Crab Island

Crab Island is a large underwater sandbar located north of the Destin Bridge in Destin, Florida

The sandbar is located just east of Santa Rosa Island, and at the mouth of the Choctawhatchee Bay. Crab Island is located within the boundaries of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

The sandbar is a beautiful spot, and is very popular with boaters. The sandbar has clear emerald green water and soft white sand.

At one time Crab Island was a relatively peaceful local sandbar party. Over the years it’s evolved into a crazy circus atmosphere and a world-famous destination. 

Today Crab Island has become extremely commercialized, and it is often extremely busy. On crowded days there are hundreds of boats, and thousands of people on the sandbar. 

Crab Island is a man-made spoil island, meaning that it was the dump site for sand, scooped up and dredged from the sea floor. 

The island was built in the 1960s, when Destin’s East Pass was deepened by the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

Crab Island used to be a much larger island, but it has eroded over time by tides, currents and storms.. It is now a shallow underwater sandbar, submerged beneath the waters of Destin’s East Pass and Choctawhatchee Bay.

Crab Island got its name because it used to be a popular place for local fishermen to catch crabs. The island’s shape also vaguely resembles a crab when viewed from above. Some people claim that’s where the name came from.

Crab Island has changed a lot over the decades. Many Destin locals remember when Crab Island was a low-key, family-friendly sandbar. 

In recent years Crab Island has exploded in popularity, especially after being featured in national media, and appearing in popular social media accounts. 

It has evolved from a quaint local destination to a tourist magnet and a floating spectacle.

What is Crab Island known for? 

Crab Island is known for its large gatherings of anchored boats, waterpark attractions, crystal clear water and bright white sand. 

Crab Island became well known after receiving years of national media coverage, and after being popularized on social media.

Crab Island is one of the best things to do in Destin, and is one of the best sandbars in the Florida Panhandle. Or, worst, depending who you ask.

Many local people avoid Crab Island during the summer high-season because it is filled with tourists, large amounts of human urine, drunken chaos and careless boaters. 

Where is Crab Island Located?

The Crab Island Sandbar is located in Destin, at the mouth of the Choctawhatchee Bay. It sits between Okaloosa Island and Destin, just north of the Highway 98 Destin Bridge. 

On the 4th of July Crab Island becomes extremely crowded.

Map of Crab Island

Crab Island is located near several notable landmarks in Destin. 

The Highway 98 Destin Bridge, also known as the William T. Marler Bridge, is just south of Crab Island. 

Eglin air force base sits just across the bay, and the Destin, Florida US Coast Guard station is just west of the sandbar.

How to Get to Crab Island?

Crab Island must be accessed via watercraft. 

The island can be reached by jetski, private boat, or maybe even SUP paddle boards or kayaks, if the weather conditions are safe, and the paddlers are prepared and experienced. 

There are also options for a shuttle boat to Crab Island. Many options for boat rentals are available nearby.

Besides Crab Island, Destin has other sandbars and beaches near Crab Island. They are just as beautiful, and are less crowded, if you want a more peaceful sandbar experience.

How much does it cost to go to Crab Island? 

The cost to visit Crab Island varies. The price of visiting can be anywhere from free to thousands of dollars. 

If you have your own boat or access to privately owned watercraft you can visit Crab Island for free, or just the cost of boat launch fees and gasoline. 

If you need to pay for boat transportation the price begins at around $50 per person for a 2-hour water taxi, per person. 

The price can shoot up to hundreds or thousands of dollars for a private boat charter or boat rental. 

The cost for a boat rental can often be reduced by sharing it with other passengers. Many boats have a limit of 4-10 passengers, depending on the boat size, license status, and whether a captain drives the boat or not.

Can you swim to Crab Island? 

It is not possible to swim to Crab Island. People have died while trying to swim to Crab Island, it should never be attempted or considered.

There are extremely dangerous and strong currents in the area. Water currents around Crab Island can be strong enough that it can be difficult to remain standing while on the island. 

At times, even grown adults must brace themselves against the current, while planted firmly on the island.

There is also an extremely high amount of boat traffic which makes it dangerous to swim to Crab Island.  

Many boats are operated by reckless and inexperienced boaters. Some may be illegally operating under the influence of alcohol. Swimming in such a dangerous, chaotic environment should never be attempted.

The only way to reach Crab Island is via a safe and suitable watercraft, potentially including kayaks or even SUP paddleboards if the paddler is suitably experienced, fit and is well-prepared to make the trip safely.

Can you get to Crab Island by kayak? 

