Airboats are very popular across the USA and across the world. They offer speed and versatility for a wide range of activities but that versatility comes at a cost.
Typically a new commercial airboat will cost from $32,000 for a standard entry-level airboat right up to $420,000. Smaller airboats for private use are sold for as low as $16,000. A used airboat can usually be purchased for a price between $5,000 and $40,000.
- The basics of an airboat
- Why buying an airboat is a great choice
- Some careful considerations before purchasing an airboat
- Is it better to buy a used airboat or buy a new airboat?
- Buying an airboat new
- Price range for new airboat models
- Why are new airboats so expensive?
- Prices for used airboats
- What to look for when purchasing an airboat
- Mini airboat prices
The basics of an airboat
Airboats for the most part utilise the same distinctive design and unique engineering characteristics first introduced by Alexander Graham Bell in 1905 in Nova Scotia, Canada. The unusual and unique design means this type of boat is still remarkable more than a century after its invention.
Not to be confused with RIBs these flat bottomed vessels cut a striking silhouette on waterways due to the distinctive fan-like caged propeller at the back.
The flat bottom design and lack of any mechanical parts below the waterline means these boats can navigate extremely shallow waters and they can do it at high speed. These simple watercraft can achieve speeds of up to 130MPH, exceeding speeds achieved by other equivalently sized vessels.
They also offer a much smoother ride than most other boats because an airboat glides on top of the water rather than slicing through it – like a Jon boat.
The boat is driven by a powerful fan which blast air out the back thus propelling the boat forward. The fan can be turned by the pilot, who is seated just in front of it, for great maneuverability as well as speed.
Why buying an airboat is a great choice
Airboats are a great choice if you plan to navigate shallow waters, marshes, bayous or swamps. Airboats can traverse water that is only a few inches deep.
Favoured by hunters and anglers these vessels offer superior navigation through waterways where a boat with a rudder or propeller below the waterline would be compromised by river banks, tree roots, rocks and other debris or just by the river or lake bed itself.
If you live in an area where the lakes and waterways freeze then you would greatly benefit from owning one of these vessels as they also perform exceptionally well over ice.
Some careful considerations before purchasing an airboat
- Airboats are not suitable for rough water conditions or the open sea due to stability issues created by their flat bottomed hull.
- Airboat training is essential to master the safe handling of this vessel. The majority of accidents with this type of boat are due to pilot error.
- Operator skill is essential as there are no breaks on an airboat unless you have a boat custom fitted with a stopping device or reversible propeller (not normally equipped on airboats).
- Although caged, the fan is dangerous and can injure limbs and digits and will often throw out shrapnel from branches or debris that meet the propellor while in use.
- Due to the shallow draft and flat-bottomed hull airboats carry a raised risk of capsizing. The shallow draft means that if such a boat is not handled or loaded responsibly it will have serious stability issues (much like the stability issues encountered by other flat bottom boat owners).
- Safety equipment such as floatation devices, life jackets and seatbelts should be mandatory investments you make for your airboat.
Is it better to buy a used airboat or buy a new airboat?
When choosing between a new or used airboat it is well worth exploring the entire marketplace to take advantage of the choices of boats on offer that are fit into your budget.
Your first consideration will be whether to purchase a used airboat or take the plunge and invest in a brand new model.
Obviously you will find that your options for boat size and customization/extras will be much greater if you go down the “used” route but there are many great new airboat models available for anyone who is on even the tightest of budgets.
Buying a used model is often a first port of call for many river, swamp and lake mariners especially if it is their first airboat purchase.
Buying used when it’s your first boat allows you to accustomize yourself to this type of vessel to see what you like and don’t like in a boat without having to spend a fortune or be tied-into a specific purchase for the long-term.
Buying a used airboat offers:
More bang for your buck
Of course the used market is likely to be cheaper than buying new and you will enjoy better value for your dollars spent.
Your purchase will also come without the dealers cut and any unnecessary extras you might be lumbered with when buying from a showroom.
Greater buying options
With a variety of forums, niche airboat websites and boating communities as well as classified ads such as Craigslist and the Facebook Marketplace at your fingertips it has never been easier to source a specific airboat make or model. You can also get your hands on models that are no longer available to buy new.
In addition you will have a bigger pool of potential boats to choose from in your budget range as long as you are willing to compromise on age and condition to some degree.
Customization and upgrades
When looking at used models you will often come across customized boats.
Many sellers will have airboats that have been customized and upgraded and these additions will rarely have much of an impact on the price they are asking for the boat. So, you could end up with a very purchase for a fraction of the price it would cost to buy a boat with the similar specs new.
Bountiful online and offline sellers
When it comes to used airboats you will find a lot of sellers of used boats as well as used options available from airboat manufacturers as well.
Buying an airboat new
With the purchase of a new airboat you have the key benefit of being the first owner of a pristine vessel.
