An airboat, also known as a fanboat, is a flat-bottomed vessel (jon boat) propelled in a forward direction by an aircraft-type propeller and powered by either an aircraft or automotive engine.
The engine and propeller are enclosed in a protective metal cage that prevents objects, e.g., tree limbs, branches, clothing, beverage containers, passengers, or wildlife, from coming in contact with the whirling propeller, which could cause devastating damage to the vessel and traumatic injury to the operator and passengers. The propeller produces a rearward column of air that propels the airboat forward. Steering is accomplished by forced air passing across vertical rudders. There must be a forceful airflow in order for the vessel to be steered. Airboats do not have brakes and are incapable of traveling in reverse, unless they have a reversible propeller. Stopping and reversing direction are dependent upon good operator/pilot/driver skills.
The operator/pilot/driver and in most instances the passengers, are seated in elevated seats that allow visibility over swamp vegetation. The improved visibility permits the operator and passengers to observe floating objects, stumps and animals in the airboat's path.
The characteristic flat-bottomed design of the airboat, in conjunction with the fact that there are no operating parts below the waterline, permit the vessel to be navigated easily through shallow swamps and marshes; in canals, rivers, and lakes; as well as on frozen lakes. The airboat's design makes it the ideal vessel for flood and ice rescue operations.
Steering the airboat is accomplished by swiveling vertical rudders positioned at the rear (stern) of the vessel. The propeller produces a column of air that produces forward momentum. That column of air passes across the rudders, which are directed through the forward and backward movement of a vertical "stick" located on the operator's left side. The "stick" is attached to the rudders via teleflex cable or linked rods. Overall steering and control is a function of water current, wind, water depth, and propeller thrust.
The sound produced by an airboat's propeller and engine can be loud; the majority of the sound is produced by the propeller. Modern airboat designs and modern technology have significantly reduced the sound that an airboat produces. Modern airboat engines are equipped with mufflers and multi-blade carbon-fiber propellers that greatly reduce the sound emitted by the airboat.
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