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Seaplane to Dry Tortugas : What to expect

Imagine soaring above the crystal-clear turquoise waters, spotting shipwrecks and marine life from a breathtaking view over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This is what you can expect when you take a seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park.

This unique trip offers more than just transportation to Garden Key, the experience itself is a bucket list item on its own. We will guide you through everything you need to know about taking a seaplane to this one of a kind National Park.

Buckle up and get ready for a special Adventure!

view of Fort wall at Dry Tortugas with turquois waters on either side of low wall on clear blue skey
Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas
Table of Contents

Key West Seaplane Adventures

You start at the signature flight area of the key west airport for Key West Seaplane Adventures. You have two options on how to get there, self-drive or taxi/ride service.

Self-Drive to the Airport

If you have your own car, you can drive to the airport, but you have to park your car in the short-term parking lot. The seaplane hangar will be the far-left hangar. If you chose this route, I would suggest dropping your party off with your gear first and then park. Make plan for this extra time so you are not rush during check-in.

Taxi/Car Service (Uber/Lift)

The simplest approach is to get a taxi or ride service to drop you off. If you let them know you are taking the seaplane to Dry Tortugas they will know exactly where to drop, you off. We took a taxi, and it worked out like a charm. We were able to call when we landed back in key west, and he was waiting for us for pick-up.

You will know you are in the right spot as you will see a big sign that says ‘SEAPLANE CHECKIN’ next to a white door. 

Want to learn more about all the different travel options to Dry Tortugas, including costs?

Seaplane Adventure Check-in

The check-in and waiting area are all in one room. During check-in you will have several things to go through:

Liability Waivers

You will first need to sign off on all the wonderful legal liability waivers, which should not be a surprised.

National Park Fee

There is a $15.00 National Park Entrance Fee per person for all persons 17 or older. This is collected on behalf of the Park Service.   If you have a National Park Pass, you can show them at check-in as well. My daughter was in the 4th grade during our visit, and we were able to use her Free National Park Pass for our visit. She was very excited. 

Staying Hydrated

Each group is provided a small personal cooler with ice to keep your drinks chilled and readily available. They offer a variety of refreshing options, including sodas, water, and sparkling flavored water. They’ll pack your chosen beverages in a uniquely marked cooler with ice, ensuring they stay chilled during the journey. To accommodate different groups, they offer two cooler sizes. If you prefer to bring your own water bottle, they have a convenient water filling station available.

Snorkeling Equipment

The Snorkeling gear is in decent shape, and they have sizes for kids and adults. My 9-year-old and teenager had no problems with their equipment. Coming early will allow you time to properly size and become familiar with gear. All are stowed in their own mesh bag.

All the coolers, gear are numbered/marked which is really helpful when you need to find your stuff in the pile of gear after landing at Dry Tortugas. 

Black and white map of Dry Tortugas and general information

Additional Documents

The staff will give you a really helpful map that shows the best snorkeling locations, picnic tables and general area. They should put your snorkeling gear bag numbers and cooler number on this sheet as well, so you remember which one is yours. They should also give you a slip of paper with your pilot’s name and background. This helps making sure you get on the right plane.

Pilot Gratuities

A little note on tipping. This is easy to overlook, but while gratuities are not required, they are certainly accepted and appreciated if you receive good service. The pilots try really hard to make the flight as enjoyable, informative, safe and worry-free as possible. If you get good service, make sure to bring some cash to show your appreciation.

Waiting room with chairs and tv at Key West Seaplanes

Waiting Area

There is a waiting area with a video on a running loop that provides all the basic information you can expect on your trip. If you forgot some sunscreen, a hat or a sun shirt, they do have a small inventory to buy before your flight.

Depending on the time of day you are leaving, you should have at least two groups leaving, so make sure you get with the right one.  We left on the first morning flight and there was a flight for the half day group and one for the full day leaving at the same time.

man smiling standing in front of Seaplane to Dry Tortugas parked on tarmac in Key West
About to board!


You will be flying in a De Havilland DHC-3 Otter aircraft, which has a great safety record. At your appointed time, you will follow your pilot out the back door and on the tarmac to board the Seaplane to Dry Tortugas.  The planes are parked right next the hanger.  No security check! You just get on the plane. 

You do not have assigned seating, so the first one on gets in the first seats. Good news, everyone gets a window seat. I did not see any advantage on which side you get so sit on but think the middle of the plane gives you the best range of views.  

When you climb on the plane, you store pretty much all your gear in the back. This includes the snorkel gear, coolers and any bags/backpacks you bring.

