Airboats are the only safe way to venture into the watery world of swamps, marshes & river deltas.
Safe ? Yes, safe. Airboats are safe – both for the local fauna and flora, and for the guests on board. Airboats are a stable platform and thus provide so much more safety than jon boats, inflatables, canoes or dug-outs like mokoros. Without any moving parts below the waterline, airboats are safe for the aquatic habitat. Vegetation does not get damaged or uprooted by the propeller, and should there ever be a collision with an animal – e.g. a hippo – the animal will not get injured by a water propeller. In fact, in case of a collision, the airboat will simply glide over the obstacle without causing nearly as much injury.
Important to note: Responsibility always remains with the operator – no reckless speeding!
In shallow waters, water-propeller driven vessels get frequently entangled. Though it is possible to lift an outboard engine and pick out bits and pieces of vegetation – its not very much fun to do that every 5 minutes. Besides, it’s causing severe damage not only to the skippers fingers, but to the aquatic flora.
Conventional boats increase turbidity by causing soil and organic particles to become suspended in the water column. Turbidity increases with water traffic and during periods of low water levels. It affects the amount of light available to underwater plants, and may affect fish and aquatic wildlife. In addition to increasing turbidity, excessive use of water propellers may redirect natural water currents. In marshes, channels created by conventional boats effectively alter the surface hydrology: sheet flow becomes channel flow; the severity of the channelization is related to the number of passes.
Advantages offered by airboats are numerous:
- no moving parts below the water line: only minimal impact to the aquatic environment
- airboats have a closed water cooling circuit – like a car. No chemicals are being discharged into the water.
- no slipway or launching ramp required
- helpless in the bush? only one person is enough to launch and land an airboat
- no matter how much water – or no water – the airboat can go anywhere
- an airboat can cross over sandbanks, floating grass islands and dam walls
- hidden rocks can be overcome easily
- dense aquatic vegetation is no obstacle
- an airboat is stable – passengers can move about without risking to tip the boat or fall in the water
- airboats can provide excellent visibility thanks to high seating
- airboats can be very fast – to simply cover distance quickly, or get away from danger. No drifting off into the pod of unhappy hippos…
Ok, and besides all of that: Airboats are fun !
What’s out there ?
Airboats have been around for pretty much a century – the first attempt of an air propeller driven boat appears to have been made by Germans in 1905. And they clearly have as much fun as anyone on a package holiday.
Airboats for tourism have really taken off in the 1960s, in the Everglades of Florida. Some of the early boats were huge, and had simple technology. A big engine, and old wooden aircraft propeller, and off you go. It’s one way to make a living.
Think that’s big? Too much for a comfy ride? wait, there’s more:
It’s more of a tour bus. Hard to imagine what the guys in the back can actually see. It’s got a sun roof – good idea in Florida – and 2 big engines. Not quite the stealthy little craft – but the alligator below doesn’t look very impressed and just alligates along.
Why stop there? What they can do – we can do. Better. Or at least that’s what the folks said at Myakka State Park on the Florida Gulf Coast. And came up with this.
Their air-powered vessels (the “Myakka Maiden” & the “Gator Gal”) venture into the shallow, grassy areas where traditional crafts of such size wouldn’t dare to go. The leisurely ride is safe and smooth. Not really all-terrain vehicles, but well suited to their environment.
Tourism Airboats – Configuration Options
In terms of size and seat configuration, you can do pretty much anything. It really depends on what type of experience you’d like to offer – and what market segment you wish to attract.
For a game lodge, hotel, guest house or any kind of tourism operator, options range from small boats to provide an intimate experience, to the very large ones, with a priority towards income generation.