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Crab Island Safety

Missouri
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Crab Island Safety

Im with group of 4 families with kids ranging from 3 to 13 and we're interested in renting a pontoon boat with a captain to take a half day trip to Crab Island.

We saw in the news of several drownings in recent weeks and it has some of us concerned. Is this a legitimate worry? Or were the people who have drowned doing high risk things? Any discussion on the safety of Crab Island is welcome. Thanks.

Also any recommendations as to a good company that can provide a big pontoon (for 20 people) and a good captain would much appreciated.

22 replies to this topic
Woodbury, Minnesota
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1. Re: Crab Island Safety

Someone can probably verify this, but I believe I have been reading, that the maximum you can have on a pontoon (regardless of size of the boat) is 12.

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2. Re: Crab Island Safety

You would most likely need 2 boats and all the Pontoons I have ever used one in your party would have to drive the boat. The boats are around $300 for 1/2 a day (4 hrs) I can't imagine what it would cost if you found one that came with a captain.

Tallahassee, FL
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3. Re: Crab Island Safety

Crab Island is an enigma. It is so gorgeous and inviting and unique. It can also be very dangerous.

Probably the number one problem is that people don't give it the respect it deserves. Numero uno, they drink too much.

It's also located where a very large bay intersects with the Gulf through a narrow pass, and that creates currents. A lot of the boaters are tourists, and many of them have never operated a boat before. Ten minutes of googling would show you where the island is, where the idle-only zones are (hint, almost everywhere), and where the shipping channel that creates so many problems is. It's all marked, if you just learn the red, green, and yellow buoys. People just don't do it.

I don't know a lot about pontoons, but a pontoon rated for 20 people seems like it would have to be huge. Dale is right; a captain always costs a fortune because you're paying for an expert.

One of the safest things you can do is anchor in the middle of the island, or westward from there. The shipping channel that goes to the open Gulf is on the east side, and that's where the worst currents are. They can easily sweep a person from their feet, and then you have a problem. Best to be on a boat when you're towards the east side of the island.

I'm sure I'm forgetting about a million things. Crab Island is pretty cool though.

Niceville, Florida
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4. Re: Crab Island Safety

Yep, you'll need to regular pontoons. There are also "party" boats that will take your entire group over there for a per-person fee. Might want to check those out, too.

Winfield, West...
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5. Re: Crab Island Safety

Kilroy76, This is the most helpful post I've seen on Crab Island. We have not been yet because our kids are so little it didn't seem like a place to take toddlers but are always curious. Maybe better suited for when my kids are older.

Edited: 07 August 2018, 17:48
Destin, FL
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6. Re: Crab Island Safety

Jacqueline - It could be fun to visit, but not necessarily "turn your kids loose" in the water. Life jackets would be a necessity for the younger ones.

Niceville, Florida
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7. Re: Crab Island Safety

The risks of Crab Island are a bit hard to explain. But the basic problem that has led to most drownings and near drownings is the combination of sloping sand on the east and south sides of Crab Island, and the outgoing tide, that moves water across Crab Island toward the east and southeast at about 3mph when it's moving its fastest.

People get around that eastern and southern drop-off, and they sometimes go a bit too deep. With the water pushing on your back it's easy to dig into the sand with your feet and lean back against the water. But the second you turn around to try to walk back toward the island you have no way to dig your feat in, and as soon as people lean into the water the current flowing toward them lifts their feet off the bottom, and the current pushes them into ever-deeper water, further away from Crab Island.

I always tell people who don't have a lot of experience with Crab Island to avoid the eastern third and the southern edge of Crab Island. If you stay more toward the center, and to the west and northwest of Crab Island...and only walk in those areas, adults should have no trouble. Kids should ALWAYS be watched closely, and parents/adults should never allow young children to stray more than a few steps away. Boats move pretty fast in that crowd sometimes...and the inexperienced boaters sometimes do some crazy things. Stay close enough to your kids that you can easily and quickly get a hand on them to pull them out of the way should something happen.

I have...many times...had to jump off my boat and push an approaching boat away, to prevent them from hitting my boat or a nearby boat.

