Vermont State Police acquire new airboats to help with rescues and patrols

The boats, purchased through a federal grant, can be used on ice or water

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WILLISTON — The Vermont State Police has a new tool to help with water and ice rescues, search and recovery operations, and more: a pair of 20-foot airboats.

State police acquired the life-saving vessels entirely through federal grant funding. They are the first of their kind to be owned by the Vermont State Police. The boats are stored at the Williston Barracks but are available year-round for use statewide, from shallow areas of the Connecticut River to ice-covered portions of Lake Champlain, and everywhere in between.

"These pieces of equipment will allow a more efficient response to ice-related emergencies and other calls for service, along with increasing safety for our first responders and the people who need their help," said Capt. Michael Manley, Vermont State Police Special Operations Commander. He added that one key use for the boats will be deploying them instead of sending a diver in a buoyant suit to walk or crawl over ice to reach someone in need of rescue.

Sgt. Trevor Carbo of the Vermont State Police Marine Division sought and received approval to use funding from a federal Recreational Boating Safety Grant to acquire the two airboats. The purchase was put out to bid and ultimately awarded to American Airboat Corp. of Orange, Texas. Each boat cost $75,000, including a trailer, delivery and a day of training in Texas — all covered by the federal grant.

The "Airranger" boats feature a 556-horsepower fan-driven engine system and are defined by the manufacturer as "buoyant, self-propelled, multi-terrain vehicles that depend primarily on air thrust for propulsion." The boats arrived in Vermont in late December.

State police plan to use the airboats in shallow Vermont waterways that are difficult for standard boats to access; in areas where flooding is occurring; and on ice that's too thin to support a person's weight. Search and rescue missions and recovery operations, such as when an individual has fallen through ice, requiring a potentially dangerous search, are instances when state police could deploy the vessels. The airboats can break up ice so that responders can employ side-scanning sonar, reducing the time divers would need to spend in extremely cold water. Crews also would be able to conduct routine patrols using the airboats.

The vessels also would be available to assist neighboring states when appropriate, such as during instances of widespread flooding. Vermont crews already have trained with first-response agencies in Maine, New Hampshire and New York that have similar boats.

Members of the Marine Division will be on hand to demonstrate the capabilities of the airboats next week for members of the media:

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