Hovercraft, The Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) & CE Marks

added by russ on November 3, 2015 at 10:25

We often get asked whether our hovercraft are 'CE' marked or not – the answer isn't quite straightforward, read on to find out.

Background

In the EU, marine vessels sold new by a manufacturer for recreational or pleasure purposes have to conform with Directive 94/25/EC, known as the Recreational Craft Directive, or RCD. This directive sets out the minimum technical and environmental standards for marine vehicles between 2.5m and 24m, ensuring they are 'suitable' for sale within the EU. The RCD was amended in 2003 by Directive 2003/44/EC which brought personal watercraft (ie Jet bikes/Jet skis) into the RCD. The directive also includes marine engines and some components. From January 2016, a new Directive, 2013/53/EU, replaces the current legislation but is basically the same and is aimed at reducing emissions.

 Exclusions

 Below is a list of vessels excluded from the RCD (taken from the RCD text.)

 craft intended solely for racing, including rowing racing boats and training rowing boats labelled as such by the manufacturer; or

 canoe and kayak, gondola or pedalo; or

 sailing surfboard; or

 powered surfboard or other similar powered craft

 original, and individual replica of a historical craft designed before 1950, built predominantly with the original materials and labelled as such by the manufacturer; or

 experimental craft, provided it is not subsequently placed on the Community market; or

 craft built for own use, provided it is not subsequently placed on the Community market during a period of five years; or

 craft specifically intended to be crewed and to carry passengers for commercial purposes, regardless of the number of passengers or

 submersible; or

 air cushion vehicle; or

 hydrofoil.

See it down there second from the bottom? Hovercraft are air-cushion vehicles (ACV.) So, in short – neither we, nor any other manufacturer can CE mark our hovercraft under the RCD, as ACV's are not eligible. Having checked the forthcoming legislation, we can confirm that they remain excluded from the new 2013/53/EU directive as well.

 Options

Two years back, BHC approached the European authorities and opened a dialogue aimed at either including ACV's or allowing us to voluntarily claim compliance and plate our craft accordingly. However, the ACV market is too small to interest Europe and we were refused. So, we looked into other directives, the only one of which seemed at all relevant was the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC. Again, following extensive discussions, the answer was a 'no.'

We lobbied the EU to include ACV's in the new legislation due to the growing market – but as stated above, ACV's remain excluded.

 So where does that leave us?

A number of boat builders have told us that we're lucky that we do not have to comply with the RCD and the inevitable administration that goes with it. However, our ambition for the hovercraft industry is such that we're looking at the big picture and the long term growth of both the industry and our own business. We've certainly lost a few sales over the years due to the fact we cannot claim compliance with the RCD, but generally this has been due to the misunderstanding that the craft should be compliant.

However, with very few exceptions, and in all the main areas of safety, our craft do comply with the standards of the RCD. The only area we may struggle is with the stipulated noise levels, marginal on the Snapper & Marlin but the Coastal-Pro is comfortably within limits.

So what's that CE plate I see on the dashboard then? 

Although – as established – we cannot claim compliance with the RCD, ACV's do still need to comply with the standards of the Electromagnetic Compatibility Directive 2004/108/EC. This directive basically confirms that a product sold within the EU is not causing excessive electromagnetic interference, nor is effected by the same. So, back in 2013, we put our craft through the necessary tests and compiled a conformance file. Following a meeting with Kent Trading Standards, we started to affix a compliance plate to all our craft.

Are BHC craft built to a standard? 

Of course! Back in 2012, we approached the MCA to introduce a set of standards for small hovercraft. Initially rebuffed, we eventually got our way, and together with Griffon Hoverwork of Southampton, we established a manufacturers association and got the MCA to the table to start work on the 'Hovercraft Code of Practice.' Three years, many hours, miles and meetings later and the code is due to be introduced anytime soon (it's currently going through public consultation) and sets out standards for small craft up to 24m in length. It's our fervent hope that the legislation will be adopted by other countries in due course.

All our craft are built to the standards of the HcoP and marked accordingly alongside the conformity statement for 2004/108/EC and this – in truth – is a more relevant build standard than the generic RCD could hope to provide. 

