We wanted to check out the airboat tours when we were in Naples,
Florida recently, so we drove south on Highway 4, took a right
onto Highway 29, and a few miles along came to Totch's Island
Boat Tours, just before the bridge to Everglades City. There
are a number of airboat ride companies here, but my wife and
I had a coupon for this one, worth $10 off for each of our fares.
Now, this isn't a bad job if you like to work outdoors and
guide people into the wilderness. Well, the wilderness was filled
with other tour boats at times, but it was still beautiful. Captain
Stan took us around the docks first, to see if he could locate
the Manatees that had been hanging out in the area, and then
we went into the dark narrow tunnels of mangroves, speeding along
in less than a foot of water at times.
It is actually quite a thrill going fast through the narrow
channels, whipping past the tree branches that are a few feet
to either side. At a few places we stopped and the captain told
us about the trees, the alligators, or the numerous broken and
abandoned boats (they are taken into the mangroves for protection
when storms come, and left there if damaged too badly). Totch's
also offers an open water tour that stops at an island they own.
Here's a video of an airboat ride
in Florida (it also provides a good example of what not to do:
don't ever stick your hand in the water to attract alligators):
If you like water and heat and working with people, this could
be the job or business for you. Our airboat tour was about an
hour, and I would guess our captain had about six trips lined
up for him that day. Totch's Island Boat Tours had at
least six captains and boats that we saw.
How Much Can You Make?
It is difficult to find wages in the job listings found online
(and there aren't that many openings). As I write this, in February
2011, one company is advertising that it pays $120 per day, and
the captains keep their tips, but the captain also has to clean
and maintain the boat assigned to him. I suspect that others
are paid less than this, perhaps not much more than $10 per hour
plus tips. In one forum a couple former airboat captains did
say tips are good.
According to salaryexpert.com, boat captains in Naples, Florida
make just $37,000 annually, substantially lower than captains
in other areas (a lot of part-timers?). Wages or salaries for
airboat captains are not specifically mentioned.
To make big money you will want to be the owner of the business
someday, naturally. It is difficult to say what you might make
doing this with a business, but the rates charged to customers
seem to vary widely. We paid less than $80 with taxes for the
two of us for about an hour, and there were three couples on
the boat. A company on the other side of the Everglades, operating
near Fort Lauderdale, advertises their "Intro" package
- their cheapest one - at $350 for a couple, and they primarily
do two-person tours.
Manta.com lists a few airboat tour companies with annual revenues
of over $1 million including one in Everglades City.
Ways to Make More | Related Opportunities
As a captain you have the inside scoop on what works and what
doesn't with customers. This allows you to prepare to someday
open your own tour business, perhaps targeting the desires customers
have expressed but aren't getting fulfilled with the existing
Qualifications / Requirements
In Florida the law requires a coast guard masters license
to captain an airboat for commercial tours, although my perusing
of the forums suggest that some operators do not have this qualification.
An "Inland Guide License" might be sufficient for some
companies, if not entirely within regulations. Ask various operators
what they require in areas where you think you might like to
Take a tour or two to see if you like the working environment
(watch out for alligators and mosquitoes). Then ask a few operators
what their requirements are and start preparing. Ask where some
of their captains trained.
Some companies, like Airboat Safety and Training, in
Lake Wales, Florida , offer safety classes, which might make
you more appealing as a potential employee, even if this is not
a strict requirement or regulation.
Island Tours - This company has airboat tours into the mangroves
and out into more open water to visit Totch's Island.
How to Become a Captain - Though not specifically
about becoming an airboat captain, this articles covers some
of the necessary steps.
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