Guide wants to bring airboat tours back to Nags Head

By on April 14, 2015

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Jamie Moore of Chesapeake Bay Adventure Tours wants to operate from Causeway Watersports. (chesapeakebayadventure.com)

After an absence of about 15 years, airboat tours may return to Nags Head this summer if a Virginia adventure guide has his way.

Jamie Moore of Chesapeake Bay Adventure Tours in Poquoson, Va. has requested an amendment to the town’s zoning to allow for an airboat rental passenger operation as a conditional use.

The shallow water flat-bottom boats are popular in destinations such as the Florida Everglades and Louisiana bayous, where conventional boats cannot reach many points of interest. Airboats typically run on an aircraft-type propeller and engine.

The Board of Commissioners will consider the request at its May 6 meeting,

Airboat tours were once offered in the Croatan Sound in the 1990s until noise complaints eventually silenced them, said Deputy Town Manager Andy Garmin.

“Basically, the noise became a problem so there was language put in the ordinance to ban them,” he said.

But Moore, who owns the only commercially operated airboat in Virginia, said noise won’t be an issue and airboats provide a look at hard-to-reach areas of local waterways. He hopes to operate out of Causeway Watersports in Nags Head, with pick-up and drop-off points in Manteo. A presentation to the Manteo Board of Commissioners is on Wednesday’s agenda.

Bill Meredith, who died in 2004, ran airboat tours in the 1990s and his family continues to operate Causeway Watersports.
If approved, the amendment would require airboats to use an automotive-style factory muffler, underwater exhaust or other device designed to muffle sound.

Additionally, they would also be required to idle for a minimum of 900 feet from commercial and residential structures before elevating, or “going on plane.”

“The planning board is still concerned about the noise impact, but is willing to give it a shot,” Garmin said.

The use would be allowed under a one-year sunset clause.

Under the proposal, airboat operators must also meet state and federal guidelines for operating the vessels, possess an eco-tourism certification and have a minimum of 200 documented hours of operation time.

“I’d like to start running tours as soon as the weather permits pending final approval,” said Moore, who grew up on the Chesapeake Bay, where four generations of his family have owned and operated a marina.

An airboat, he says, provides different viewing opportunities out on the water. He hopes to provide everything from eco-tours that explore the ecology and culture of the area, build-your-own adventure excursions and fishing and clamming tours. Swamp tours in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge may also be on the horizon, he said.

The airboat operator says he hopes to attract both the local and tourist populations who want to see the water and environment from a new perspective.

“Airboats can go into very shallow water that is hard to navigate with a conventional boat,” said Moore. “They allow you to go into inches of water and see places you would not normally see.”

Airboats typically have raised platforms and elevated viewing. Moore’s boat has seating for up to eight people.

He has been operating airboat tours out of Poquoson for two and a half years and says he hasn’t had any noise complaint to date.

“I am working on a design to make the boat even quieter, too,” he said.

Airboats, he added, are self-contained and do not discharge into the environment.

Moore’s tours typically run for $60 an hour. Prices vary with charters by the half- or full-day. He has also reached out to groups such as Jennette’s Pier and the North Carolina Coastal Federation about possible collaboration.

If approved, airboat operations would only be allowed within the town’s commercial-recreational uses overlay district, which stretches along the bypass from Forbes Street near the old Windmill Point site south across the causeway.


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