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Pontoon Boat or Snorkeling/Shelling tour?

Denison, Texas
Level Contributor
218 posts
8 reviews
Pontoon Boat or Snorkeling/Shelling tour?

My family of 6(2 adult kids and 2 preteen) are wanting to go to a place where there are shells(was going to go to PCB, St Andrews but not now with red tide) and do some snorkeling(new at it) and swimming. I was looking into renting a pontoon boat and going to crab island, but reading posts about that and the dangers people aren't aware of made me a bit nervous. Any thoughts from your experience on the best scenario for us? I wasn't sure if we did rent a pontoon where else we could go with it, and how long we should rent it for. TIA

6 replies to this topic
Tallahassee, FL
Level Contributor
360 posts
56 reviews
1. Re: Pontoon Boat or Snorkeling/Shelling tour?

There are no shells. In spite of any reports you may have seen, please trust a local boater and beach bum when I tell you that you shouldn't plan anything around the prospect of finding shells. You won't find them in PCB either. Just as Shell Island isn't an island, it also doesn't have shells (yeah, we're not good at naming things). It has the same perfect sugar sand as everywhere else in the area. Give up on that idea right now, and you won't be disappointed.

You can try to snorkel, but... it's kind of like the shells. The entire FL panhandle is just a powdery sand bottom. It doesn't have structures to hold fish, etc. I will occasionally dump a member of my crew off at one of the jetties to snorkel, but it's not a "wow" experience by any means.

What you can find are dolphins. I'm not sure what the red tide situation is in PC, or what it will be when you're there, but PC is infested with dolphins. I don't take my boat to Destin very often, and it's harder to spot them from the beach, but there are dolphins there too. Consider a dolphin-watching tour? (Not a swimming with dolphins tour, which has to be the biggest fraud in the South.)

Crab Island... Well, Labor Day has passed, so it won't be as crazy as it is in the summer. There are real dangers there, but if you take some minimal precautions, you can do alright. Spend ten minutes ahead of time looking at a navigational chart so you can see where you'll be, where the shipping channel is, and where Crab Island is. Don't get drunk. Anchor towards the middle of the "island," or westward from there. It's not rocket science, but too many people just assume that it's harmless based on its pretty looks.

I probably wouldn't rent a pontoon for more than half a day unless you think you'll really enjoy Crab Island. There is a nice beach on the east side of the pass where you can anchor in protected waters, but there are tons of nice beaches in the area that you don't need a boat to get to.

Denison, Texas
Level Contributor
218 posts
8 reviews
2. Re: Pontoon Boat or Snorkeling/Shelling tour?

Thanks kilroy76. That is pretty much what I've read, just didn't know if there were spots that did have some shells. SO does someone plant them there? :P It will be my youngest's 11th birthday, and so we just wanted to do something a little different than the beach that we also couldn't do at home.

Do you know if there are spots where the boys can jump off the boat and dive for "treasures"? Close to the boat of course. Or do you not recommend that?

Tallahassee, FL
Level Contributor
360 posts
56 reviews
3. Re: Pontoon Boat or Snorkeling/Shelling tour?

Honestly, if someone found decent shells, they got extremely lucky. They sometimes get washed up by big storms, but that's rare, and there really isn't a "spot" to find them. You might have a little better luck if you go slogging through the muck on the bay side. This area has sand that will make your feet happy, but no shells. You're really more likely to spot a dolphin or sea turtle from the beach than a good shell.

I've never heard of an outfit that plants shells. Doesn't mean someone wouldn't do it. You could always buy them at one of the beachy stores.

What you're dealing with in the FL Panhandle is some of the most perfect sand in the world, and water that's as clear as gin. There are no shells, no coral reefs, no nothing, just quartz powder. It's gorgeous, but...

Niceville, Florida
Level Contributor
1,024 posts
287 reviews
4. Re: Pontoon Boat or Snorkeling/Shelling tour?

I used to do a lot of snorkeling with my kids around Destin. My kids were 7 and 10 years old when we first tried it, but they are all grown up now. They loved snorkeling around the north side of the wing-dam on Destin's east jetty. The other place we used to snorkel is around the western-most bridge pilings on the west end of the Marler Bridge in Destin. This is not something "just anyone" should try. My kids are excellent swimmers. And I used a diver's flag on both sides of them while they were snorkeling around those pilings. And while my kids were in and under water I stood watch over and near them so I could get them out of the way if a boat came into view that looked like it was about to try to pass under the bridge.

I'm a skilled swimmer, a former swimming coach, and a lifelong boater. I've spent my life on the water, and I have about 58 years of experince on the water. I'm not the "average" Destin visitor. I would not recommend that you try snorkeling under the bridge...especially with kids...unless you AND YOUR KIDS are skilled in the water. And don't forget...barnacles are very sharp. The bridge pilings are covered with them.

No matter where you are in Destin, you're in a heavy boat traffic area. Even around the wing-dam on the East Jetty...a spot that all the snorkel boats go to...there is boat traffic, and you have to be watchful for the "idiot" in the other boat. There's always one...

I cannot overemphasize the need to use at least one diving flag while you're snorkeling in areas where boats may be nearby.

As the summer is ending and the boat traffic decreasing, the risk is declining a bit as well. You really have to judge the situation as you find it...tide flow, water clarity, boat traffic, weather. All those factors and more have to be part of your thinking. There were days that we went over to Redneck Beach to snorkel when I had to tell my kids that they simply couldn't...the conditions weren't right.

There is sea life to be seen at both spots. It's important to do this on an incoming tide...the time between a low tide and a high tide, when the water is flowing from the Gulf into the bay. That will be when you get the best visibility.

What did they see snorkeling those spots?

Dolphin, spade fish, shrimp, small neon-color fish, two seahorse, mullet, redfish, and squid.

As for the shell hunting, you've already got pretty good answers. But if you really wanted to try, you need to get up at about 3:00am after a night of heavy surf and walk the beach. If you get up much later someone will beat you to what few shells wash up. The best place to try in the Destin area is the Air Force-owned section of beach that starts at the west end of Santa Rosa Blvd on Okaloosa Island.

Edited: 9:26 pm, September 19, 2018
Denison, Texas
Level Contributor
218 posts
8 reviews
5. Re: Pontoon Boat or Snorkeling/Shelling tour?

Thanks so much for all of the info! We ended up renting a pontoon for half the day, and it was perfect. Saw lots of dolphins and the kids had a blast.

Tallahassee, FL
Level Contributor
360 posts
56 reviews
6. Re: Pontoon Boat or Snorkeling/Shelling tour?

Dolphins are pretty great aren't they? Glad you had fun. :)

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