Shell Island Boat Rentals and Tours

Frequently Asked Questions:


Q: What is Shell Island?
A: Shell Island is a natural, undeveloped island which lies between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay in Bay County, Panama City Beach, FL. The Shell Island's Beautiful Sand Dunesisland is about seven miles long and anywhere from two hundred yards to three-quarters of a mile across. Shell Island is home to one of the world's highest concentrations of bottle-nosed dolphins. The island's pristine beauty and abundant wildlife make it an enjoyable and exciting way to spend the day. It is filled with tremendous sand dunes, a fresh water swamp, acres of woods and sugar-white sands. Shell Island offers excellent snorkeling, fishing and secluded beaches. There are no facilities or concessions on the island itself.

Q: How many people does a pontoon boat carry?
A: Our pontoon boats are designed to comfortably carry 10 persons regardless of age.

Q: How many people does the 17’ Boston Whaler carry?
A: The 17’ Boston Whaler is designed to safely carry up to 4 adults or maximum of 800lbs.

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Q: I am a novice boater. Can I safely operate a pontoon boat or Boston Whaler?

Shell collecting
A: The Shell Island Boat Rentals’ fleet is made available to novices. However, we recommend novices start with a pontoon boat over a Boston Whaler when becoming familiar with the cruising area and boat operation. Our area is filled with very shallow sandbars, and pontoon boats need much less water to operate in than the Boston Whalers. Should you find your pontoon boat accidentally stuck on a sandbar, you can easily turn off the motor, raise the motor completely up out of the water (as high as it will go), and get off of the boat in order to push it BACK the way you came in - in other words, BACK into deeper water ! A boater should never try to push his or her boat ACROSS a sandbar - you will find this to be impossible! On the other hand, before you realize it a Boston Whaler will likely put you so far up onto the sandbar that you’ll find it very difficult if not impossible to push the boat back to deeper water without assistance from Sea Tow. When renting a boat we explain a map of the area and how to navigate the channel markers and go through the boats with you. We also give you a chart of the area. We thoroughly explain the use of channel markers and how the different colors of the water can indicate depths so that you can better recognize and avoid shallow areas. We then turn the boat over to you and let you bring it back to our shore location. Good news- no docking is ever needed with a pontoon boat! Pontoon boats are easily beached on a calm shore.

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Q: What about snorkeling gear and places to snorkel?
A: Snorkeling gear is available at local dive shops.

All sorts of tropical fish, game fish, sea urchins, and more can be found. Also, encounters with the local friendly dolphins can often happen around St. Andrews Bay. The St. Andrews Bay side of Shell Island offers a great snorkeling adventure. Here you can discover starfish, puffer fish, sea slugs, hermit crabs, blue crabs and stone crabs, spider crabs, schooling bait fish, artificial reefs, sting rays and more! Don’t let some of these creatures’ scary names frighten you--snorkeling in our area is very safe!

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Q: What do you suggest for half-day and full day boat trips in the cruising area?
A: For half-day trips, Shell Island offers access to protected swimming areas--great for snorkeling! Anchoring your boat on the bay side of Shell Island, you’ll find a nice beach area that leads to the Gulf side of Shell Island. Depending on your individual experience, you may still have time to cruise a bit down the bay side of Shell Island and snorkel some grass flats. It only takes 20 minutes to get to a great spot on the bay side of Shell Island.

In addition to these adventures, full day trips allow you to experience more of Shell Island’s bay side. The Anderson Pier area, about 5 miles down Shell Island’s bay side, offers sandy bottom swimming areas and several paths through the sand dunes to the ocean side of the island. This is also the end of Shell Island and as far as boats can go due to the water becoming very shallow. With a full day to explore, you’ll have more time to find your own secluded beaches to enjoy shelling, snorkeling or whatever you like.

Whether you’re renting for the half-day or full day, be sure to bring a packed cooler for refreshments because Shell Island remains undeveloped. Restroom facilities are not on Shell Island.

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Q: Will I see dolphins?

A: Our area is home to the world’s largest population of wild bottle-nosed dolphins. Encountering these beautiful, intelligent creatures is very common in St. Andrews Bay, the pass, and the Gulf of Mexico. Although we do not guarantee dolphin sightings (and no one should make this guarantee since the dolphins are wild and free), your chances are very good- around 80% of our customers report seeing dolphins in the bay. Swimming with the dolphins is a bit more difficult, as they will often move away when humans enter the water. We generally find the chances of swimming with the dolphins is 50/50. No one in our area has ever reported an injury from a dolphin. However, FEEDING/HARASSING/CHASING THE DOLPHINS IS ILLEGAL and we do not condone this at all. Violating these laws is both a state and federal offense.

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Q: What’s the shelling really like on Shell Island?

