The History of Airboat Rides in the Everglades
In the early 1900s, the land that is now protected within the colossal Everglades National Park was considered a worthless swamp. Floridians planned to drain the Everglades in order to develop on it and stimulate economic and population growth. This recognition then sparked the interest and curiosity of many who wanted to further explore the diverse lands and water systems. However, with almost two million acres of shallow, slow moving water filled with ponds, sloughs, seagrass marshes and mangrove forests, the area was especially difficult to navigate. For many years, boat exploration of shallow waters was nearly impossible.
The first ever airboat, the “Ugly Duckling” was built in 1905 by Alexander Graham Bell. Airboats were then introduced to South Florida in the 1920s by Glenn Curtis as an effective way for newcomers to explore the swamplands. Airboats quickly became the most popular way to gain access to the shallow waterways of the Everglades and continue to rule the swamplands today; airboat rides in the Everglades have become a weekend thing to do for locals, and a must-do attraction for tourists.
In many parts of the Everglades, typical boats just won’t work. Outboard engines and standard submerged propellers that are common on boats are impractical in the shallow, swampy waters of the Everglades. Airboats specialize in navigating shallow waters because they glide and slightly hover above the terrain. Airboats are built with flat bottoms, and their propellers are caged on board rather than dragging behind in the water. The flat bottoms do not have any working parts within them, which allows the airboat to glide across multiple surfaces. The caged propellers protect from debris and potential damage. Airboats are built out of fiberglass or aluminum, with a protective coat of polymer. Polymer prevents damage to the bottom of the boat if it should run across hard surfaces, which it often does; airboats do not require deep water to run. Airboats are able to go up to over 100 miles per hour on only a few inches of water, which is what makes the popular Everglades airboat tours so much fun.
Despite the initial plans for development over the Everglades, many early South Florida settlers saw this treasure for what it was and urged for the conservation of the unique environment, and the life it sustained. Everglades National Park was established in 1947, which protects the land and all of the wildlife within a 1.5-million-acre area.
Airboat rides in the Everglades have provided not only a means of transportation across the land but also easier access to hunting and fishing. In consideration to the conservation of Florida's largest wetlands, airboat rides in the Everglades are environmentally friendly and are often used for research and patrol in sensitive areas. Airboat rides in the Everglades remain one of the most popular ways to tour and explore the sub-tropical environment, as they allow for excellent views of wildlife and easy access to shallow waterways.