One caveat. There isn’t a lot of leg room at all. I am 5’10” and I was feeling a bit cramped.  If you are really tall, I would suggest sitting in the last seat on the left side of the plane. This will allow you to stretch your legs, since there isn’t a seat in front of you for the door access.

Special Tip: The seaplane to Dry Tortugas holds 10 passengers and one pilot. Nine are in the back with one passenger sitting next to the pilot. Before you leave the waiting area, the pilot may ask if anyone is celebrating a special event (Anniversary, honeymoon, birthday, etc.). Based on this they may select them to sit in the cockpit. So, if you really want to sit shotgun on the flight keep that in mind. 

Gearing Up for Takeoff

Before take-off the pilot will give you, a safety run down and ask if anyone has any questions. Everyone will have headphones, as the plane engine is very loud. This also allows you to hear some music, piped in commentary, but most importantly the pilot will talk to you throughout the flight. Keep in mind that there is a volume control on the left and right earphone.

Aerial view from Seaplane to Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson Florida National Park
Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park

An Amazing Scenic Flight

The flight over to dry Tortugas is absolutely amazing. I had the privilege of flying in small Cessnas and Pipers when I was a kid (My father was a Navy pilot). It is always special to go up and see the world from an aerial vantage point, but boy, seeing the turquoise waters of the Florida Keys on this flight was a wholly unique experience.

You will be taken over Key West and should get a nice view of the southernmost point (and the long line of people waiting to get their picture taken with the concrete cone). Followed by the Fort Taylor and the state park, before going over open water.  

You should see the Marquesas Keys first. Your pilot will start talking through some various sites, shipwrecks, history of treasure hunters and Spanish galleons. If you are lucky, you will also have a chance to glimpse some marine life such as sharks and of course, sea turtles.

aerial view of turquoise clear water over the Gulf of Mexico

When you approach Dry Tortugas, the pilot will circle the island to allow you the chance to take some amazing photos before coming into landing. Depending on the time of year, may have a set path so avoid disturbing nesting sea birds on the local Keys.

After landing the pilot will then back into a parking spot along the beach right next to the fort. Amazing.

Aerial View of old shipwreck in turquois waters Dry Tortugas

Tip: Make sure to watch your feet when you land if you are by the door. We had a little water shoot through and catch my wife’s feet!

Family of four standing on float of seaplane at Dry Tortugas


After landing, the pilot will come around and help get everyone off the plane and coordinate getting the gear off as well. Having tags on all the snorkeling bags and coolers comes in real handy at this point, because they all look the same! You will have the option to get your picture taken on the floats of the plane if you want. My daughter wanted one with just her so show her teacher, and they were very accommodating.

Make sure you ask the pilot when to return, so you can plan your time accordingly.

Return Flight

The return flight goes just as easy. One big difference is taking off from the water, which is pretty cool. I was surprised how smooth it was. The pilot will try to circle the island again, so the other side of the plane has a chance to catch a view and photos of the island and fort.

Returning to the hanger

After landing at Key West airport, the plane will go right back to the hanger you left earlier. When you leave the plane, you can grab your gear and go straight back to the Seaplane Office. From there you can catch your ride or go to the parking lot to get your car.

What to bring on the Seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park

This is a special experience, and riding in a seaplane does not happen every day for some folks. We found this list helpful in our trip to Dry Tortugas

  • Reef Safe Sunscreen
  • Towels
  • Camera
  • Change of clothes for the return flight
  • Bathing suits: We wore ours and changed to normal clothes for the return flight
  • Snacks: We were able to store some in the cooler they gave us
  • If you are going for the full day, bring your own packed lunch
  • Water shoes: the sand and rocks can be sharp
  • Bug spray: only needed in the summer
  • National Park Passport book: To get your National Park Cancellation Stamp!
  • Cash for the National Park Gift Shop
  • Cash for Pilot Gratuity
View of Fort Jefferson through window of Seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park

Final Thoughts on Taking a Seaplane to Dry Tortugas

While the seaplane to Dry Tortugas might come at a premium cost, the unique experience, breathtaking aerial views, and potential wildlife encounters make it a truly unforgettable adventure. If you’re seeking a once-in-a-lifetime journey and appreciate the luxury of time, this splurge might just be the perfect way to experience the remote beauty of the Dry Tortugas National Park.


  1. This is great, detailed information! We have vague plans for Dry Tortugas, and this will help us make the decision between seaplane and ferry. Thanks!

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