Sallie Haynes 

Sallie Haynes walked away from the family business to fill her days with excitement and exploration as the owner and captain of Dragon Lady Airboats.


Imagine a day’s work that includes alligators and stargazing!

Sallie puts her Biology degree to work as she shares riveting stories about the local habitat with her charters as they travel through the ecological diversity of the swamps of Southeast Texas, and in this installment of the spotlight series, you can learn how she did it.

Tell us about your background before you decided to become an entrepreneur?

I was born in Rockledge, FL and have been blessed to have grown up in both Florida and Texas. We now reside in Orange, TX. I have been married for 23 years and have an amazing 11-year-old daughter. I am 46 years old, although I claim to have stopped at 33.

How did you make the decision to start your own business?

I had always been a team leader in sports, groups in school, and most everything I did, so much of it just comes naturally. I have also been lucky enough to have older, highly successful friends and mentors that have given me amazing advice and helped set me on the path to entrepreneurship. I knew I was meant to own my own business from early on.


I went to the Florida Institute of Technology to become a Biologist and upon completing that, I moved back to Orange and began working in my family’s business of manufacturing airboats. While I was in college, I started my first business doing pony parties where I brought my horse and pony to birthday parties and gave rides. It helped pay my way through college and gave me a good idea about what goes into owning and operating my own business. From licensing, promoting, insurance, to bookkeeping and so forth.

My entire family are also all entrepreneurs. After 6 years as the GM of the business, my daughter was starting kindergarten and I wanted to be able to spend more time with my family. Work was just consuming too much of me to be the best mother I could be. I came home exhausted every day and didn’t have any time to rejuvenate myself. So, I took a permanent leave of absence, got my Captain’s license, and started my own airboat charter business. I had grown up taking charters even before 1 could drive a car, so the foundation was already set.


What is your business all about?

With the Biology background and the operating skills needed to captain an airboat safely, I knew I could offer something special and work around my family’s schedule. I offer a very educational and exciting airboat adventure through our local swamps. We get to explore hundreds of year-old trails and make new ones, all while learning about the importance of protecting our wildlife and their habitat. We travel places that an ordinary boat cannot go; over land and trees that have fallen, see all kinds of wildlife, and every trip is different.

As I was contemplating leaving the family business, it was a real struggle because I thought that this is where I was supposed to be in life. I was working with my father and brother and because we all “wanted to be the boss”, I knew I needed to make a change

One frustrating day, I felt the presence of God’s hand on my shoulder, He turned me around, and walked me out the door! I didn’t look back! 

So, when people ask me on the boat about how I came to do this job, I give them a great big smile and share my story. God led me to where I am today and drives me every day. If the door opens to share with them about the love from God, I most certainly take the opportunity to let them know the work He has done in my life. 

What aspects of your business do you find the most challenging?

There are always concerns of an engine malfunction that I cannot fix while under charter, and it has happened. It is discouraging if it happens, but my clients have been very understanding and kind about it. I work hard to make sure to do everything preventatively to avoid that situation.

What aspects of your business do you find the most rewarding?

The greatest part of my business is getting to share the beauty of nature with others. Many times, there will be clients that have never seen an alligator or even seen the stars at night because they live in a city.

“When a parent calls me 2 weeks after their trip and lets me know their child/children are STILL talking about how much fun they had and how much they learned…. that is the best.

What is your approach to work/life balance?

It can most certainly be a daunting task to balance work and family life. However, I know that family must come first. Therefore, I make concessions on the business side so that I can be there for my husband and daughter as much as possible.

Having a good teammate (spouse) to do life with also is very important. He knows how much I enjoy working for myself and helps with our daughter as much as he can. They both are very understanding of the joy it brings me and that helps me tremendously.

What do you do to keep your sanity?

On the side, I have 3 horses that I dearly enjoy spending time with, and they help keep me balanced. When I need some “Me” time, I go out to the barn. Whether it is cleaning up behind them, grooming, or riding, it brings me peace. I also do a lot of “God” time. We talk every day and even more when I am struggling to balance life.  He points the way, and I listen. That brings me more peace than anything,

What lessons have you most learned through your journey as a woman entrepreneur?

As a woman entrepreneur, I have learned that nothing is impossible! Set goals, set timelines to meet those goals, and work hard to achieve them. My motto is: Make it Happen! So if it requires a little more work, education, or balancing, just make it happen. Keep going and never quit.

Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart; it is hard work but it is also extremely gratifying when you achieve goals you have set for yourself. When I set out to get my Captain’s license, I was not able to go to the traditional schooling because I would have to leave home for 10 days and travel to Houston. I had a small child to care for and the expense was too great. Therefore, I taught myself what was needed to pass all 5 National exams and attained it on my own. Hah, double-check on the bucket list!

What’s next on the docket for your business growth goals?

I plan to increase the number of boats in my fleet to grow my business over the next 2 years. COVID has certainly slowed down that process, but I will make it happen! I also plan to attain the next level of Captain’s licensing during this timeframe to be able to accommodate larger groups.

Any advice or tips to share with our audience on how “ordinary” women can do extraordinary things?  

I passionately believe that no one is “ordinary”! Each one of us has been given special gifts in life and it is our challenge to look within and become “extraordinary”! Find what drives you, what inspires you, what motivates you, what you genuinely enjoy, then figure out how to turn it into a business. Do not be afraid of hard work and dedication. Anything you want to achieve requires hard work and dedication. I was created to do something special, and I work daily to make it happen. Believe in yourself even when you think no one else does. There is ALWAYS our Creator believing in you because He knows he created you to do great things.




Dragon Lady Airboats has been in operation for 4.5 years.



Dragon Lady Airboats