If there is one thing most boaters love to do, it is raft up. A formal definition is “the roping together of a number of small vessels to form a raft-like structure; a social gathering based upon such a structure.” However, over the years the term has come to focus much more on the social aspect rather than the roping together of boats. A raft up is about a destination. It could just as easily be called a party spot where boaters congregate. These pristine locations are usually sandbars or small islands that are only accessible by boat. They are perfect for relaxing, people watching, playing in the water and socializing. From time to time there are organized events, but for the most part it’s just the place to be.
This past year, Florida By Water (floridabywater.com) went in search of the most poplar raft up location in the Sunshine State. Not surprisingly, almost every city has its own special place. Therefore, we picked 10 of the most popular (based on a very unscientific survey) raft up locations for boaters.
Whale Harbor Sand Bar (Islamorada): This sandbar is located just off the marked channel coming into Whale Harbor. It’s a beautiful sandbar with beautiful water. This location can get pretty rowdy at times, so beware; this is not your location if you’re looking for a quiet Saturday afternoon. However, if a party is what you’re looking for, you will be thrilled.
Crab Island (Destin): Locals and vacationers alike hang out at this sandbar. Dozens of boats anchor here on any given day and in average depths of only two feet. It’s an ideal place to park a boat and play in the water. It’s also a great place to catch hermit crabs, hence its name. You’ll also want to catch the Ultimate Chicken Fight Championship held at 2:00 pm on Sundays between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Disappearing Island (Ponce Inlet): During low tide every day, an island appears (and later disappears) as the water recedes at the inlet where Ponce Inlet and New Smyrna almost meet. The sandbar is over ½ mile long and the perfect place to spend a day. Boaters from all over come to play on the pure sandy island. It’s as if it was made for recreational boating! A bonus is you can see the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse from the sandbar.
Peanut Island (Palm Beach): Peanut Island is a great choice for Palm Beach county’s top boating destination. It has a dock, anchorage, designated swimming area, snorkeling, sandbars, picnic areas, restrooms, showers, camping, footpath, museum and even a presidential nuclear bomb shelter! The nearby Lake Worth Inlet floods the area with crystal clear blue water with each incoming tide. Peanut Island got its name from a peanut oil shipping terminal which was supposed to be built nearby. The facilities are second to none.
Ski Island (Merritt Island): Ski Island is located on the Banana River near Port Canaveral. It’s just minutes away from Kelly Park, Harbortown Marina, the Locks and the Barge Canal. This small piece of land turns into a gathering place for boaters on the weekends. Boats in every size, shape, and color pull up to the island or sandbar for their piece of the Jimmy Buffet lifestyle.
Three-Rooker Key (Clearwater): Three-Rooker Bar is not your typical bar because it’s really a small island or sandbar just off the coast of northern Pinellas County. Partying here is the nautical equivalent of tailgating in a parking lot before a football game. Boaters drop anchor and get crazy. It’s crowded and loud on weekends, but the water is Caribbean blue and the sand is white and sugary soft.
Sliver Glen Springs (Lake George): Silver Glen Springs is one of two fresh water springs located off Lake George in Central Florida. You’ll find clean, cool water surrounded by a state park and the Ocala National Forest. This is the perfect destination for snorkeling and relaxing. You’ll find numerous houseboats anchored for the week on any given day. The spring is part of the USDA Forest Service's Silver Glen Springs recreation area. The recreation area is used for swimming, snorkeling, picnicking, fishing and boating. Boating is not allowed in the spring pool, but the spring run is a popular spot for recreational boaters.
Jupiter Sandbar (Jupiter): The popular Loxahatchee River Sandbar in the Jupiter-Tequesta area is a top destination for local boaters. It's conveniently located near the Jupiter Inlet and the Intracoastal Waterway. The sandbar is long, can accommodate hundreds of people and is usually crowded on weekends. Boats begin arriving about three hours before low tide, when the sandbar is covered in a foot or two of water. As the tide leaves, the huge sandbar becomes exposed. The Loxahatchee Sandbar is made up of fine sand and there is some good snorkeling near the sandbar's east end.
Fort George Island (Jacksonville): Located off the Intercoastal Waterway you’ll find this location has the best of both worlds, a sandbar and a private beach. Fort George Island is a state park; however, the sandbar and the beach are only accessible by boat. The destination is rarely overcrowded and is pet friendly.
Haulover Sandbar (North Miami): If you like boats, beer and bikinis, this is a stop for you. The entire Haulover Sandbar is nothing more than a shallow area near the inlet and marina of the same name, but on weekends it becomes something else. Haulover Sandbar is the Margaritaville for the boating crowd. Oh, and it's next to a large, uninhabited island officially called Sandspur, but popularly known as Beer Can Island. People camp, have bonfires and do all sorts of other adventurous things on this sandbar.