restaurants and bars are open. As of December 30, most are now serving their full menus but service might be slow. Most of the city’s “affordable housing” was wiped out in the storm, pre-Irma employees moved away when they couldn’t find housing, almost no one is moving here right now because of the housing crunch and consequently many places are short-staffed. (The upside to this is if you’re looking to refill the cruising kitty and have a boat to live on, there are plenty of opportunities.)
  • Yoga in the Park (amphitheater) next door is happening one day a week, on Wednesdays. Sue’s Yoga in the park pavilion on Tuesdays and Fridays has also restarted.
  • The hospital had the roof ripped off in the storm; it is open for emergency services only. Most patients get transported to Mariner’s Hospital in Tavernier or to one of the Miami hospitals for treatment.
  • Doctors’, dentists’, and clinics can be found but it’s sometimes easier (and faster to get an appointment) to go to Key Largo or Key West for services (this is one area that is changing almost daily as to what is and isn’t open).
  • Both local vets are open and able to process pets’ paperwork for the Bahamas as well as regular and emergency care.
  • All cell phone services are up.
  • Snorkel, dive and fishing charters are generally up and running.
  • Boatyards are pretty full but again, things change daily. Call before assuming you can arrange a haulout here.

Okay, the storm hit the local workers disproportionately hard. Most didn’t live in new hurricane-resistant housing and lost pretty much everything. They don’t have a lot of savings to fall back on. And it’s expensive to live in the Keys. So please, be kind, understand if they are short-staffed (remember, your server is one who stayed to help rebuild!) and tip generously.


If you are going to have guests coming in, it’s going to be tough to get them a room. First, it’s always hard “in season” — that is, winter. Second, a LOT of people lost their homes or had them severely damaged and are now living in hotels and motels. Third, all the recovery workers (clean up crews, rebuilding contractors, insurance adjusters, and on and on) that are in town have to stay somewhere.


Key West and all its attractions had a lot less damage than Marathon. Pretty much all the “touristy” things to do there are open, as are the buses to take you there. HOWEVER, note that you’ll drive through the very hard hit “Ground Zero” area of Big Pine Key. It still looks like a war zone there. Please be respectful and don’t act like it’s a sightseeing event as people are trying to clean things up and rebuild their lives.


Those of us who came back right after Hurricane Irma think things are looking a lot better now. Those who are just arriving are shocked at the devastation, destruction, and debris.

Both groups are right.

There has been a lot of progress made, but there is still a long, long way to go.

You’ll see “litter” and storm debris piles everywhere. There’s a lot less of both than there was but it’s still astounding to newcomers. And yes, we’re working to clean it all up and we appreciate any help you can give. If you are waiting somewhere, pick up whatever trash you see — I haven’t been anywhere that I didn’t find some, particularly small pieces of plastic. If you’re walking, take at least a grocery bag and fill it. Little by little, we’ll get it done.

Most of the sunken boats have been raised and removed and most of those that went into the mangroves have been removed. The barges are still working in the harbor area on those that remain; stay clear of their operations!

We’re having weekly clean up days for the water and mangrove areas, and many people are doing more on their own. If you’re going to be here, we’d love to have you join in!

You’ll meet people both around the marina office and in town who lost their boats, houses, cars, jobs. Most are surprisingly upbeat but you’ll see them having bad days too. Dealing with FEMA and insurance is not pretty. Have compassion. Just listening to their stories goes a long way.


The Keys’ entire economy is based on tourism and boaters are part of that — and boaters put far less strain on local housing than other tourists, so are very welcome.

Things are not perfect but the community spirit is amazing. If you can deal with imperfection, want to pitch in and help, and have an upbeat attitude, you’ll have a wonderful time.

A friend, Mike Tounge, made this video last winter. The sunsets are still every bit as gorgeous! (PS – the background music really adds to it, so be sure you have your volume turned on.)

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  • Jill Argie
    Posted at 13 November 2017 Reply

    Thanks for the info! Hope to see you soon and help out with the clean-up.

  • Judith Chandler-Adams
    Posted at 13 November 2017 Reply

    Lttle Whale should be down by the end of the month and will join in the help to clean up before we go to the Bahamas. Finally leaving our dock of 11 years and taking a slow boat to Panama.

  • Dan Waldron
    Posted at 13 November 2017 Reply

    Thanks for the update ….. So sorry about the devestating damage to one of our favorite stops.

  • Johnny Maggard
    Posted at 13 November 2017 Reply

    Thank you Mark for the information I think we’re going to go to Key Largo first and see how it goes.

  • Around 'n Circles
    Posted at 13 November 2017 Reply

    Thank you! Just shared it on our page.

  • Deloris Lorenzo
    Posted at 13 November 2017 Reply

    I live in a condo on Boot Key Harbor . It’s been hard to watch the people who came to our docks to try to find their boat. Grown men dropping to their knees and sobbing when they can’t find their boat or spot it in the mangroves. Also hard to explain the devastation to those who were not here for Irma, and the aftermath of what she left. We were here. Before and since. Tears are drying, and hope is winning. Thank you to all that are helping with the cleanup. It IS much better, but we have a lot more to do. Any small part of the cleanup is welcomed. Rake a spot, pull something from the mangroves, or out of the harbor as you go by it. And everyone, please stay safe.

  • Lisa Colvin
    Posted at 13 November 2017 Reply

    Thank you so much for taking the time to put this post together. It answers so many questions for us.

  • Keith & Nicki, s/v Sionna
    Posted at 13 November 2017 Reply

    Great wrap-up of current conditions, thanks Carolyn! We plan to be down the first of the year, staging for the Bahamas, hope to see you folks, lend a hand for a few days, etc.

  • Charles Reece
    Posted at 14 November 2017 Reply

    We know how you feel here in Houston. Keep you chin up. It slowly gets better.

  • Jason Koler
    Posted at 14 November 2017 Reply

    An excellent post and great report on the current situation of Marathon and the the city marina.

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