Game Warden Evan Franklin and shellfish harvester Chris Green cruise over mudflats in Maquoit Bay in Brunswick Friday. Green’s airboat created sound that registered between 58-96 decibels during a test run. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

Bob Santomenna of Freeport said he’s tired of hearing “dramatically disturbing” airboats travel up and down the Harraseeket River twice a day.

“The worst problem is they follow the tides, which means if they get moving before low tide, that can be very early in the morning,” he said. “It wakes people up. I don’t live on the shore, I live about a block back, but I can hear it from the time they start up at Winslow Park to the time they reach the mudflats.”

Santomenna and other members of Mainers Against Coastal Noise Pollution group are looking to the Legislature to curb the noise. On Monday, a Legislative committee unanimously approved an amended bill that limits airboat noise at 90 decibels from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Airboat noise must drop to 75 decibels from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. However, airboat operators may exceed those limits when accelerating to launch their airboat or free themselves if they get stuck in the mud. State and municipal airboats are exempt from these limits.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70 decibels is about as loud as a washing machine or dishwasher. Lawnmowers and leaf blowers are about 80-85 decibels and 95 decibels is about as loud as a motorcycle.

The temporary bill expires on September 30, 2022. Until then, state representatives say they want a yearlong, in-depth study done on airboats to determine how quiet different kinds of airboats can be in various weather conditions and if equipment can be added to deaden the sound.

The amended bill will move on to the House and Senate for consideration.

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Airboats are small, flat-bottomed boats propelled by a large fan on the vessel’s stern, often used to navigate shallow waters. For that reason, they’re valuable tools for many clammers and others who earn their livelihood on Maine’s mudflats.

But for people like Lolly Garreck of Freeport, also a member of the Mainers Against Coastal Noise Pollution group, the airboats are a nuisance. She said when airboats travel past her house on the Harraseeket River, “It sounds like a helicopter landing.”

“When my daughter was visiting, it woke her baby up inside the house with the windows closed,” she said. “It’s inescapable.”

Brunswick Marine Warden Dan Sylvain said airboats have become attractive to shellfish harvesters because it allows them to glide over mudflats in any weather, regardless of the tide, something they’re not able to do using a skiff.

“If someone goes out in a skiff or canoe, wherever the water ends and the mudflat begins, they’re stuck there with their boat until the tide comes back in,” said Sylvain. “If they land on an area that is nonproductive and they’re not able to harvest any product, they’ll have to walk, and that could be 10 yards, 100 yards or 1,000 yards.”

Walking through mudflats isn’t like walking on dry land, Sylvain said, because “you use your whole body and all your muscles.”

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“The average age of commercial harvesters in Brunswick is somewhere between 48-51,” said Sylvain. “They’re older and have medical issues. A lot of them have back problems and have had hip and knee replacements so they’re not able to walk as far.”

Although they don’t like the noise airboats make, both Santomenna and Garreck said they’re not interested in banning them. Instead, Santomenna said he wants local residents and shellfish harvesters to find “reasonable and rational standards” for how loud airboats can be.

The committee’s decision comes after Inland Fisheries and Wildlife representatives tested the noise levels of an airboat in Maquoit Bay in Brunswick Friday. When loaded with four people to simulate a load of shellfish, the airboat ranged between 58-96 decibels, depending on what the boat was doing, according to Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Deputy Commissioner Tim Peabody.


The airboat was at its noisiest when launching and getting unstuck from mud and its quietest when it was coasting, simulating the harvester looking for a place to stop and dig for clams.

Airboats are uniquely loud compared to other watercraft because of the fan that runs above the water with rudders on the back to steer. Furthermore, it’s controlled almost entirely with the throttle, contributing to its noise output, said Chris Green of Brunswick, shellfish harvester of 30 years who uses an airboat every day.

“It’s like a jet ski,” said Green. “There’s no reverse, you can’t stop, and you have to use the throttle to turn. Throttle is what operates it.”

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Green says he uses an airboat for three main reasons: it gives him access to mudflats he can’t walk to on dry land anymore; it’s easier on his body; and it allows him to leave work quickly in an emergency situation.

A shellfish harvester prepares to launch his airboat in Maquoit Bay in Brunswick Friday. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

“I have someone in my life who has depression and has tried to commit suicide before and I’ve had to leave quickly,” Green said. “I also have a little baby girl who just turned a year old and a son who’s 15.”

Shellfish harvester Blaine Lund of Brunswick said he chooses to use an airboat because it alleviates some of the physical demands of his job.

“If you’re quahogging and dragging in bags of quahogs, each bag weighs 40-50 pounds,” he said. “Dragging in 250-500 pounds of quahogs (on foot) is almost impossible.”

Both Green and Lund said they’re willing to work with residents to find a middle ground that would satisfy residents, but allow them to continue using airboats. However, they agreed more long-term testing on airboats needs to be done before any bills placing restrictions on airboat noise should be made. They said they fear restrictions will be enacted that are impossible for them to comply with.

“They’re trying to jump to a conclusion way too fast and doesn’t give everyone a fair opportunity,” said Lund. “Every boat is a different decibel. You can’t just throw a law out there, especially when this is someone’s livelihood. We’re willing to work with people because we want this to be fair, but we also want to wake up and go to work in the morning.”

Staff writer Thacher Carter contributed to this story.


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