Air Boats and Fan Boats Guide

Airboats are very popular in Florida and Louisiana, especially in the Everglades and bayous, but they can be useful in any area with shallow waters, marshlands and swamps. Knowing how to safely operate an airboat (often called fanboat, swamp boat or planeboat) is crucial to safe boating – both for the operator and the passengers on board. There are a lot of unique features of airboats when compared to other types of boats, so those who are interested in owning one themselves have some research to do before making a purchase.

Typical airboats for sale in the United States average between $33,000 to $70,000, depending on the complexity of the design, the components involved and how big the hull and engine are. Despite their high cost, however, airboats remain popular among both civilians and tour operators. Because of the expense involved, many airboat manufacturers sell custom builds so that boaters aren’t paying for anything more than they need.

Airboat in Louisiana Bayou Swamp. Photo: C. Ryan McVinney
Airboat in Louisiana Bayou Swamp. Photo: C. Ryan McVinney

What are Airboats?

A lot of people have seen airboats, or perhaps even taking a swamp tour or eco-tour aboard one of these types of vessels, yet still may not entirely understand how they work. Essentially, an airboat is propelled by a giant fan on the stern of the boat. This large propeller creates a strong wind current that flows past the rudders to allow for steering. What this means is that the best way to control an airboat is to use acceleration to your advantage.

Airboats have a very high center of gravity when compared to other boats. They also lack the floatation abilities of many other types of boats, which makes them more susceptible to sinking or capsizing. Another unique feature of the airboat is that it doesn’t go in reverse. The only way to slow these boats down is to decelerate and then use water displacement and friction.

Airboats are not permitted in all areas, so be sure to check with your local authority regarding airboat laws. There may also be noise regulations that require you to muffle the exhaust of your boat. It’s best to check with your specific state or local boating authority on specific rules before you commit to this purchase. It can be a great choice if you’ve got a good place to enjoy it, of course.

In Florida, airboats have become a huge part of eco-tourism, proving just how much of a place they have and how much fun they can be for people of all ages. As mentioned above, airboats are also known as fan boats, swamp boats, plane boats or bayou boats.

Types of Airboats

Unlike some boat types that have specific models and styles available, airboats are highly customized. Typically, companies that manufacture airboats are smaller operations that assemble custom built-to-order boats based on the available components and parts. There are some standard, “off the shelf” models available on the market for those who want them. The variables in each model will include things like size and capacity, propeller size or power, and engine type.

Airboats are going to include the choice of hull material (usually aluminum or fiberglass), engine type, propeller, and seating. Since these are flat-bottom boats, they typically don’t have consoles or extra features, although custom builds can include a lot of unique accessories. Typically, airboats are also divided into the categories of commercial and leisure/personal use boats.

One unique collection of boats in this family are the mini airboats that are available. These are becoming so popular that enthusiasts started their own Mini Airboat Association, based out of Pennsylvania. Mini airboats are single-passenger boats that are designed for personal use. These boats are often homemade or custom-built with slightly different (less powerful) components than full-size airboats.

Advantages of Airboats

Airboats have a lot of perks to consider. Not only are they more eco-friendly than other boats, but they offer versatility in their function and so much more. Here are the biggest benefits of airboats:

  • Other boats have propellers below the waterline. An airboat has nothing below the water line to disrupt the aquatic environment.
  • You don’t need a launch ramp or slipway to get an airboat in the water.
  • Those who enjoy boating alone don’t need to worry about having a second pair of hands. Airboats can be launched and docked by one person.
  • Airboats use a closed-circuit cooling system similar to a car, which means there are no chemicals dispersed into the water.
  • Hidden rocks, sandbanks, dense vegetation, and other common obstacles are no longer an issue when you’re in an airboat. The flat bottom glides effortlessly across all kinds of obstacles.
  • Airboats are stable enough for people to move about freely without risk of capsizing or falling in the water.
  • The high seating offers premium visibility. This is ideal for hunting and fishing, as well as for search and rescue operations.
  • Airboats are fast, which makes them great for covering larger distances or getting out of dangerous situations quickly. This is another reason they’re popular in the Everglades, where gators are always lurking.
  • Airboats are ideal for ecotourism and conservation efforts.

Airboat Brands and Manufacturers

Diamondback Airboats

Diamondback Airboats was founded in 1989 and has consistently focused on introducing new concepts, products, and designs for the airboat market. The company has always worked to build quality boats with unique designs. Products from this brand are all made in the USA. Diamondback is also known for using 5086 marine-grade aluminum alloys for all hulls on their airboats to offer premium quality and protection. This American company is known worldwide for their airboats, which have been put into use for a variety of functions. Located in Cocoa, Florida, the company has a certified team of mechanics and welders to handle craftsmanship of all of their boats.

Diamondback sells used airboats and parts, along with new airboat parts and accessories to help anyone looking to build their perfect custom airboat. They offer dedicated service to customers from start to finish and can provide pricing over the phone for various parts and components.

American Airboats

American Airboats is known primarily for its commercial-grade, high-performance airboats, made from durable aluminum. They’ve been in business for over 48 years, offering new and used airboats, along with parts and a comprehensive service department. Plus, all of the used airboats that they sell are inspected first to ensure that everything is in good working order.

