Florida is a mass of swamps, lakes and rivers and one of the best ways of getting around in this environment is in an airboat, particularly in the Everglades.
With its flat hull and large pusher airplane propeller on the back an airboat is able to ride over both land and water with minimal impact on the environment. It needs only a fraction of an inch of water under the hull.
If you are staying pretty much anywhere in Florida, particularly in Central or Southern Florida, then one of the most fun things you can do is go on a Florida airboat ride
Riding in an airboat is truly exhilarating. One minute you could be drifting slowly down a creek shrouded in mist and surrounded by tall mangrove and cypress trees festooned with Spanish Moss and the next minute you are speeding along a narrow channel cut through 8 foot high reed beds at 45 mph with the engine racing at full throttle just feet from your ears.
The highlight of our first ride was when the captain shot straight over a bank and then did a 360 degree turn without any warning. The whole experience was a bit like riding a rollercoaster but without all the ups and downs.
Once you are out in the wetlands you should get the opportunity to see a wide range of Florida wildlife in their natural habitat; anything from soft-shelled turtles, bald eagles, numerous water birds such as blue herons, cranes, egrets and anhinga and of course alligators.
Your best chances of seeing an alligator is on one of the night time airboat rides when their eyes are picked up in the light of torches shone into the darkness. Because alligators are cold blooded, they take a while to get going in the mornings particularly during the winter months so you are generally more likely to see them during the afternoons than first thing in the morning.
Most airboat companies require a reservation but some of the larger companies operate every 30 minutes throughout the day and you can often just turn up and ride. If you are planning a night trip then you definitely need to book in advance.
Do’s and Don’ts on Airboat Rides
Don’t try and wear a hat unless it is well secured!
Sunglasses, sunscreen and warm clothing are essential as you are exposed and it can get quite chilly when you are travelling at 40 mph in the open air, particularly early in the morning.
You should be provided with padded ear defenders to cut out some of the noise of the powerful engine driving the airboat’s propellor at the back. Make sure you wear them and that they are properly located particularly on children as the noise of the engine can be very loud and may frighten small children.
Make sure the company is fully licenced and U.S. Coast Guard Approved.
Don’t forget your camera, you never know what you might meet!
Types of Florida airboats
There are really two types of Florida airboat ride, the traditional style small airboats that hold a handful of people, typically up to 6 passengers and the large barge type airboats built specifically for airboat rides that can take as many as 18 to 20 passengers at a time.
Both are fun to ride in but the smaller boats are more manoeuvrable and somehow you just feel more in touch with your surroundings in the traditional style airboats.
In some places you can even rent an airboat and drive it yourself though naturally they are not as fast as the real airboats.
Typical Florida airboat ride prices
Tours can range from 30 minutes up to several hours. Expect to pay around $20 for a 30 minute trip, $30-$40 for a one hour trip and $40-$60 for a 90 minute trip. Children (3–12 years old) generally pay about half the adult rate and under 2s go free.
Self drive rental airboats cost about $30 per hour.
There are a lot of companies competing for business so look out for discount airboat ride coupons in visitor guides and even on the airboat companies own websites.