Airboats help make year-round island life possible

For year-round Thousand Islands residents, winter is the cruelest season.
The fair-weather cottagers have long departed, the river freezes over, boats go into storage, darkness comes early and isolation sets in.
If the ice is not thick enough to support snowmobiles – not a problem this past winter – the hardy year-round river people would be cut off from the mainland if it were not for the airboat.
These flat-bottomed amphibious vehicles skim over the water propelled by a large aircraft-like propellor at the back of the boat. Since it has no submerged propellor, it is impervious to ice in the water and it can be used on land, too, sliding across the snow like a kid on a toboggan.
For year-rounder islanders like John and Rosie Hunt, Kevin Hodge and various other Hodges who dot the islands, the airboat is a godsend.
Kevin Hodge, a lifelong islander who grew up on Tar Island and now lives on his private Loon Island with his girlfriend and her bulldog, relies on his airboat to get to the mainland just before and after freeze-up.
“If the ice is bad, you have to have a way to get on and off – you can't just walk,” he said.
Last winter, the freeze came early and stayed late, allowing Hodge to use his snowmobile for his trips to shore, but the airboat was still needed in the weeks before and after the river freeze. And with the milder winters in the past few years, Hodge has used his airboat more and more during the cold months.
Hodge is retired now, but when he worked five days a week on the mainland, he needed reliable transport. His airboat was the answer. He said he likes the airboat for its reliability, safety and comfort.
Hodge built the airboat himself – “If you're going to live on an island, you'd better know how to fix things” – and the boat is covered and heated against the cold.
Like Kevin Hodge, Rosie and Johnny Hunt have lifelong connections to the islands. Rosie grew up on Tar Island, where her father farmed. Johnny was born and raised on Grenadier Island where his father was also a farmer. The Hunts married and lived in Rockport for about four decades, but moved back to Grenadier several years ago. This is their fourth winter on the island.
Rosie said their airboat allows them to break the isolation of wintering on Grenadier.
“It would be hard to live here without an airboat,” she said.
The Hunts use their airboat to go to town – Gananoque or Rockport – at least once a week for groceries, medical appointments and the like. They also use it often in the winter to visit the U.S. or on the weekends simply to go for a ride.
“It's fun,” she said, adding that most of the couple's friends have airboats or snowmobiles, so visits in the winter are easy.
Josh Hodge, who lives with his parents, Jimmy and Angela, on Tar Island year-round, said the family relies on their airboat as a primary means of transportation in the winter.
It beats paddling a rowboat across the river, which is the other option, he said.
Tom Henderson runs Polar Airboats, which manufactures and sells three models of airboats for clients in the Thousand Islands and elsewhere.
He said the history of the airboats in the Thousand Islands dates back to the 1920s when river people used to make their own with airplane propellers and other improvised parts.
Henderson, who is located on Reynolds Road just off Hwy. 401, said today's vessels are built with reinforced hulls to withstand the pounding of the ice. His most popular model is the Sportsman, a 17-footer that carries five passengers in a heated, canopy-covered cabin. It is powered by a 355-hp GM engine and sells for about $55,000. Polar also makes a smaller two-seater airboat, and a larger search-and-rescue model.
Henderson said that in addition to the practicality of having a boat that can go on the river in any weather, the airboats are fun to drive. River people will often use the airboats for weekend runs to Kingston, or for get-togethers with neighbours, Henderson said. Just a few weeks ago, air-boaters gathered for a fish fry on Grenadier, he said.
Fun aside, Rosie Hunt and Kevin Hodge said the airboats allow them to enjoy the tranquility of island life all year round.
“We love the scenery. There's animals, deer and coyotes, everywhere,” Rosie Hunt said. She loves her peaceful walks on the island, while her husband, an avid ice fisherman, can pursue his sport a short walk from his front door.
Kevin Hodge likes the privacy of his private island.
“I'm just far enough from the mainland that I'm not in somebody's backyard,” Hodge said.
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For year-round Thousand Islands residents, winter is the cruelest season.
The fair-weather cottagers have long departed, the river freezes over, boats go into storage, darkness comes early and isolation sets in.
If the ice is not thick enough to support snowmobiles – not a problem this past winter – the hardy year-round river people would be cut off from the mainland if it were not for the airboat.
These flat-bottomed amphibious vehicles skim over the water propelled by a large aircraft-like propellor at the back of the boat. Since it has no submerged propellor, it is impervious to ice in the water and it can be used on land, too, sliding across the snow like a kid on a toboggan.
For year-rounder islanders like John and Rosie Hunt, Kevin Hodge and various other Hodges who dot the islands, the airboat is a godsend.
Kevin Hodge, a lifelong islander who grew up on Tar Island and now lives on his private Loon Island with his girlfriend and her bulldog, relies on his airboat to get to the mainland just before and after freeze-up.
“If the ice is bad, you have to have a way to get on and off – you can't just walk,” he said.
Last winter, the freeze came early and stayed late, allowing Hodge to use his snowmobile for his trips to shore, but the airboat was still needed in the weeks before and after the river freeze. And with the milder winters in the past few years, Hodge has used his airboat more and more during the cold months.
Hodge is retired now, but when he worked five days a week on the mainland, he needed reliable transport. His airboat was the answer. He said he likes the airboat for its reliability, safety and comfort.
Hodge built the airboat himself – “If you're going to live on an island, you'd better know how to fix things” – and the boat is covered and heated against the cold.
Like Kevin Hodge, Rosie and Johnny Hunt have lifelong connections to the islands. Rosie grew up on Tar Island, where her father farmed. Johnny was born and raised on Grenadier Island where his father was also a farmer. The Hunts married and lived in Rockport for about four decades, but moved back to Grenadier several years ago. This is their fourth winter on the island.
Rosie said their airboat allows them to break the isolation of wintering on Grenadier.
“It would be hard to live here without an airboat,” she said.
The Hunts use their airboat to go to town – Gananoque or Rockport – at least once a week for groceries, medical appointments and the like. They also use it often in the winter to visit the U.S. or on the weekends simply to go for a ride.
“It's fun,” she said, adding that most of the couple's friends have airboats or snowmobiles, so visits in the winter are easy.
Josh Hodge, who lives with his parents, Jimmy and Angela, on Tar Island year-round, said the family relies on their airboat as a primary means of transportation in the winter.
It beats paddling a rowboat across the river, which is the other option, he said.
Tom Henderson runs Polar Airboats, which manufactures and sells three models of airboats for clients in the Thousand Islands and elsewhere.
He said the history of the airboats in the Thousand Islands dates back to the 1920s when river people used to make their own with airplane propellers and other improvised parts.
Henderson, who is located on Reynolds Road just off Hwy. 401, said today's vessels are built with reinforced hulls to withstand the pounding of the ice. His most popular model is the Sportsman, a 17-footer that carries five passengers in a heated, canopy-covered cabin. It is powered by a 355-hp GM engine and sells for about $55,000. Polar also makes a smaller two-seater airboat, and a larger search-and-rescue model.
Henderson said that in addition to the practicality of having a boat that can go on the river in any weather, the airboats are fun to drive. River people will often use the airboats for weekend runs to Kingston, or for get-togethers with neighbours, Henderson said. Just a few weeks ago, air-boaters gathered for a fish fry on Grenadier, he said.
Fun aside, Rosie Hunt and Kevin Hodge said the airboats allow them to enjoy the tranquility of island life all year round.
“We love the scenery. There's animals, deer and coyotes, everywhere,” Rosie Hunt said. She loves her peaceful walks on the island, while her husband, an avid ice fisherman, can pursue his sport a short walk from his front door.
Kevin Hodge likes the privacy of his private island.
“I'm just far enough from the mainland that I'm not in somebody's backyard,” Hodge said.
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