Conclusion

Hopefully, this document will explain what is possible, why hovercraft cannot be CE Marked, what standards BHC craft meet and what we've done to establish the build quality of our products.To the best of our knowledge, BHC manufacture the only hovercraft that conform to any formal standards - at least nobody else claims compliance with the HcoP or 2004/108/EC. We were the company that started the ball rolling to introduce the HcoP, we've discussed voluntary inclusion into the RCD , explored options and as such, we believe our products conform with all existing legislation and exceed the industry standards of the HcoP. 

If you need to know more, do please call us.

Sample Plate

 

 

Carbon Fibre Integrated Hovercraft....no, not really the answer!

added by russ on May 28, 2015 at 10:23

Unfortunately, the days of cross channel 300 ton monster hovercraft are behind us, killed off by many factors - unavailability of engine servicing, increased fuel costs and finally, the end of duty free.

Nowadays, the Russian Navy ZUBR, and the US Marine LCAC's operate the world's largest hovercraft. Here in the UK, the Hovertravel AP1-88 flies the flag for the largest craft in the UK.

Down at the ‘other end’ of the scale, our original single seat ‘Snapper’ of 1998 now has a larger sibling in the shape of the Coastal-Pro, a 3-4 seat commercial craft which has been selling well to people who need a practical, safe and effective hovercraft for such uses as transport on frozen rivers, through tidal estuaries and over mudflats.

The biggest difference between the Coastal-Pro and our earlier hovercraft (the Marlin, Snapper and Mark One Coastal-Pro) is that it uses a separate lift system, which is controlled independently from the thrust system. Our smaller hovercraft use just one engine to give both lift and thrust, a system which works really well on smaller hovercraft but is redundant by the time the craft gets to 3 seats/4m or so. The Coastal-Pro is the first of these twin-engined hovercraft from BHC, but larger ones will follow.

 

As a result the Coastal-Pro can lift over 300kgs from a dead-start on water, and carry considerably more on land or over water without needing to stop. The earlier craft without he separate lift engine displayed some shortcomings in this area, which is why the  new Coastal-Pro was born. Quite simply, larger hovercraft don’t work with a single engine and fan.

Interestingly, one company has recently released an integrated 5m hovercraft built from Carbon Fibre which they claim is capable of seating (variously!) seven to nine people or an astonishing half-tone payload – from a water start, this is a hovercraft’s biggest challenge. Of course, none of the videos actually show it doing so with 7 people on board (just big cardboard boxes in the back full of what I wonder? Air?) If you have a desire to never hear again, take a look at a video of it in action (WARNING : HEARING DAMAGE VERY LIKELY!) VIDEO

The whole design concept of a 7 seat integrated hovercraft is simply wrong. It’s a fundamental design flaw akin to building a 400bhp three wheel Ferrari or an aeroplane with one wing. This particular example is powered by a 120bhp turbocharged engine – huge complexity and noise levels fit to burst eardrums (this, from our analysis is around 96dbA at 25m, loud even for a racinghovercraft!) A carbon fibre hull is space rocket technology stuff, sure. But in hovercraft use, it’s brittle and shatters quite easily, a more useful design would be to back it up with Kevlar (something we and many others have learned from racing hovercraft over the years of competition) – on its own, it’s a poor choice.

The problems can be seen quite clearly on the promo videos, the integrated design means very poor hover height, the hovercraft never truly hovers which means the skirt is dragging and will wear out in no time. Worst case, poor hovering can mean it will catch the ground travelling sideways and stop dead or flip over…ouch!

You cannot simply ‘’scale up’ small hovercraft and expect them to work as well – there has to be limits, and this one’s been crossed - and here's the result.

Meanwhile...put your fingers in your ears, turn down the volume on your PC and and play THIS VIDEO!

Take a look at this photo - wow! No words needed!

