DESTIN, Fla. (WKRG) — Marine traffic filled the Destin East Pass the last weekend of May. The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) pulled over 362 boats over the weekend for safety checks.

Captain Fulghum over the East District said the biggest issue for the 2022 holiday weekend was distressed swimmers on Crab Island.

Crab Island is a sand bar that sits between Destin and Okaloosa Island. Every day when the low tide comes in, it takes water from the Choctawhatchee bay out into the Gulf of Mexico, causing a strong current.

The tide shift over Memorial Day weekend was so strong, it pulled 16 swimmers out into trouble on Saturday, May 28.

“We’re having trouble with the currents. The reason for that is that last year the tide wasn’t rolling out as hard in the afternoon,” said Capt. Fulghum. “We had a larger drop in the tide this year during the afternoon, which created the outgoing tide after people had been on Crab Island for a while.”

Capt. Fulghum said the danger is that visitors from out of town don’t know how to swim in strong currents.

“The worst thing that they can do is the natural thing to do and that’s to try and swim against it to get back where you were swept off,” said Capt. Fulghum. “The problem with that is that current is so strong that an Olympic swimmer can’t swim against it. The best thing to do is just to relax and let the current take you. Swim to keep your head above the water until we, Destin Fire, the Coast Guard, or our good Samaritans have the opportunity to rescue you. If you are going to swim, the best thing to do is to swim across the outgoing current so that while it is sweeping you out, you’re moving closer to the shore.”

OCSO works to patrol Crab Island alongside the U.S. Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Capt. Fulghum said Crab Island and the Jetties were hot spots for marine accidents over the weekend.

Arrests for boating under the influence are up this year from 2021 numbers, sitting at 39 as of June 1. Deputies arrested 7 people for BUI’s this holiday.

“Last year we had 12, so they’re pretty close, but we have had an increase in the numbers of BUI’s this year as compared to last year. Last year this time we were around 20-22 or so,” said Capt. Fulghum.

 2022 stand-out numbers from OCSO:

  • 8 assaults 
  • 26 distressed swimmers/one drowning
  • 70 disturbances
  • 52 reckless vehicles
  • 362 vessel stops
  • 50 suspicious activity
  • 25 noise complaints
  • 12 narcotics violations
  • 60 welfare checks
  • 27 thefts
  • 58 K9 assists
  • 10 car burglaries
  • 11 intoxicated drivers
  • 10 missing juveniles
  • 5 distressed boaters
  • 220 traffic stops
  • 33 trespassing
  • 2 road rage

“We love for people to come here but we want them to do it safely,” said Capt. Fulghum. “Please boat safely follow the rules, wear the lifejackets wear your kill switch. Please don’t drink and boat. Definitely don’t drink to the point of intoxication and boat, and understand the environment out there as to how dangerous those currents are. Just because you can swim realize that that you’re not gonna be capable of swimming against a current that strong. Make plans for that and stay away from the edge of the shallows when the tide’s going out.”