It is possible to kayak to Crab Island, or even SUP paddleboard, if paddlers are fit enough, experienced enough, and weather and boat traffic are safe enough. 

The distance is not very far, but there can be severe hazards in the form of boat traffic and strong currents.

Anyone who kayaks to Crab Island should ensure that the water currents, weather and boat traffic are safe to navigate in, and that all paddlers are suitably experienced, fit and are prepared for the trip. 

There are sometimes strong tidal flows and currents in the area. Strong currents may be impossible to paddle against, and watercraft may be swept away.

Kayakers and SUP paddle boarders should avoid boat traffic, remain outside of boating channels, and remain aware of their surroundings at all times. Many boaters are inexperienced, and operate recklessly in the area. 

Kayakers and paddlers should also have a plan for securely anchoring their watercraft on the sandbar.

There is a public kayak launch at the Captain Leonard Destin Park, approximately 2,000 feet away from Crab Island, depending on where you measure from.

How far is Crab Island from the beach?

Crab Island is located near several public beaches. The distances vary depending on where you measure from.

  • 2525 feet from Crab Island to the public beach at Norriego Point
  • 850 feet from Santa Rosa Island Beach to Crab Island
  • 2,000 feet from Captain Leonard Destin Park to Crab Island

Who Owns Crab Island?

Crab Island is public land, and is controlled by several jurisdictions

Crab Island is located inside the borders of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and it sits over submerged land which is owned by the State of Florida. Crab Island is also under the jurisdiction of Okaloosa County.

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The waterways and sandbar are patrolled by multiple law enforcement agencies, including the USCG, Florida Fish and Wildlife, Okaloosa County Sheriff

Law enforcement boats patrol the area regularly and issue tickets or even perform arrests for unsafe activity and law breakers.

Problems with Crab Island

The popularity of Crab Island has created serious problems, including boating injuries and deaths, boating DUIs (drunk boating), fights, disturbances, boat fires, medical emergencies, drownings, and more.

Tragically many people have died after diving head-first into shallow water, and breaking their necks. Others have drowned, or nearly drowned, from swimming near Crab Island and being swept away by strong currents

Trash and Pollution

Crab Island receives  a huge number of visitors, especially in the busy season.

With so many people, even small actions add up over time, and can have devastating impacts on the fragile environment.

The large amounts of boats cause damage to underwater seagrass beds with their boat motors and propellers. Seagrass is essential for healthy, clean water. 

Damaged seagrass leads to fewer natural fish, more polluted water, and contributes to problems like harmful algae outbreaks, including red tide.

Be sure to pick up all forms of trash. Don’t put anything into the water, even a small bit. If everyone does it, it will add up to huge amounts of trash in the ocean. 

Be especially careful not to let plastic enter the water.

Is Crab Island Dangerous?

Crab Island is more dangerous than most people realize. Every year people are killed or injured on the sandbar.

The high number of boats on Crab Island creates a severe health and safety hazard. 

Things are often fine until an emergency arises, and then the high number of people, especially drunk people, can create chaos. 

There are many stories of people being swept away by strong currents, or being found floating face-down, unconscious or dead. 

There is a steep ledge and drop-off where Crab Island drops down into deep water. Many people are caught off-guard by this, especially weak swimmers.

Music can often be so loud that screams and emergency distress calls are drowned out by music. 

It is also extremely difficult for first responders to locate a person in distress with so many boats, people and obstacles in the water.

Almost everyone on Crab Island consumes alcohol, often excessively. This creates unsafe conditions in many ways.

Dangerous Weather

Visitors should be aware of the weather, and be on the lookout for pop up thunderstorms, especially in the summer months. 

Especially when hundreds of boats are anchored, sudden storms can cause sudden high winds, driving rain and dangerous chaos if boats are caught unprepared.

Strong Currents

The currents around Crab Island and East Pass can be extremely strong. The currents can be so strong that grown adults must brace themselves against the current to avoid being carried away.

People have been swept away, and dragged away by strong currents in the area.

Kayakers, paddle boarders and other watercraft should also exercise extreme caution, and remember that strong currents, wind and waves may be too strong to paddle against.

Nobody should ever try to swim to Crab Island. 

Boat Injuries and Shallow Water

Some of the greatest dangers on Crab Island include being injured by boats and propellers, and from people diving off of boats into dangerously shallow water. 

Many people have been injured, paralyzed, or killed by these dangres.

Crab Island is extremely shallow in most areas. Visitors should never dive into shallow water, or allow any fellow visitors to dive into shallow water. 

Every year people die from diving into the shallow waters of Crab Island and breaking their necks, or being knocked unconscious and drowning.

