airboats better than hovercraft

St. Louis County picks Lake Assault for ice rescue airboat

Published: 02 February 2011
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune

The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office (Minnesota, USA) moved to shore up its winter ice rescue capabilities Tuesday by getting permission to buy a new air boat from Lake Assault boat works in Superior.

AFD Ice Angel

Ashland Fire Department airboat “Ice Angel”

The $62,500 craft will be powered by an aircraft-like propeller and able to move on top of ice, ice chunks and water — much the same as the Ashland air boat “Ice Angel,” which made a dramatic ice rescue near Saxon Harbor, Wis., last month.

“This is going to give us incredible, four-season versatility, not just for ice rescues, including broken ice, but for shallow water search and recovery efforts all year,” said Dave Phillips, St. Louis County undersheriff. “We had Ramsey County’s airboat up here to look at and we were going over rocks in two inches of water, and over sandbars … places we could never bring a traditional boat without blowing out a lower unit.”

The County Board’s committee of the whole approved the purchase Tuesday in Duluth.

The new 19-foot welded aluminum alloy airboat will replace two smaller, aging hovercraft the Sheriff’s Office and Volunteer Rescue Squad used for many years but are now selling because of high operation and maintenance costs.

“They broke down a lot,” Phillips said.

It’s the county’s second big purchase in recent months from Lake Assault Boats, the budding boat builder at Superior’s Fraser Shipyards.


In October, the department christened a $98,000 search and rescue boat that will be used to patrol Lake Superior, the Twin Ports harbor and inland lakes. Philips said the county’s first Lake Assault boat, a 23-foot patrol boat, was purchased in 2009 “and we all just fell I love with it. They are so stable. … And having them built so close to us, we can get regular (construction) updates and they are happy to tweak the specs during construction. They are great to work with.”

Lake Assault was founded in 2003 in Elk River, Minn. Fraser purchased the company and moved it to Superior last year. Lake Assault founder Jerry Atherton is now the company’s director of sales and product development.

The company now has nine employees, up from seven last year, and expects to expand from producing six custom boats in 2010 to 15 in 2011.

The new air boat will be kept on a trailer and stationed at the county’s Pike Lake complex outside Duluth.

View Fraser Shipyards in a larger map

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