In addition, buying a new airboat means your boat will be under warranty, making repairs the responsibility of your dealer as opposed to buying used when you run the risk of making a poor buying decision and being left with a dud.
Purchasing new also offers the opportunity to customise your boat with the latest high quality upgrades and extras direct from the manufacturer and which are therefore perfectly suited to your boat.
Many people also appreciate the service and expertise offered by a dealer as well as the customer service we’ve come to expect after leaving the showroom. This will most likely not be the case if you buy a used boat.
You can also enjoy the most modern materials and up-to-date design when you buy new, though to be fair the design of the airboat has changed very little in the last few decades.
Price range for new airboat models
Whether used or brand new, it seems that airboats are a significant investment.
If an airboat is purchased new from a dealer the price will depend on the brand, the materials and the design specifications of the airboat of your choice, as well as whether you partake of any upgrades or premium customizations and accessories.
Typically the cost of a new commercial airboat will range from $32,000 (such as this Diamondback) right up to $420,000 (like a large 24 foot enclosed American Airboat Corp airboat).
Smaller airboats for private use can be bought considerably cheaper as outlined below.
Why are new airboats so expensive?
New airboats are expensive because they are not mass manufactured like Jon boats and their engines are bigger and more expensive to produce, not to mention the cost of the fan.
An airboat is a niche design vessel that uses an automotive engine and full size propeller for propulsion rather than a typical, and much cheaper, outboard engine.
Almost all parts are handmade with a lot of man-hours going into the manufacture. Outfitting and rigging a new airboat can cost a lot, with details like the essential Teflon or polymer pad on the bottom of the boat being costly.
Airboats are also very often heavily customized thus adding more cost to the purchase price.
Major airboat builders like American Airboats or Diamondback, build their vessels for military, law enforcement and commercial clients that want customization jobs so two boats are rarely exactly the same or rarely cost exactly the same.
Airboat manufacturers also use superior, and thus more expensive, materials such as stainless steel along with high quality motor vehicle engines from manufacturers such as Chevy.
Prices for used airboats
When buying used you can expect to pay much less for an airboat.
Used airboat prices range anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000+.
Purchasing your airboat used will certainly cut down on costs. The price you will pay for a used model will depend on the condition of the boat and fan but the price can often be affected purely by where you look!
The used airboat marketplace is broad and varied hence the wide range in prices. If you look carefully and do your homework you can pick up a very good airboat at a low price.
If guaranteed quality and a good warranty are important for you then an airboat manufacturer will be your best source for a used model. Be aware though that even buying used from a manufacturer can be costly. Some manufacturer-sold used models which are heavily customised can tip the $100,000 mark.
What to look for when purchasing an airboat
Airboats tend to power their propeller using an automotive engine from a car or truck or one that has been specifically build for the purpose but that has the same specs as a car engine.
Before making a purchase decision it is well worth considering which engine will provide the best longevity and performance for your craft. It is important to know that some manufacturers such as Chevy no longer carry a warranty if the engine is placed in an airboat.
The hours on the clock will give a good indication of the level of use a boat has had and whether the engine and propeller will need servicing soon.
Obviously less hours usually means less wear and tear on the engine. However, just as with outboard motors, or even engines in cars and trucks, a motor that has been well looked after will often be a better choice that a younger model that has never been serviced.
Ask to see any servicing documentation the seller has and be sure to visually inspect the engine for signs of wear and tear or damage.
Fabrication and fan
Although you should ensure you assess the condition of the engine before buying you should also consider other parts of the boat.
The propeller and other parts of the boat should also be checked. This is especially important when purchasing a self-built or modified design. A home-built airboat should have every area of it scrutinised.
Be sure to check the base of the boat where teflon or polymer is typically attached to the underside of the hull. These areas are typically going to show the most wear on the vessel.
Give consideration to the fabrication of your flat-bottomed airboat as it is critical to the ongoing safety and performance of your vessel. The construction material also affects repair costs.
Are you purchasing a fibreglass airboat or aluminum-hull airboat – what is the condition of the hull like?
How much will repairs cost based on that particular construction material?
A responsible vendor will always want you to take their vessel on the water, not only to see how the airboat performs but also to advise on safe handling of the boat and to ensure you are properly trained to pilot it.
So, make you you take a test drive!
Extras, accessories and customizations
Look at the extras and customizations you will be getting with your airboat. It is important to know the functionality you will need for your specific needs. For example, anglers will benefit from a good GPS fish finder like this one and plenty of room while additional storage and good seating are always a plus for hunters and recreational users.
Are there airboat electronics you need such as navigational lights or search lights like these?
Mini airboat prices
A mini airboat is substantially cheaper than a full-sized commercial model and are sold for as low as about $16,000.
For example at the time of writing, summer 2019, a Robin 40, from DragonFly boats, 11 footer model sells for just $15,800 while the 12 foot model can be purchased for just $16,800.