One of the most dangerous aspects of Crab Island is the danger from boaters, especially being run over and mangled by a boat propeller.

Boaters should be extremely careful while operating boats, especially around swimmers in the water. 

Boaters should always check the area around the propeller before starting the boat engine, and should use additional spotters to help see swimmers while operating in crowded areas.

Flesh Eating Bacteria

Visitors should also be aware of flesh eating bacteria around Crab Island. 

Several people have contracted flesh eating bacteria at Crab Island over the years, and some have died from their infections. 

Although relatively rare, flesh eating bacteria can cause serious health problems, or even death. 

Visitors should avoid swimming with cuts, open sores or injuries. 

People with compromised immune systems should also consider avoiding the water, and should be sure to check water quality levels before swimming.

Are there sharks on Crab Island? 

There are sharks around Crab Island, the waters around Destin, and all of Florida. Many videos show the presence of sharks on Crab Island.

Most of the sharks on Florida sandbars are small bonnetheads. Hammerhead sharks are also commonly seen, as well as other species. 

Sharks as large as 8-10 feet are often seen near Crab Island.

Sharks are essential for the health of our oceans. Sharks almost never pose a risk to humans, and they often avoid loud commotions and crowded areas. 

Most shark bites are accidental, and most shark bites are not fatal. Basic precautions can be taken to avoid accidental shark bites.

Anchoring at Crab Island

People who operate a boat at Crab Island must know how to handle their boat safely, and how to anchor without causing injury or damage.

Sadly, many people are clueless about anchoring, which creates dangerous situations at Crab Island.

Boaters should plan for their ability to leave. This may be difficult if other boats fill in and surround you. 

Boaters should continually adjust their anchor setup in relation to changing tide, wind and crowding conditions.

Remember that boats swing at anchor, and will change direction when the tide or wind direction shifts. 

Boaters must anchor properly, and consider using a double anchor when appropriate, to avoid swinging at anchor. 

When around swimmers and anchor lines boat motors should always be shut off. Boats should be walked to the final position, rather than driving through crowded areas.

Boaters should be careful around other boats’ anchor lines, and be careful not to let any ropes become entangled in the propeller.

Boaters should remain in control of their boat at all times and ensure that it does not break free and pose a risk to others. 

Boats often have large hulls and surface areas which catch a lot of wind, and can become out of control quickly. Strong currents can also make it difficult or impossible to control a boat.

Boaters should ensure that safety passageways are kept clear for first responders. These areas are marked with white buoys, and are labeled.

Swimmers and walkers on Crab Island should be careful of anchors and other sharp debris which can cut or injure bare feet and legs.

The Best Place to Anchor on Crab Island

The best place to anchor really depends on what you are looking for.

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Knowledgeable local boaters suggest avoiding Crab Island. 

If you do visit, they advise staying up-current of crowds to avoid nasty urine-filled water, and anchoring on the outskirts of the sandbar, in the least crowded section, to ensure your ability to leave.

The areas closer to the coast guard station on the southwest side of the sandbar tend to be less hectic, and more relaxing. 

The middle section of the sandbar is often the most crowded, and can be more of a wild party scene. 

If you want a party, and will visit the sandbar during a live-music event, you may want to be closer to the stage. 

If you don’t want to be in a wild party atmosphere, it’s best to avoid Crab Island altogether on busy days, especially when there are events.

Can you drink on Crab Island? 

You are allowed to drink on Crab Island. 

Regulatory changes prohibit the sale of alcohol on Crab Island, but you are allowed to bring your own alcohol (BYOB) and consume alcohol on the sandbar.

Floating food vendors used to sell alcohol, but are not allowed to after increased regulations and oversight.

A law was unanimously passed in 2018 to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol from floating bars at Crab Island, as well as floating barges which sold alcohol. 

This was in response to an outbreak of emergency 911 calls; many related to excessive alcohol consumption.

Are there bathrooms on Crab Island? The Nasty Truth about Crab Island

Crab Island has a nasty secret. 

Only large commercial tour boats are required to have on-board bathrooms. For everyone else, it is a free-for-all. Most people relieve themselves in the water, surrounded by other people.

You are almost guaranteed to be swimming in pee, literally, or worse.

Many people at Crab Island consume large quantities of beer, which makes people urinate frequently.

Some people have the urge to use the restroom in other ways while at Crab Island, but there are not any restrooms. 

This leads some people to relieve themselves in the water, including “number one” and “number two”. 

This is obviously disgusting for anyone swimming in the area, but it also has a dramatic impact on the local waterways.

