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Florida Conservation officers launch effort to ensure airboats follow new rules

'We’re launching a statewide detail'
Posted at 7:23 PM, Aug 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-09 19:25:06-04

APALACHICOLA, Fla. — For the first time in years, a popular Florida tourist activity has new regulations.

This week, Florida Fish and Wildlife officers said they’ll be on the lookout for airboats not following new safety rules, which started last month.

“Our officers will continue to be vigilant and proactive in checking airboat operators. In addition to routine checks, we’re launching a statewide detail to ensure compliance,” said Col. Curtis Brown, director of FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement in a news release. “We cannot overstate that with this popular recreational activity and economic opportunity comes our critical duty to protect boaters on Florida’s waterways.”

All commercial airboat drivers need to have:

  1. Photo ID
  2. Proof of completion of a CPR Course
  3. Proof of completion of a first aid course
  4. Proof they hold a US Coast Guard Captain’s License OR proof of completion of an approved Florida Boating Safety Course
  5. Proof of completion of an approved 24-hour Airboat Operator’s Course. That’s even if they’ve had prior boat safety training.

Those not following the rules could face a hefty fine.

Ten-year airboat captain Larry Covell, who takes Apalachicola tourists out daily, supports the change. That’s even though he wasn’t entirely sure he complied.

“A guy could have all the experience in the world and come up against somebody who hasn’t got any,” Covell said. “It’s not any good if they’re reckless and don’t know what the hell they’re doing.”

Lawmakers put the new safety regulations in place after the death of a Miami grad in 2017. Ellie Goldenburg was killed when the airboat she was riding in flipped, pinning her under the engine. The driver had abruptly stopped to avoid an obstacle.

For those with questions about airboat safety compliance, drivers are asked to call this number to reach Florida's waterway authorities; (850) 488-5600.