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Airboat Accidents In Florida

Airboats are shallow, flat-bottomed vessels that are propelled through swamps and marshlands using a caged, fan-like propeller attached to the back of the boat. Airboats were initially used to navigate shallow waters, like those of the Florida Everglades, as a means to hunt and fish. In fact, the first registered airboat was used in South Florida in the 1920s. The fan-propelled vessel can travel in shallow waters where a submerged propeller found on other boats cannot go.

Airboats have become a popular tourist attraction as a way to get up and close to Florida’s diverse animal population located in the Florida Everglades, for example, alligators, egrets, and more. As a result, airboat usage has increased for ecological tours, hunters, and recreationists.

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However, while this industry has increased in popularity, little regulation has been passed to keep safety a top priority. For example, according to The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, there are only two regulations for airboat operators to follow:

  • “The exhaust of every engine used on any airboat operated in Florida must use an automotive-style factory muffler, underwater exhaust, or other manufactured device capable of adequately muffling the sound of the engine exhaust. The use of cutouts or flex pipe as the sole source of muffling is prohibited.”
  • “Airboats must be equipped with a mast or flagpole displaying a flag that is at least 10 feet above the lowest part of the boat. The flag must be square or rectangular, at least 10 inches by 12 inches in size, international orange in color, and displayed so it is visible from any direction.”

Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission

Airboat accidents can happen for a variety of reasons. With little regulation, it is imperative that airboat operators take top safety precautions and know what is going on around them. Especially in marshlands, like swamps and the Florida Everglades, airboat collisions can happen due to blind spots caused by tall sawgrass.

Airboat Accidents Can Be Caused By A Variety Of Factors:

  • Airboats are top-heavy and tricky to maneuver.
  • Airboats can easily swamp (where the boat floods or is otherwise overwhelmed with water) when stopped suddenly.
  • Due to the high speed and lack of safety harnesses, passengers can be ejected from airboats during collisions with objects or other boats.
  • Capsizing
  • Mechanical problems
  • Operator error or negligence – little or no experience driving airboats

Recent Examples Of Airboat Accidents Reported And Investigated By The FWC:

In Seminole County when two airboats collided seven passengers were ejected and three people were left with serious injuries.

In Miami-Dade county, two airboats collided due to driver negligence. Approximately 3 miles into a “safari” type boat ride, popular among tourist, two airboats crashed sending passengers into the water of the Florida Everglades. Water is known to be infested with alligators and boa constrictors. Investigation reports from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and eyewitness reports cited that two airboats were filled with passengers and going too fast. The drivers miscommunicated their turns and the airboat collided side-by-side. 50 people were involved in the airboat accident with 21 of the passengers being sent to local hospitals.

In Belle Glade, a teenager dies after the airboat crash. The Loxahatchee teen was riding on an airboat his father was piloting when the airboat lost control and flipped.

According to a 2019 report by the U.S. Coast Guard, over 600 boating accidents were reported in the State of Florida in 2019 with 62 resulting in loss of life. In South Florida, Miami-Dade is the number one county on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s 2019 boating accident survey for boat-related injuries and accidents. Palm Beach ranks at number four and Broward comes in at number six, out of the top 10 counties in the state of Florida for boating accidents. Additionally, Palm Beach reported 65 airboat accidents in 2019 and Broward also reported 30 airboat accidents in 2019.

Contact a Zimmerman & Frachtman boating accident attorney for a free consultation regarding your claim.

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If you or a loved one has been injured due to an airboat accident, a boating accident or a personal watercraft accident and would like to learn more about your legal rights, please contact us online or call (954) 504-6577 to learn more during a free, confidential consultation.

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