Fall Boating on the Emerald Coast
While we are not full-time boating people, we certainly are not immune to the charm of being out on the blue water of the Emerald Coast. Summer boating is full of finding a cove to swim in, tubing and generally just trying to beat the heat. Fall’s (slightly) cooler temperatures shouldn’t deter you from grabbing a boat and hitting the water. In fact, fall is one of our favorite times to head out.
If you are military you can arrange a boat rental through Hurlburt Field Outdoor Recreation or Eglin Outdoor Recreation. In order to rent a boat from Outdoor Recreation you will need a Florida Boating Card. The course is free, but time consuming. We prefer to get a half-day boat rental, as four hours is plenty of time on the water when you don’t plan on swimming for long periods of time.
Regardless of temperature be prepared to protect yourself from the sun. It seems like every time we rent a boat someone ends up sun burnt. It is important to have plenty of sunscreen and remember to reapply. (There are apps that will remind you to reapply based on the current UV index where you are. Alternatively, just set a timer on your phone.)
We opted to start our half-day rental later in the day. This way we could pick up lunch while on the boat, and be out during the heat of the day. If you are looking to minimize sun exposure head out early, otherwise pack sun safe gear and enjoy a bit higher temps with a late afternoon rental.
We start by slowly making our way toward Okaloosa Island from Hurlburt. Most of your dining options are this way. We love looking at all the waterfront houses. On this particular outing we were checking out all the damage from Hurricane Sally, which had passed through a few weeks earlier.
We opted to order ahead at The Gulf on Okaloosa Island. You can dock your boat in front of the restaurant and pick your order up to go. They have great outdoor seating as well, if you prefer to eat in. We like to take ours on the boat to eat. (In non-covid times, The Gulf also offers outdoor movies and concerts.
While Jeff went in to pick up our food the kids played a bit on the beach. There were hermit crabs running around and plenty of shells.
Post lunch, we boated around the bays just checking out the coves and waterfront houses. In the summer we are too busy finding sandy areas to swim and play to really do any exploring or looking. The boys love to look for dolphins and jellyfish, of which there are always plenty.
Post Hurricane. Sally, there were still quite a few shipwrecks out in the bay, and many that were just sitting on shore. They do come out of nowhere making the boating a bit more difficult, but also more interesting.
Our day was full of dolphin sightings. There were so many jellyfish in the water, and the dolphins were having a field day playing and munching on some jellyfish snacks. We made sure to keep our distance, but there isn’t much to stop them from approaching you. This pod was hanging out near Crab Island feasting on whatever the tide was bringing in.
Crab Island is pretty much hopping any day the sun is shining. Due to Covid we bypassed this popular hangout. In the before times though, it’s a great place to just hang out and watch some crazy. The tide can be a bit intense, so you have to watch the kids (they. could float out to the ocean), but it is mostly just a fun place to drop anchor and hang out. There are boats going by with ice cream and drinks, so if you’re looking for a snack this is a good place to stop.
Jetting back from near Destin we kicked the speed boat into full blast and the Littles were a bit chilly. In the fall you want to make sure you have big fluffy blankets to keep everyone warm. The kids happily sit and look when wrapped up and moving fast…or maybe we just couldn’t hear their cries.
Another important reminder – pack plenty of snacks. Yes, we picked up lunch and mainly just ate on this trip, but snacks keep kids occupied. The Little Little largely shuns real meals anyway these days, so a steady supply of plain rice cakes kept him content.
If you find yourself on the Emerald Coast in the fall or winter, don’t be afraid to spend a few hours out on the water. Even with little kids there is plenty to see and be amused by. While we love summer on the water, but we often prefer the more laid back, off-peak boat rental.