American Airboats also offers custom builds and has a full gallery of previous builds to show off their options and inspire new designs. They buy and sell all kinds of airboats and components and have some of the best warranties in the industry. Their boats are used for pleasure, search and rescue, law enforcement, environmental functions, and other applications, offering something for just about everyone.

General Airboats Info

Airboats date all the way back to the turn of the 20th century. In 1905, Alexander Graham Bell invented the first airboat while he was testing various propulsion systems. Originally, these were called fan boats, since their propellers looked like giant fans. The actual use of airboats wasn’t seen until 1915 when they were used by the British Army during the Mesopotamian Campaign of World War I.

The first airboat, dubbed the Ugly Duckling, was a catamaran-style boat that had an aerial propeller attached to an aircraft engine that weighed 2,500 pounds. Because of this weight, the boat only reached four miles per hour, but the propeller’s operation gave Bell the idea that if the drag could be eliminated, the vessel could theoretically reach 30 or 40 miles per hour.

In 1907, French brothers and aviation pioneers the Telliers debuted a speedboat that resembled modern airboat designs. This 26-foot long vessel featured an aircraft propeller that was hooked up to a powerful engine and could reach speeds up to 16 miles per hour with up to four passengers. During World War I, the boats were used by British forces and even leading up to World War II, the Soviet Union had airboats enlisted in their own forces due to their ability to traverse ice.

Many militaries around the world still use airboats today, but the majority of this market now caters to civilians, who use the boats for fishing, hunting, tourism, and more.

Bonus History: Despite being popular in U.S. gulf states today, the first airboats were built and used in Canada, and are still used there now.

Modern Airboat Design

Modern airboats are often powered by car engines or aircraft engines, and some models can even be driven across land. Thanks to technology, there are a lot of advances in airboats that make them safer and more useful than ever before.

Modern airboats include hulls that are made of fiberglass or aluminum, depending on which type of terrain they will most frequently encounter. Standard boats are 10 feet in length, but they can be much larger. Tour boats can accommodate up to 18 passengers or more and measure up to 30 feet.

Engines in an airboat will either be air-cooled or water-cooled. They also have the option of 4-cylinder, 6-cylinder, or V8 engines, with horsepower up to 600 hp in the most powerful models. Automotive engines aren’t as expensive to maintain and operate, but there are perks to using aircraft engines for certain applications. Modified airboats available today can even reach speeds of up to 135 miles per hour.

Wrapping Up

Now that you know more about airboats and what they have to offer, you can decide whether or not this is the right boat for your needs. Their unique ability to go places that other boats can’t be combined with the option to custom-build just about any size and style of airboat you can imagine making these popular among people for a variety of uses and boating hobbies. Although some skill is required for driving these boats, it’s a process that anyone can learn. If you’re looking for a fun boat to take into shallow waters, the airboat might be everything that you need.

Airboats FAQs

Are airboats safe to use in the open ocean?

Airboats are designed for use in shallow water, such as marshes and swamps. There are models that have been designed for search and rescue that can handle rougher waters, but an airboat is not a seaworthy vessel and not recommended for use on the ocean.

What’s the biggest airboat? How about the fastest?

As mentioned in the article, modern engines and modifications allow the fastest airboats to go up to 135 miles per hour. The biggest airboat available isn’t one, but a set of twin boats developed for Myakka Wildlife Tours. These boats measure 53 feet in length and 16 feet in width, offering rides from Myakka State Park at regular intervals throughout the day.

What kinds of boating are airboats best-suited for?

Airboats are fairly universal in their function. They can be used for fishing or just enjoying a cruise, or implemented for search and rescue operations, and just about everything in between. These boats are designed to be pretty versatile, so it’s more a question of what they can’t do. Airboats are even designed for use in areas with long periods of ice, allowing for easy transition from ice to water and back again. The unique design of these boats makes them ideal for conditions like ice, sandbars, and shallow waters.

What’s the difference between airboats and other flat boats?

Normal boats are typically propelled by an outboard motor that has a propeller down in the water. There are also some that are steered and propelled manually with oars or paddles. These must also be in the water. An airboat, on the other hand, will be propelled by a motor that sits upon the boat and never actually hits the water. These boats have no mechanical parts underneath, making them good for use on solid ice as much as in shallow waters.

How do airboats do on gas mileage?

Airboats do consume a lot of fuel, simply because of their engines and the amount of power required to propel the fan. The average airboat gets about two miles per gallon. For reference, most other boats get between 3 and 6 miles to the gallon or use about 20-30 gallons per hour.

Written by: Valerie Mellema

Valerie Mellema is a writer, published author and avid bass angler who lives on the shores of Lake Fork in East Texas — the top bass lake in Texas and the fifth in the nation. For the past 10 years, she and her husband have enjoyed the pontoon boat lifestyle while fishing a lake that not only has bass but beautiful wildlife as well. She holds a BS in Agribusiness/Equine Business and regularly contributes articles to, YachtWorld and Boat Trader.


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