Airboat tours are one of the most popular ecotourism activities in Central and South Florida. These flat-bottomed vessels are a common means of transportation and recreation in the Everglades and rivers throughout the region. 

Fast and unobtrusive to plants and wildlife, they are used to glide over shallow and swampy terrain where typical outboard engines cannot go. Today, Airboats are primarily used for leisure such as hunting, fishing, and tours, but these unique boats have a long history with origins that date to the early 1900s.

‘The Ugly Duckling’

The first known airboat was developed in 1905 in Nova Scotia by a team led by Alexander Graham Bell. Named “The Ugly Duckling,” this boat tested aircraft engines and prop configurations. A catamaran, raft-like vessel, “The Ugly Duckling” could only reach speeds of 4 miles per hour. 

Several years later, French pioneers made steps toward a modern airboat with their speedboat, La Rapiere II. This vessel, powered by a partially above-water aircraft propeller, used a traditional rudder and reached a speed of 16 miles per hour. 

Airboats and the Military 

In 1915, the British Army used its small, flat-bottomed hydroplaning craft in WWI. These boats had a hull propelled by an aircraft fan, which allowed the vessel to reach speeds of up to 55 miles per hour! 

US Airboat Popularity in the 1920s and 1930s

The 1920s brought the Airboat to Florida. Glenn Curtiss’ vessel, Scooter, was a closed-cabin, six-passenger boat powered by an aircraft engine that could glide over water at 50 miles per hour. Curtiss designed this version of an airboat to help him bow hunt and explore the swamplands of Florida. 

As time passed, other Floridians began crafting their version of an airboat. These homemade vessels were built by those living in the Everglades and designed to navigate through shallow water and swamps. 

Modern Airboats

The modern design you are familiar with evolved through decades of trial-and-error. The open-air, flat bottom design allows the driver to sit in an elevated position with the engine mounted on the back and a cage to protect the propeller. 

Modern airboats are safe and fun! Come discover what they’re all about! Peace River Charters is located in DeSoto County, just a short drive from Sarasota, Venice, North Port, and Myakka City. Reserve your Airboat tour today.