Beach sand
A: Shell Island has been accurately named! And the rumors are false; no person replenishes the shells on the island. The shells on Shell Island all arrive completely naturally! Sand dollars, moon snails, conch shells, and olive shells are just a few of the shells people find on Shell Island, and there’s no limit to how many you can take for souvenirs. The waves along the seven mile Gulf beach of Shell Island continually uncover and carry in new shells. As the tides rise and then fall, many treasures are left behind just waiting to be discovered! A snorkel and mask are very useful when
A Young Shell Collecter
searching the sand bars along the bay side of Shell Island. Whole sand dollars, for example, are often found in shin to thigh-high water are buried a bit under the sand. Use your hands to sift through the sands in order to find these shells. Keep in mind that sometimes the shells contain living creatures, like hermit crabs and sea slugs. Although there is no law protecting these animals, we do ask that our customers exercise compassion and leave these “shell homes” where you found them. We ask the same for all of the living creatures
Lining up the waverunners
of Shell Island, such as starfish and puffer fish. These creatures need saltwater to live, and there are plenty of non-living souvenirs to take home instead.

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Q: Where does the waverunner tour take you?
A: If you are in search of a thrilling, unique way to see Shell Island, our famous waverunner tour is the way to go! Your adventure begins from the Grand Lagoon bridge on Thomas Drive. Riding your own brand new waverunner, you’ll follow your guide through the Grand Lagoon heading east past the campgrounds of St. Andrews State Park and several marinas and dockside restaurants. Once outside the lagoon, you’re in beautiful St. Andrews Bay. Traveling through St. Andrews Bay Pass, you will round the Jetty Rocks that Waverunnerslead out into the Gulf of Mexico (weather permitting). This is often a stopping point on the tour for dolphin encounters, photos and swimming. Then you’re off again as your guide takes you down the bay side of Shell Island, exploring the many inlets and bays. Zooming right along the coastline, you’ll make your way past snow-white beaches to Land’s End, the best beach for shelling on the island. There, you’ll ride your waverunner right up on the beach and take a short break. You may choose to collect shells, take a swim, or whatever floats your boat. Once you climb back on your waverunner, you can take this opportunity to switch drivers if you wish.

From Land’s End, you will circle Shell Island and continue your adventure up the Gulf side of Shell Island. The last leg of your journey has the sugar sands of the island on your right and the wide open emerald sea to your left. Keep in mind that this is the “generalized” tour plan. Each of our tour guides has his unique “tour style” and may choose to mix this plan up a little. You will likely discover all sorts of interesting wildlife on the tour, such as blue heron, osprey, stingrays, tarpon and of course, dolphins. Whenever dolphins are in sight, the tour will stop in the water with these fun, intelligent creatures. You’re welcome to jump in and swim with the dolphins if you’d like, and this is a great photo opportunity!

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Q: What should I bring for a boat rental or waverunner tour?
A: For boat rentals, a cooler is a must. Remember that there are no concessions on Shell Island, and the sand, sun and water tend to make everyone extra hungry and thirsty! The usual beach equipment (towels, sunscreen, hats) is a great idea as well. Some people bring beach chairs, floats, fishing rods, bait and more. Just be sure to save room on the boat for the people! We DO NOT recommend bringing video cameras, and you may want to consider purchasing a disposable waterproof camera instead of bringing your nice, expensive one. Finally, you will not need money on Shell Island, so we recommend locking your valuables in your car. We can keep your car keys if you like--taking your keys on the boat can be risky since it’s not uncommon to lose them to the surf or sand. If you are over 15 years of age and plan on fishing, you WILL need to purchase a fishing license before you arrive at our location. Remember, there are no restroom facilities on Shell Island, so plan accordingly. AS A SAFETY PRECAUTION, WE ASK CUSTOMERS WITH A CELLULAR PHONE TO BRING IT ALONG FOR THEIR BOAT RENTAL.

No dogs

For waverunner tours, the best rule of thumb is to NOT bring anything that absolutely cannot get wet or jostled around, such as regular cameras or video cameras. Instead, we suggest purchasing a disposable waterproof camera. Most people regret not having a camera when they neglect to bring one. This could be one of the most exciting things you do all year! We also recommend bringing something NON-CARBONATED to drink, as the waverunner ride tends to really “shake things up”. Water and sports drinks are best. A small, soft-sided cooler with a little ice works very well to keep drinks cold. Most people do not bring any food. Be sure to slather on lots of sunscreen and bring some along to repeat application once you’re on Shell Island. Having ONE towel per waverunner is also convenient for wiping eyes, faces and sunglasses. Leave the other towels in the car so you will have clean, dry ones when you return. Plastic grocery bags work well at keeping towels basically dry in the waverunner storage compartments. Most people wear swimsuits and sunglasses on the tour (we recommend securing your sunglasses with a strap if they’re the expensive kind). You WILL get quite wet. Water shoes are great, although most people go barefoot. DO bring shoes to our location since you will have to cross our parking lot on foot. We will keep your shoes safe while you’re on the tour. We do not have lockers, so lock your valuables in your car, and let us hold your car keys. DO NOT take your keys on the waverunner tour; it’s almost guaranteed that you will lose them to the ocean or beach! Finally, hats are very difficult to keep on when you’re doing 40 mph over the water. You can carry hats in the storage compartment if you wish, but wearing them while riding is not recommended.

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