Airboat Accidents

Airboats are popular in Florida among eco-tourists, hunters and fishermen. As flat-bottomed vessels pushed forward by an aircraft-type propeller, airboats are ideal for movement through shallow, marshy areas where other types of engines and submerged propellers would make navigation difficult or impossible.

They are especially popular for visitors to the Florida Everglades, though a number of commercial boating companies offer tours in muddy, swampy waters in and around the Fort Myers region. Some of these are relatively small, allowing for two to three passengers, while others offer space for up to 18 passengers.

While such rides can be exhilarating, they can also be extremely dangerous. Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, recognizes the industry is not as regulated as one might hope. Injuries have become increasingly common as companies scramble to meet the demand without properly ensuring every vessel is in good working order and operators are properly trained and using due caution.

The U.S. Coast Guard reports roughly three dozen injuries every year involving airboat passengers, with most of those concentrated in Florida and Louisiana. Deaths are uncommon, but not unheard of, primarily because of the shallower waters in which the boats operate. There were three reported in a recent year.

Some of the recent cases investigated by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) include:

  • A 31-year-old Homosassa woman seriously injured in an airboat accident on the Withlacoochee River. She, a male companion and three children were parked on the riverbed. Her companion, thinking the victim was climbing aboard, cranked the motor. However, she was in fact standing at the rear of the boat and was hit by the three-blade propeller, causing her to suffer injuries classified as life-threatening.
  • A 61-year-old Brevard County man was killed while airboating on the St. John’s River when his boat crashed into a concrete pylon. The retired NASA employee had launched his boat with a group of more than 30 other members of a local airboat association, but they lost sight of him shortly before the crash.
  • A 7-year-old Georgia boy was killed in the St. Johns River after the airboat on which he was riding snagged on the bottom, pitching him forward and over the left side of the boat, which then struck the child. He later died of his injuries at an Orlando hospital.

There have been numerous other instances wherein tree branches get caught in the propeller, causing debris to be flung at passengers, which can not only damage the vessel but cause injury to boat occupants.

In some cases, injuries associated with wild animal contact may not be included in formal airboat accident statistics, but could nonetheless be attributed to operator negligence. For example,  an Everglades airboat captain lost his hand after it was bitten off by an alligator as the man was trying to feed it. While he couldn’t sue himself for his own injury, an FWC spokesperson pointed out that the captain put his six passengers’ lives – two of them young children – at risk with the action he took.

It’s important to note Florida does not require airboats or their captains to carry insurance or undergo background checks.

F.S. 327.391 covers airboat regulations, and the requirements are relatively minimal. It covers the type of exhaust systems the boats must have to adequately muffle the sound of the boat. The law also mandates airboat operators in state waters must ensure the vessel is equipped with a mast or flagpole bearing a flag at least 10 feet high.

They do have to meet Class A and Class 1 safety requirements for recreational vehicles.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection offers an Airboat Safety Manual with suggested safety guidelines for airboat operators and passengers. Some of those tips include:

  • Never get near the propeller.
  • Operators should always be aware of anyone or anything that can come in contact with propeller (including gloves, animals, tools, engine parts, jackets, limbs, etc.).
  • Operators should ensure all appropriate safety equipment is on board, including approved floatation devices, eye and ear protection, first-aid kits, fire extinguishers, drinking water and a cell phone in a water proof case.
  • Operators should recognize weather conditions in Florida can change rapidly. Airboat passengers are at high risk of lightning strikes, wind and fog-related accidents. Operators should use appropriate precautionary measures to avoid these storms.
  • Everyone on board should have adequate drinking water in order to avoid heat stress.

Contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.

Call 800-646-1210 for a Free Consultation

Client Reviews
Bruce L. Scheiner and his team were the most friendly people I've ever met they genuinely cared about me... I highly recommend them Brooke Krause
I was really satisfied with services I received. Bruce is not only an attorney, but like family. He got me three times what I thought I would receive and was always there when I needed an answer on something. I'd say he is the best attorney I have dealt with in my 68 years. Harry Zulauf
I found working with the BLS firm to be a very good experience. They kept me informed on my case, answered all my questions, and were prompt when I needed assistance. Wendy Walker
I was in an accident and BLS was very helpful and gave a lot of support. If I had any questions, it was just a phone call away. Everyone in the office is very nice and helpful. Celeste Thompson
We had a wonderful experience with everyone here. The staff and attorneys were friendly, knowledgeable, and compassionate. They inquired about our injuries and our recovery. I would highly recommend their services! Heather Bair Daniels
I have nothing but good things to say about this law firm. I can honestly say that I am very satisfied with their work and my end results. I would absolutely recommend these set of attorneys to anyone. Thank you guys for all the hard work! Merida McDonald
BLS was incredibly helpful with my case, even during the hard challenging periods of my case Bruce & PJ were always just a call away. Even though they couldn't answer my call at that direct moment, they ALWAYS made a point to call me back. The staff at Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner were always helpful and friendly, if they didn't have the answer they would always call me back with what I needed to know. Robert Drawdy
I was in a car accident and I seen his Advertisement on TV and I was very impressed of how kind and caring he really is to others and I called them and they took my case and they were very caring and understanding .. they were right on top of everything from being to end and the staff that works in the Fort Myers office were very friendly I would recommend them to a friend or family member if in need of a attorney... Thank you for your services and you made me feel like part of your family. Christina Mauro