Taking an airboat ride is almost a must-do activity when you visit certain states. Although they are available all over the US airboat tours are, arguably, most famous in the Florida Everglades. Seeing amazing wildlife and beautiful scenery are two top reasons to take an airboat ride, but whizzing about on shallow waters at high speeds is also exhilarating and fun. But is taking airboat ride scary?
Airboat rides are fun, exhilarating and even educational but for some people they are a little bit scary. The actual ride on a flat bottom airboat is very comfortable but because the boat travels at what feels like fast speeds, and is capable of turning sharply, it can feel risky to some people. Speeds on an airboat can feel much faster than it does in other types of vehicles because passengers are completely open to the elements which can make the ride feel even more scary.
Are airboat rides suppose to be scary?
Airboat rides exist through the USA. There are some very famous airboat rides available from Alaska to Florida, and everywhere in-between, with arguably the most famous being in the Florida Everglades and the swamps of Louisiana.
An airboat is a very versatile vessel as far as its use in different environments goes. With its ability to navigate shallow water, deep water and it capacity for use on land and on ice, an airboat offers a great way of discovering and investigating a myriad of different types of environments. So, many different types of airboat rides exist.
Airboat tours exist so people can experience the wonders that the local marine environment has to offer and also to educate them on local fauna, wildlife and geology (which is actually a lot more interesting than it sounds). But riding on an airboat isn’t just about experiencing the local environment and learning what it has to offer.
Airboat rides are fast, exhilarating rides with what feel like tight turns and high speeds.
Airboats feel like they are travelling at much higher speeds than they actually are and when they make a turn, the turn feels much tighter than it is in reality. This tends to create a bit of an adrenaline rush in passengers who are not used to it.
How the perception of speed effects the experience
Many people will liken an airboat ride to an amusement ride that is designed to be scary – like a roller-coaster ride. Although I can see why this comparison is made it is somewhat misleading. Airboat rides are exhilarating because they offer a similar adrenaline rush to an amusement ride but these rides differ greatly from each other.
Unlike an a roller-coaster ride, where the vehicle you are in jolts back and forth to add to the excitement, an airboat is acutely very comfortable to ride in. The motion of an airboat is smooth because its flat bottom, shallow draft, hull design allows the boat to get on plane quickly and easily and sit on top of the water. Thus the boat experiences much less resistance and drag from the water and this creates a very smooth riding experience.
Although the type of airboats used in airboat racing can reach very high speeds of up to 130 mph, a commercial airboat used for airboat rides and tours only travels at a top speed of about 30 mph. That may sound like it isn’t that fast but it feels much faster than it actually is.
To anyone who is used to travelling in a road vehicle (which everyone is) 30 mph may not sound very fast and certainly not fast enough to make a trip feel scary. However, you must remember that the feeling of 30 mph in an enclosed vehicle, like a truck, is not the same as the feeling you get when travelling at 30 mph in a vehicle that is open to the wind.
The feeling of speed on an airboat can make the ride feel scary and much more dangerous than it actually is and this feeling is compounded when the boat makes a turn that feels much sharper than it actually is, because an airboat will lurch to one side in the turn.
Even though you will never be travelling at speeds of more than 30 mph on a commercial airboat ride it can feel much, much faster.
Why does speed feel faster on water?
Anyone who has been on an airboat ride will tell you that it feels faster than travelling at an average speed of 70 mph in a car on the highway. Why is this when an airboat can only reach 30 mph?
In an enclosed vehicle, like a car, the only way you experience the speed at which you are travelling is via your sight. By sight alone we judge our speed by how fast we pass stationary objects. Highways are build in open areas and are laid through countryside with very little nearby stationary objects to judge our speed against. This is why travelling at 45 mph in a built-up urban area can feel faster than 80 mph on a highway. The same principle applies on the water. There are more objects close by to judge your speed against. You are also in contact with the wind.
On the water you are in an open vehicle and will experience your speed with more than just one of your senses. You will feel the wind as you travel as this also helps to give an indication of your speed. While in an enclosed road vehicle you do not have the advantage of this sense.
If you are a passenger in a road vehicle and you close your eyes you will be aware of whether the vehicle is moving or is stationary but you will be totally unaware of the speed you are travelling at unless the driver forces the vehicle to take sharp turns and even then you only know if you are traveling fast or slow.
When you are seated in an area that is open to the wind, 30 mph can feel very fast because you are felling the sensation of the movement more, via the wind. When the boat turns you also feel the motion more as your senses can pick up the change in wind direction.
Because the airboat also lurches to one side it can feel like it is travelling faster than it actually is because we are used to road vehicles only lurching when we take a corner too fast.
Creepy crawlers, wild animals and gators add to the fear factor
Speed isn’t the only scary thing on an airboat ride.
As airboat rides tend to take place in wildlife reserves where there are many different types of animals and insects you can expect to meet a least one scary creature. There are lots of crawling creatures in the Everglades and swamp areas where airboat rides are most popular.
Crawling hitch-hikers can get onto an airboat easily and if you are afraid of spiders, like me, then you may get one or two surprises you’ prefer you didn’t. Believe it or not I always check a boat I get on to make sure there are no surprises in it before I ever take off on the water – no matter what boat I’m on.
If you are fine with creepy crawlers then maybe the alligators are the ones that will give you a fright. In many areas where airboat rides take place there are gators and other potentially dangerous animals.
On many airboat tours captains will stop close to areas of known wildlife activity and you will see a range of animals from scorpions, that carry a risk all by themselves, to biting raccoons that could carry rabies.
As long as you are respectable to the wildlife it will leave you alone. As far as the alligators are concerned you only have to worry about them if your airboat flips in gator-infested waters. So, how likely is that to happen?
Are airboat rides safe?
So, you now know that an airboat ride can be scary if you are not used to it. The speed factor alone and sharp turns made by the airboat can make an airboat feel more dangerous than it actually is. Although there is some concern about the risks posed by the wildlife, if you keep your hands to yourself and follow the advice of your airboat captain you will be fine.
But are there other reasons that could make an airboat ride unsafe?
I covered the subject of airboat safety in the post are airboat rides dangerous and I suggest you read that article to put your mind at ease if you intend to take an airboat ride. Although there have been airboat accidents in the past, and even some deaths, both the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and state legislators have taken step to regulate the industry. So these days, authorized airboat rides offered by licensed companies are very safe.
Commercial airboat drivers must take a safety course and then pass a mandatory test before they are allowed to pilot an airboat with passengers onboard. These drivers are not only qualified professionals but they also know their boats inside-out and are very knowledgeable about the areas they boat in. So they know all the local trouble spots or areas with potentially dangerous turns etc.
In short, authorized airboat rides have airboat captains that know how to handle the airboat and the water, to keep you and themselves safe.
Most airboat accidents happen in privately owned boats or on boats that have been hired on a self-drive/self-tour basis where inexperienced tourists operate the airboat themselves. I don’t recommend doing this unless you have experience driving an airboat or are a reasonably cautious person who won’t go gung-ho and try to turn at speed into your boat’s own wake!