Why Are Airboats So Expensive?

Expensive airboat

Airboats are synonymous with the Florida Everglades and airboat rides, across America, are popular with both families and individuals. But do you realise that those boats can range in price from $30 k to $450 k? Why are airboats so expensive?

Airboats are so expensive due to multiple factors. The propeller used to push the boat is airplane grade and costly. The boat has a powerful engine which needs to be finely tuned to run at high revs all day and so requires skilled technical staff. The cage requires additional cost and most components are custom made. These boats are not produced in large quantities so the savings from mass production is lost. As the boats are mostly produced in America they have higher production costs. 

Why are airboats so expensive?

Airboat rides may be fairly cheap buy buying an airboat is not. With prices ranging from $32,000 to well above $70,000 for a standard airboat, and boats being sold for as high as $450,000, you may be wondering where on earth all that cost is coming from. And, I wouldn’t blame you.

On the face of things it seems slightly anomalous that an airboat can be so expensive with parts that cost the following:

  • 500 hp crate engine – $7,000.
  • A propeller –  $2,500.
  • Fan cage – $2,000.
  • Rigging hooked-up for the engine and rudder – $700.

How could a boat that has parts worth approximately $12,200 cost from $32,000 all the way up to $420,000?  Surely the rest of the cost isn’t in the hull….is it? Or, is it just pure profit for the manufacturer?

Well, it isn’t either (though hull costs are very high as I’ll cover later).

Let’s take a look at real reasons for the expense of buying one of these watercraft to see the main factors that contribute to the cost of an airboat.

Material and outfitting costs

As outlined above the costs of materials, not including the hull, for an average sized airboat amount to just over $12,000, in some cases much more, but these are not the only materials used in the construction of this unique boat.

There are a lot of intricate details that go into making an airboat work and these small details amount to big costs.

Outfitting an airboat costs a considerable amount of money simply because almost every component, down to the bolts, is custom made for an airboat. As these components are not mass produced they tend to be much more expensive to manufacturer and thus more expensive for airboat manufacturers to buy.

Thus this lack of mass production, on outfitting components, on an airboat expensive will drive up the price of the finished boat.

It also takes time to assemble these components to create a finished boat. As no mass production is in effect many of these components must be assembled and attached by hand making the process both time-consuming and costly.

The hull

Although the hull of an airboat looks pretty basic, slightly resembling a big Jon boat, it is super expensive.

A Teflon hull does not come cheap. For example, a new Robicheaux hull is about $40,000. Even a used one will set you back about $20 K.

Although not all hulls on airboats have this type of high quality these prices do give you some indication of just how costly airboat hulls can be.

Production costs

Airboats are manufactured in first world countries. Although most airboats are made in the United States they are also built in other countries such as Italy, Russia, Finland, Japan and Australia.

As all these countries that produce airboats are in first world regions this tends to keep production costs high.

The majority of American and Canadian bought airboats are made in the United States. So, let’s take a quick look at the typical costs of running an airboat manufacturing facility in the USA to see how that contributes to the raise in cost of a finished boat.

Building, or even buying, a factory in the USA can cost up to $20,000,000. Even smaller, cheaper factories will costs several million dollars.

Most airboat factories will be carrying a long-term expensive mortgage to cover the purchase cost of their manufacturing facility. Mortgage payments on a $20,000,000 commercial property loan can be in excess of $113,000 per month. This does not include the cost of the machinery that is needed to make the factory a functional airboat producer.

Then you have to factor in utility costs. For an average commercial building it will cost $2.10 per square foot for utilities alone.

Now we must include the cost of the workforce.

Although some workers may be merely assembly line staff that still equates to approximately $14 per hour in pay. This does not include medical or vacation pay.

Of course, we must also factor in the cost for the skilled workforce.

Skilled technician costs

Not everyone can turn a car engine into an airboat engine to make it power an airplane propeller.

The engines in airboats may well be compatible with automotive vehicles, and sometimes are actually the same motor, but some fine tuning is involved to get them in shape for airboat use.

When such an engine is in a road vehicle its revs will be regulated by the vehicle’s transmission. This means the revs will seldom, if ever, get above 3,500 rpm. In an airboat that same engine must produce 5000 – 6000 rpm constantly.

To get the engine into a working state where it can handle this type of strain and load put on it, technicians need to do some tinkering with it. Not every engine mechanic is capable of this feat and those who are need to take a considerable amount of time to do the job right.

Time = money.

Expertise = more money.

The technicians who must tune the engines so they can work on an airboat are skilled employees that command a higher pay scale of up to $21 per hour.

And of course, let’s not forget the high government taxes associated with doing business in a first world country.

As you can see production costs can make the overall cost of manufacturing an airboat start to climb quite rapidly and in order to stay profitable a company must pass these costs on to the consumer.

So why not save a lot of money by just buying a used airboat instead of a new one?

Well, they aren’t much cheaper!

Why are used airboats so expensive?

It isn’t just the newer models of airboats that are expensive. Used airboats are also very costly to buy.

Used airboats are so expensive for the same reasons new ones are. It costs a lot of money to produce these boats so their prices when new are very high. This means even a fairly hefty reduction in price for a used airboat still seems to be very expensive. Used airboats are also usually kitted-out with a lot of extras. Additionally, as there is a high demand for used airboats, because new ones are so expensive, this keeps the prices of used models high also.

Used airboats can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

It seems you would be lucky to get a used airboat for less than several thousand dollars.

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