FWC: Florida's had 10 airboat crashes so far this year; here's how to become an airboat captain

There have been at least 10 airboat crashes reported in Florida this year – the most recent on Monday at Wild Florida, where more than a dozen people were taken to the hospital after two airboats on tours crashed into each other.

In 2022, there were a total of 37 reported boating incidents involving airboats, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which accounts for roughly 5% of all boat crashes that year.

FWC keeps track of boat accidents and incidents dating back to at least 2008, which are available on its website

MORE: Wild Florida airboat crash caused several rib, shoulder injuries, 911 calls say

Tours suspended until further notice

In a statement late Monday, Wild Florida confirmed that two of its airboats collided during routine tours and that people on those boats were hurt.

"First, we would like to apologize to all visitors involved and pray for a speedy recovery for all injured parties," a statement on Instagram read.

The attraction said it was cooperating with the U.S. Coast Guard, state and local authorities, and would be conducting an internal investigation to figure out what happened and what caused the boats to crash.

It also announced that all of its airboat tours were "suspended until further notice." 

A note on its website Tuesday read: "Airboat rides at Wild Florida are temporarily unavailable. Our Gator Park and Drive-Thru Safari Park remain open for guests and can be booked online or in person. Please stay tuned to our website for future updates."

How do you become an airboat captain?

In wake of the crash, FOX 35 wanted to know what it takes to become an airboat captain. 

The Florida Legislature passed new regulations in 2018 that required anyone operating a commercial airboat with at least one passenger on board to take a boater safety courses, a first aid course, as well as a third course approved by the FWC. These are the requirements:

  • photographic ID,
  • proof of successful completion of boater safety education or USCG Captain’s license,
  • proof of a commission-approved airboat operator course, and
  • proof of completion of CPR and first aid courses.

Instructor: ‘Alertness is the biggest thing we train for’

There are a dozen companies that offer airboat training courses, according to FWC's website.

FOX 35 spoke with Cutris McKinney, the owner of Camp Holly Airboat Rides in Melbourne, Florida, about what that training look like and the topics it covers.

He said the three-day courses includes one day in the classroom and two days in an airboat on the water.

"It’s very detailed from the book for the practical application for whenever you get into the testing side of it," McKinney said. "It specifies certain things you will do, you will test."

McKinney said the commission only started requiring the additional course within the last few years. He said most who go through training are already well-versed with piloting airboats.

"Alertness is the biggest thing we train for here at our facility," he said. "We sort of run a cycle. We run a circuit. We don’t deviate from our spacing. Most of our boats are run with a specific time between each boat and every boat runs in the same direction."

McKinney said commercial airboating is a small community in Florida with word of Monday’s crash spreading in just a few hours.

"I’m very familiar with Wild Florida," McKinney said. "I even have a couple of their captains that work for me occasionally or work for me full time. They produce good captains. They’re a good company—a very professional company. I have nothing but grief for them based on the situation that they’re in currently."

The U.S. Coast Guard is in charge if inspecting small commercial boats and confirmed to FOX 35 that the both involved in Monday's collision were issued Certificates of Inspection. Those inspections and certificates were not immediately available to release, however, FOX 35 has submitted a public records request to the U.S. Coast Guard to look at them. 

The investigations

The U.S. Coast Guard will be leading the investigation into the crash and what happened. Wild Florida said it would be conducting an internal investigation into the crash and what happened.