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Sound viewpoints

To those who own airboats, they are objects of love.

Owners think there is no better way to traverse the shallow saltwater coastline and freshwater lakes and rivers than on these screamingly fast, flat-bottomed vessels.

To some people who don't own or care to own one, airboats can be a source of irritation. Noise is the No. 1 issue, though the vessels are not the only boats singled out.

Waterfront property owners include powerboats, water scooters and other marine craft as sources of disturbing noise levels.

Some airboat operators insist on intrusively loud vessels. They do not care to muffle their machines or operate them in a respectful manner when in populated areas.

But respectful operators will go out of their way to reduce the noise created by their boats, sometimes spending extra money to accomplish that goal.

Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has been charged with the difficult task of evaluating and reducing man-made noise levels. Evaluations and recommendations will be presented to the Legislature after forums for public input.

Under the law, operators must have a muffler on them, but that's about it. The law merely says the boat must be "effectively muffled," unless it's in an official race.

Counties also may regulate noise by limiting boats to 90 decibels 50 feet away while in county waters, including the Intracoastal Waterway. That's about equal to the level of a lawn mower or motorcycle.

Violation could mean up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Mike Emrich, owner of Floral City Airboats, says most people think the decibel rule will become state law in the near future.

"We are currently in the process of retrofitting airboats owned by the Southwest Water Management District and the Department of Environmental Protection with state-of-the-art muffling systems," Emrich said.

"As for the 90-decibel rule, we've been building boats to meet those specifications for the past two years, though the statute is not law yet," he said.

Noise levels are emitted from the engines and propellers. There are ways to reduce the sounds. Some can be complex and expensive. Other methods are simple operation techniques.

Where operation is concerned, noise reduction techniques are simple.

Idle away from congested waterfront areas. Give a wide berth to homeowners before throttling up to planning speed. When operating at night, avoid running too close to congested waterfront areas.

On the technical side, adding a quality muffler system will significantly reduce engine noise. The purchase of quieter propellers can be an expensive proposition.

"A good three-blade, composite propeller can set an airboater back $3,000, and there is still more that would need to be done," said Tyler Clasen, a West Coast Airboat Club member.

"Using a gear-reduction box to lower propeller tip speed also decreases noise levels, but the equipment can cost between $2,000 and $2,300. Mufflers are the least expensive part of the equation."

During a recent West Coast Airboat Club meeting, a simple show of hands indicated that 100 percent of the members ran mufflers on their boats.

"We go out of our way to reduce noise levels when operating in heavily populated areas," club president Andy Padova said.

Along the coastline from Port Richey north above the Citrus/Levy county border, there are few areas of densely populated waterfront.

Much of the land will remain wild forever. Purchases using money from Land Preservation 2000 and wildlife preserves have seen to that.

If boaters take an active role in reducing noise perhaps compromises can be made.

Landowners have rights, and so do airboaters. The waterfront is the common bond between these opposing forces.

_ If you have a question or comment, call Mike Scarantino, (352) 683-4868.