Editor’s Note: As part of the “100 days of Summer,” The Log will be exploring Destin and the activities it has to offer during the summer season. This week the featured pastime is pontoons.
When in Destin, visitors and locals alike know the best place to be is on the water. If you don’t own a boat, or know someone with one, the easiest way to spend the day afloat is on a pontoon.
When it comes to pontoon rentals and treating customers with care, Sheri and Chase Andrews have the system down. The mother-son duo who run S.E.A. Chase Watersports are down on the Heron Harbor boardwalk at 8 a.m. every morning preparing their pontoons for a day on the water, and they stay until 8 p.m. most evenings to clean and refuel when the day is done.
“I’m a single mother so it’s just natural for my son to come work with me,” Sheri said of 19-year-old Chase. “This is really his business; he’s a little entrepreneur himself.”
When asked his favorite aspect of working in the family business, Chase swept his arms towards the glittering water and replied, “This is my office. I get to work with my mom and I love it. We’re like best friends; we spend a lot of time together.”
This year marks the fifth year for the water-sports company, and like most the business started out small.
“I’ve grown up in Destin and I’ve always had boats,” said Sheri, who added she moved to the area at age nine. “The problem with having a boat is always having to fight for the ramps, and then finding a place to store it. When I first started, a guy down here said, ‘If you buy a boat and put it in my fleet I’ll split rentals with you.’ So I started with a half a boat.”
The next year Sheri bought the business, and began adding pontoons to the fleet. Today, the company boasts 17 pontoons on the harbor location, and eight on the Choctawhatchee Bay at their sister store, Fudpucker’s Watersports.
Hundreds of pontoons take the water daily in Destin during the summer months, and spotting a particular company’s boat is hard for most, but for Sheri it’s easy, she just has to look for the complimentary paddle board or kayak on the back deck.
“When I got into this business there were a lot of pontoon rentals already,” said Sheri of her reason for adding the extra perk. “I was the only female operator, and I was new. I needed a niche so I started putting a free kayak on my boats. Then when stand-up paddle boards got real popular we started offering those.”
Tara Williams of St. Louis MO, said that it was the added paddle board that drew her family to S.E.A. Chase Watersports.
“We really wanted the paddle board so we researched it and found one that gave us the most bang for our buck,” she said.
Although the bonus water activities are attractive, most S.E.A. Chase patrons said it is the customer service and ease of the rental that keeps them coming back every year.
“It’s been wonderful, every year we come to Destin, we come here,” said Mark Williams of Houston Texas. “They are always really helpful even with tips on what to do around here.”
Felicia Moreschi of Louisville, KY., said it is the welcoming staff that keeps her family repeat customers.
“All the guys that helped us were really friendly and they even offered to carry our stuff for us,” she said.
At 5 p.m., as pontoons began to parade back into the harbor, Chase and two other employees met each with great enthusiasm.
“Wahoo!” called Chase to one of the boats pulling in. “How’re y’all doing?” As the boat came closer to the dock, Chase threw out a joke to the incoming family, “Watch out!” he said, pausing for effect, “For that water,” he finished leaving the family in fits of laughter.
“Chase has a lot of fun with our customers,” said Sheri. “It’s heart-warming to see them so happy when they get off the boat. They are just having a good time.”
There are several places in Destin to rent pontoon boats. Here is a list of some of the rental companies.
Blue Heron Watersports 737-0607
Destin Vacation Boat Rentals 650-2628
Luther’s Pontoon, Waverunner, Kayak Rentals 650-8733
S.E.A. Chase Watersports 607-0071
Dockside Watersports and Parasailing 428-3313
Boogies Watersports 654-4497
Wet-N-Wild Watersports 243-2628
Sunshine Watersports 837-2299
Discount Watersports 654-0099
Aloha Pontoon Watersports 269-3333
La Dolce Vita 1-866-651-1869