Excessive nutrients, like those found in animal and human waste, are terrible for Florida’s water health. 

Excess nutrients are one of the main causes of Florida’s water pollution crisis, and feed harmful algae outbreaks like red tide.

Industrial agriculture is one of the main polluters, along with leaking septic tanks. Direct deposits contribute to the problem.

The Best Times to Visit Crab Island

The best time to visit Crab Island depends on your preference, and how you want to experience Crab Island.

Florida’s weather is intensely hot and humid in the summer, and too cold for swimming in the winter. 

The water is usually too chilly for most people to swim until mid-April, but begins to warm up considerably in late April and May. 

The water remains warm enough to swim until October or November.

Several factors should be considered when choosing a time to visit Crab Island:

  • The tide
  • The things you want to do
  • Your preference and tolerance for hot or cold weather
  • Whether you will bring kids, and their ages
  • Your preferred experience. Do you want party-time, or peace and quiet?

Crab Island is open 24/7 because it is a natural sandbar. Evenings and sunsets are often great times to visit Crab Island, especially to view local fireworks.

The sun is less intense in the morning and evening, when the sun is not directly overhead, and is lower on the horizon. This is also the best time for taking good photos.

Most floating activities and food boats are present during daytime business hours, or when crowds are present.

Note: Vendors at Crab Island are only active from March 1st until October 31st. 

The Correct Tides for Crab Island

The best time to visit Crab Island is on a rising tide, until high slack tide. 

Slack tide is when the tide is in an in-between state, before it starts flooding in, or out. 

So, high slack tide is the period in which the tide is fully high, and has stopped rising, but it has not yet started falling, or flooding back out into the Gulf of Mexico.

During incoming tides clean, clear water floods into the Choctawhatchee Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. 

When the tide is outgoing seagrass and dark, cloudy water from Choctawhatchee Bay reduces the water visibility on Crab Island.

How long to stay on Crab Island

The decision of how long to stay on Crab Island is really a personal one, and is different for everybody. 

The best strategy is to give yourself the freedom to stay as long as you want, but also the freedom to leave when you are ready.

Being on the sandbar can be exhausting, especially in July and August, when Florida’s weather is hot, humid and the sun is most intense.

If you will be on the island in the heat of the day it is especially important to give yourself a good exit strategy, protect yourself from the sun, and to consume large amounts of drinking water.

The length of time you spend on Crab Island will partially depend on how you get to the island. Crab Island boat charters often include a set number of hours, ranging from 2 to 8 hours.

Water taxis and shuttle boats used to bring people to Crab Island and drop them off, but boat taxis are now required to stay on the sandbar with passengers. 

Many water taxis have fixed lengths of time on the island, ranging from 1-8 hours.

Crowds at Crab Island

Do you prefer a high-energy party atmosphere? If so, the best time to visit is during the peak times of spring break, or during summer weekends. 

Summer holidays like Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day are especially high-energy, and can become extremely crowded.

Do you prefer a quieter experience, with peace and quiet to enjoy the beautiful water? 

If so, the best time to visit Crab Island would be during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. Weekdays during these slower months are even more quiet

From April until June and from September until November the weather in Florida is usually warm enough to swim, but the crowds of summer vacationers are lower, and the atmosphere is calmer.

Is Crab Island Family Friendly? 

Crab Island can be family friendly at times, and can be non-family friendly at other times. 

Parents should be aware that vulgar behavior and music are common at Crab Island, especially when the island is crowded.

Some parents feel uncomfortable with the idea of their kids being around rowdy crowds, hoards of drunk people, and the possibility of drunk boaters. 

Boating while drunk is highly illegal, but it still happens. Many people have been injured, or even killed, at Crab Island.

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If you want a calm, family-friendly experience, the best time to go to Crab Island is during the week, when crowds will be at their lowest. Mornings and evenings are also usually much less crowded than afternoons.

Families with young kids may want to avoid the busiest parts of weekends and holidays. Partying can get out of control sometimes, and it may be difficult to leave if your boat gets surrounded by other anchored boats.

Families with kids should also remember that there are a ton of other islands and sandbars near Destin, which all offer great places to anchor and play in crystal clear water.

How Deep is the Water at Crab Island?

The water depth at Crab Island is about 1-5 feet deep in most places. 

The depth can be as shallow as knee-deep, or as deep as 10 feet in other places. The actual depth changes constantly according to the tide.

In general, the water is dangerously shallow on Crab Island. Visitors should be careful and never dive into shallow water. Many people have become injured, paralyzed from head, neck and back injuries on Crab Island. 