The safest way to move a boat into the group on Crab Island is to circle the group of boats from a little distance, find a clear pathway to move your boat through to get more toward the inside of the group, then motor inward on that pathway until you get to the point where you can safely jump out of the boat (motor off) and pull it to the spot where you want to anchor. And I suggest you do the reverse when you leave Crab Island. Walk your boat through the group of boats until you get to where you have enough space to jump in the boat and motor away, without putting other boats or people in the water at risk.

Check the movement of the water as you approach the island, and use the water's movement to your advantage. For example, if it's an outgoing tide and the water is flowing west to east across Crab Island, motor around to the west side of the Island, get to shallow water, and position yourself so when you shut the motor off and walk the boat into the group that the flow of the tide helps push you.

Hope that's not "too much" info.

have a good stay

Winfield, West...
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138 posts
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8. Re: Crab Island Safety

That's more than enough info for me to avoid the place lol. Maybe when my children are older....but boats, idiots and alchohol all mixed in I will pass for now ha.

Tallahassee, FL
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9. Re: Crab Island Safety

Crab Island is fun for kids and adults alike, but water in general is dangerous to kids. As Raven mentioned, there are conditions at Crab Island that pose dangers to adults, and are hard to explain.

I take my boat to Dog Island and Shell Island more often than Crab. You have to cross several miles of bay to get to those, whereas Crab Island looks like you could swim to it. It almost invites you to, even though that's a very bad idea. It presents a scene of tranquility that screams "this is easy, just rent a pontoon and bring rum."

I don't know that Crab is more dangerous than Dog or Shell. Dog Island is at a pass near Carrabelle and Shell is at a pass near Panama City, but... Crab Island will tell Jacqueline from West Virginia that islands at passes are no big deal. The other islands don't do that.

In all three cases, you're dealing with large bays meeting the Gulf of Mexico through a cut. You really have to treat them all accordingly. The appearance of Crab Island just makes that harder because it really is a beautiful place.

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10. Re: Crab Island Safety

We were just in Destin last week and decided to rent 2 pontoons for our very large family (13 adults and 5 kids). One of the pontoons was a double decker with 2 slides. We thought it would be fun for our nephews since they’re 8, 11, and 13 and all avid swimmers. What we weren’t aware of or prepared for was the strong current on the east side of crab island. There were no signs posted around the island about these currents nor were we given any warning about this from the boat rental place. My 11 year old nephew went down the slide first and immediately swam back to the boat. I saw him swimming as fast as he could but it still looked like he was swimming in place which I thought was odd (but I didn’t realize it was the current causing this). When my 8 year old nephew went down the slide he paused to get his bearings before swimming back, but the current was so powerful he wasn’t making any traction and panicked. My cousin then had to jump in to try to get him back to the boat. Well my cousin was able to reach my nephew but when he turned around he realized the current was too powerful and even though he tried to swim back to the boat(s) he wasn’t able to reach either of them. The distance between them and the boats became too great. My sister then tossed life vests to both of them while we were quickly trying to get the anchors pulled up in order to drive the boats closer to them. It was complete chaos because my poor nephew was freaking out and the exhaustion of trying to swim back to the boats was taking a toll on both of them. Then my brother jumped in to help get the life vests to them and he was also taken by the current. By the time we were finally able to get the anchors pulled up and the boats moving, they ended up getting rescued by the water Sheriffs who told my brother that unless you’re Michael Phelps there’s no way you’d be able to swim against the current like that to get back to the boats. It was terrifying.

After the rescue mission, we decided to move the boats to the very shallow end of crab island thinking it’d be way safer for the kids. But even then it was challenging to wade the water in certain areas because of the strong current. Thankfully no one was hurt and we were still able to enjoy the rest of our boat rental but in retrospect I’m not sure if I’d be comfortable taking kids (or adults for that matter) to such a potentially dangerous area.

That evening I decided to do a google search and found that (to date) there have been 4 drownings on crab island this summer already...and I’m certain they were all from the strong currents. My nephews, cousin, and brother are all advanced swimmers but still had trouble getting back to the boat(s) because the current was way too strong. They also didn’t think to wear life vests because they assumed it’d be easy to swim right back to the boats (which were anchored). I can only imagine what it must be like for folks who can’t swim or who’ve been drinking heavily...or God forbid young children who aren’t being watched like hawks.

Definitely proceed with caution and make sure everyone wears a life vest to be safe. Sorry for the long post, just wanted to share our story and have it serve as a warning to all....

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