Shuttling Sightseers and Shell Hunters

by | Nov 7, 2023 | Online Exclusives, Tourism, Travel

Tate Tucker offers sunset cruises and boat rides to Lea Island with Tuck’s Water Shuttle service.

Tate Tucker traveled the world as a yacht captain for 10 years. Then he came back home to Topsail, where his dad had built their house years before, to operate his own boat shuttling sightseers and shell hunters between the local islands.

Tuck’s Water huttle has been running visitors and residents to Lea Island and around Topsail Island since 2014. Tucker says that it is truly a shuttle service and not a fishing charter or any other type of boat service. He states that it is the “only one that is a pure shuttle to Lea Island.”

Tucker’s shuttle schedule is completely dependent on the weather and the tides. He does not book more than a few days ahead of time, because while the tides may be dependable, the weather in this area is not. “Lea Island shows its best side at low tide,” he says.

Tucks Water Shuttle NC

The shuttle takes about 15 minutes to reach Lea Island, which cannot be accessed any other way than by boat. Typically, Tucker will leave shell hunters and other island visitors at Lea Island for about two hours and then pick them up for the 15-minute ride back to Topsail Beach. His riders may be hunting for the shells that are so abundant there or just enjoying one of the few undeveloped islands in the area. During the shoulder seasons, particularly in the fall, he tends to shuttle a lot of fishermen and campers.

As with many other families in the area, the Marine Corps brought Tucker’s father to the Topsail area initially. The family moved here from Quantico, and Tucker attended Camp Lejeune High School. They spent their summers on the island that he would end up calling home.

Tucker’s boat life began when he was bartending at a local restaurant.

“A guy working on yachts came in and said ‘You’d be good on yachts,’” Tucker says.

Taking him at his word, Tucker went to Ft. Lauderdale and started looking for work. That work took him to the Northeast, through the Panama Canal, into the Caribbean and throughout many other parts of the world for the next 10 years.

Shell Hunters Taxi Tate Tucker

Returning to Topsail, he worked on a charter fishing boat for two to three years. It was an offshore fishing boat and, at one point, the inlet became impassable so the owner sold the boat. Since Tucker had his captain’s license, he decided to launch his own boat service, which would become Tuck’s Shuttle.

Tucker navigates around the many sandbars in the area in a flat-bottom Carolina Skiff with a capacity of six guests. He says his riders are mostly families and that he tries “to keep it affordable so everybody can enjoy it.”

In addition to the shuttle to Lea Island, Tucker also books sunset cruises. Those can be booked in advance, he explains, because “you only get seven a week.”

Keeping his service unique as a pure shuttle is important to him, Tucker says. “Others have fishing boats that can do shuttles and others include trips as part of bigger trips,” he says. He enjoys taking smaller groups and keeping it local, telling his guests about the history of the area on the way out and answering any questions they may have. In particular, as he runs past the Assembly Building, he will tell them about the history of the Bumblebee project and the missile towers.

Water Taxi Topsail NC

Given that Lea Island is a 4-mile, uninhabited barrier island only accessible by boat and is exposed area with no trees, Tucker recommends guests bring sunscreen, a cooler with drinks, a beach bag and a swimsuit. “There will be plenty of exploring and great shelling,” he says.

Tuck’s Water Shuttle is available for trips Monday through Saturday, with sunset trips also available on Sunday. The service generally runs from May through October, with a few possibilities in April, depending on the weather. As Tucker says, “weather and tides are everything.” The best way to schedule is to call Tucker.

Want a ride?
Tuck’s Water Shuttle
636 Channel Boulevard, Topsail Beach
(910) 616-7106

About the author

Pat Fontana

Pat Fontana

I am a business writer and communications workshop leader. My business, WordsWorking, and my recently published book, Talk to Me Like I’m a Human, focus on improving workplace communications, concentrating on the fundamentals of human interactions. I developed, write about and train on the concept of REAL Communications, encouraging others to communicate with Respect and Empathy, paying close Attention and Listening with intent. I can be reached at