Is the water clear on Crab Island?

The water is usually a pretty turquoise color, but water clarity varies. It’s most clear during incoming high tide, when the inlet is flooded with clean water from the Gulf of Mexico.

The water at Crab Island is often more clear during winter months because there is less algae and organic matter in the water, which reduces visibility.

Crab Island Waterpark

On busy days Crab Island turns into a sort of natural waterpark in the ocean. 

There are food boats, floating stages with live music, inflatable obstacle courses, bounce houses, slides and many other activities. 

The spectacle is lovingly called the Redneck Yacht Club, or the Redneck Riviera. It can be clearly seen from Highway 98 and as you drive over the William T. Marler Memorial Bridge to Destin.

In the past there was an actual “Crab Island Waterpark”, which was a semi-permanently anchored series of floats, which remained in place overnight. 

There was controversy in the local community about safety problems and the (arguably) trashy appearance of a carnival anchored in Destin’s beautiful waters.

Now there are floating obstacle courses. They are smaller than the old water park and are inflated, deflated, and removed daily.

Crab Island Boat Rentals Vs. Water Taxi

Renting a boat can be a stressful experience, especially for people who do not have experience driving or handling boats. 

Crab Island can be an especially stressful experience because the boat traffic is so high.

For people who prefer not to rent a boat, there are numerous boat taxi services in the area to ferry passengers out to Crab Island.

The downside to Crab Island water taxis is that they give you less control over your experience, and the time on the sandbar may be reduced. 

Some people may find water taxis to be less fun than chartering or renting their own boat. On the other hand, a water taxi is almost certainly the best choice for most people. 

You will be less stressed, there will be less chance for expensive disasters, and you will be able to spend your time enjoying Crab Island instead of worrying about the boat, or boat damage.

Many people access Crab Island via boat rentals. There are several large boat rental companies in Destin, and some smaller mom and pop boat rental operations. 

Many boat rentals for Crab Island are pontoon boats because they are relatively easy to drive, and carry a large load of passengers. 

Some pontoon boats are double-deckers with an upper level. Some come equipped with waterslides, and other equipment like lilly pads, or floating water mats. 

Some of the most popular boat rentals and water taxis include:

  • Seaventure cruises
  • Crab Island adventure tour
  • Crab Island water taxi

Things To Do On Crab Island

The best things to do on Crab Island are to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery, or party atmosphere, depending on which day you go.

People watching is also amazing on Crab Island, especially later in the day when alcohol begins to take its toll on people’s better judgment. 

There are also many water activities on Crab Island, including:

  • Water trampolines
  • Obstacle course
  • Water slides from boats
  • Large inflatable floats

Many people like to play sports and water games on Crab Island. Some favorites include:

  • SUP Paddle boarding
  • Football
  • Frisbee
  • Water volleyball

There is also a floating stage and event venue, which hosts live music performances on many summer weekends and holidays.

Packing Checklist: Things to Bring to Crab Island

Crab Island is a sandbar located out in the middle of the bay. It can be a hassle to travel back to shore if you forget something. Be sure to bring essentials, including:

  • Waterproof camera
  • Cash, ID and credit card
  • Sun protection
  • Polarized sunglasses
  • Good sunscreen
  • Water toys
  • Water floats
  • Water
  • Food and snacks
  • A good cooler

Many boat rental companies provide gear, including coolers, floating water mats/lilly pads and other equipment.

Can anyone go to Crab Island? 

Anyone can go to Crab Island, without any sort of restriction. Crab Island is open to the public, and can be visited by anyone. The only requirement is some sort of safe boat access to visit the sandbar.

Is Crab Island Worth It?

Many local boaters say that Crab Island is not worth it. 

The area is filled with inexperienced boaters who are often distracted, or even drunk, and are often dangerously clueless about driving boats. 

Inexperienced and inconsiderate boaters at Crab Island may cause damage to your boat, or even physical injury. Deaths occur every year at Crab Island, and emergency responders handle calls to the island frequently.

The area is also often filled with urine, and sometimes even human feces, from people who relieve themselves in the water at the sandbar. 

Crab Island may be “worth it” for people who enjoy the chaotic party atmosphere, but for many other people it is just not worth the hassle, risk or having to deal with obnoxious drunk people.

Alternatives to Crab Island in Destin

There are many beautiful boating destinations and beaches in Destin, and the surrounding area.

Many other spots are equally as beautiful, or more so, and do not have the problems associated with Crab Island.

  • Norriego Point
  • O’steen beach
  • Santa Rosa Island Beach

Photo credit: Corygodar, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons