Airboat Specialists succeeds with consistent maintenance, highly qualified captains and by saving its clients time and money. By Mark Lawton
Airboat Specialists was inspired by a passion of founder Tate Grossie. “Being a south Louisiana Cajun, boats are his obsession,” says Janet Grossie, co-owner and Tate’s spouse. “He has a love of the water and is a lover of boats. He enjoys fishing, hunting, shrimping and crawfishing. He’s been operating a boat since he was 10.”
Though he worked in a different field, Tate Grossie thought for years about gaining a captain’s license. With his wife’s encouragement, he finally did so in 2007 and the couple started Airboat Specialists.
Airboat Specialists is a wetlands transportation company in Broussard, La., that mostly works for pipeline and oil companies. When these clients have to get into marshland or wetlands to check valves or equipment connected to pipelines, they turn to Airboat Specialists.
Most of Airboat Specialists’ work is done along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Alabama, although it has worked as far away as Montana, Michigan and Delaware. While the name of the business might inspire visions of boats on open water with land only visible through binoculars, the reality is different. Airboat Specialists often has to move people and equipment through tall grass, marshes, swamps, dry ground, mud, dense brush, dirt roads and log jams.
The company has five types of boats that allow it to do this:
- Airboats – A shallow draft boat powered by a huge fan at the back;
- Marsh Master – Resembles a small tractor and typically has four-wheel drive;
- Skiffs with gator tails – Small, narrow boats with a motor or “gator tail” designed for shallow water;
- Deck Boats – Used for hauling groups of people; and
- Responder – A larger boat used for taking people out in deeper water, such as an oil platform.
Airboat Specialists distinguishes itself from the competition in several ways. For example, equipment is checked before it goes out and serviced after each use. Each boat carries spare parts so, if necessary, repairs can be made in the field. “We have never had to abandon a mission,” Grossie says.
The company works to save its clients time and money. “We use Google Earth a lot,” Grossie says. “If we see a different way, [we tell clients] you could get there faster or safer with this piece of equipment.”
Airboat Specialists supplies trained captains for all of its boats. Captains and other employees have an impressive number of certifications including CPR, fall protection, bloodborne pathogens, noise exposure, hazardous communication, rigging and material handling, HAZMAT, HAZWOPER, HAZCOM and ergonomics. Boats have safety equipment on board and the company operates a drug and alcohol program.
Oil and Electrical
Airboat Specialists’ high-profile jobs have included the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill response kept the company busy for about 18 months, transporting crews and supervisors to monitor the spill or work on the cleanup and occasionally taking news media out.
In 2011, an electrical company hired Airboat Specialists to help with security after coastal flooding. “The land was flooded and houses were underwater,” Grossie recalls. “We ran 15 boats day and night. We made sure an electrical pole wasn’t falling or someone wasn’t messing with a powerline. In 2011, we were working the flood and the oil spill, we were crazy [busy] at that time.”
Another time, the company traveled to Delaware to help an electrical company replace poles located in a marsh. The electrical company used a helicopter to move poles while Airboat Specialists used an airboat to bring workers out at water level. “It’s not your normal type of job,” Grossie says of her organization’s work. “My guys love a challenge.”
In early 2018, a company that collects oil samples hired Airboat Specialists. The company had equipment that needed to be mounted on a solid structure. Airboat Specialists modified an airboat and a Marsh Master to support the equipment so the job could be done.
Recently, the company began clearing right-of-ways, trimming grass and removing trees for clients to keep pipelines from being overgrown. “We are getting busier with that,” Grossie says.
For the future, Airboat Specialists aims to continue growing. “We believe our clients deserve the best possible service, that’s why Tate meets with each client personally so that he understands their specific needs,” Grossie says. “We want to keep it a family business and service as many companies as we can.”