 

 

The bottom line is that despite being a much smaller hovercraft, our Coastal-Pro (all 65bhp of it) will outperform this 5m, 120bhp offering. It’s around 1/3rd of the noise level, three times as economical, carries just as much payload, is easier to drive, more reliable (seriously – a turbocharger and extensive electronics in a saltwater environment???) – oh, and much prettier! :-)

All those years of R&D, racing, cruising, commercial work and using our own craft in every conceivable environment have given The british Hovercraft Company unmatched experience in the design and production of real, working hovercraft. No bull, no wild figures, no opinion – we’re proud to say our hovercraft perform exactly as promised in our literature and on this website

By all means, try out other hovercraft brands – then come along to us for a demo, we’ll be happy to see you and demonstrate the advantages of a clear design philosophy.

For demonstrations, please call us on 01304 619820

 

 

Quiet Hovercraft! Our Coastal-Pro Noise Test Results.

added by Emma on January 26, 2015 at 05:52

Noise is the biggest challenge faced by hovercraft designers and builders. In the last year we've been conducting a significant project to develop new, more quiet hovercraft, and the Coastal-Pro is the first to benefit from the results.

Much of the credit for this work must go to Keith Oakley. Keith has been involved with hovercraft as a passionate enthusiast for a very long time and over the last few years has tested over 150 hovercraft for their noise signatures. Using the information gained from this, we've worked together to improve noise levels using his knowledge together with our experience and engineering facilities. Keith's work is hugely respected within the hovercraft community - what he wants to achieve is a greater acceptance for hovercraft in both commercial and recreational applications, and to have him working so closely with us to achieve this is a fabulous opportunity for us. Basically (without giving away commercial secrets!) there are about ten significant factors which are responsible for the noise. Some improvements are fairly straightforward and generally understood  such as bigger ducts and slower fans. But Keith's research has also identified some more subtle factors which when addressed as part of an overall design,  contribute significant reductions in overall noise levels.  

We knew the Coastal-Pro was good but we had only had a chance to run some rough tests. What we were keen to do was to thoroughly test it for 'flyby' noise - the most relevant test for a dynamic machine (as opposed to a static test) but had to wait for a calm day without wind to skew the results.

The outcome was extremely satisfying. After averaging three runs, maximum noise at full power measured at 25m was 78dbA. However, at cruising speed (approximately 20 knots) the noise was just 74dbA. This is way down on traditional hovercraft noise levels and we believe it is demonstrably the quietest commercially built hovercraft available anywhere in Europe. In real terms, if you're standing on a river bank and a Coastal-Pro passes by, the noise simply isn't unacceptable or offensive.

This is just the first application of the project results to our range of craft, and in some ways the easiest to apply. But our 'crusade' continues, and we promise more results in due course. Make sure you 'like' our Facebook page and you'll be the first to hear about them!

HOVERCRAFT OPERATIONS ON THE RIVER MERSEY

added by russ on December 18, 2014 at 12:06

Those of you that see the updates on our Facebook page may have noticed that we have been busy providing crew transfer services on the Mersey Gateway project, a £600m six-lane motorway bridge over the Mersey linking Widnes & Runcorn in Cheshire.

This has been a very significant job for us, as it’s the first time that a small hovercraft has been used commercially under the terms of the 2014 Hovercraft Code of Practice. The 2014 Coastal-Pro MACV is designed and built to comply with the code, and all correct certification for skippers and the hovercraft are correct. As you can imagine, our risk assessments, method statements and plans had to be right up to scratch with all relevant permissions gained from the MCA, port authourity etc

The work has certainly been tough! Our job is to transfer the engineers and welders to and from the various barges and work sites, and with the river at Widnes being so tidal, the craft must be able to operate over both water and sand/mudflats. The tidal bore can be quite something, with the tide rising in a little over two hours. Having said that, the mud bank doesn’t always cover at all, so that after a week drying due to neap tides, the mud becomes extremely sticky. On the flooding or ebbing tide, coming alongside the barges can be challenging, especially in the recent winds. Our hardcore skippers start at 6:30am, with first transfers in the dark at 7:00am. During our first week, the cold temperatures have meant that the MACV has literally torn itself free of the ice coating the steel slipway in the morning with an unnerving ripping noise. Early though it is, any sleepiness is gone in the first ten yards – it’s bitterly cold and dark, and the mudflats change literally tide by tide with gullies coming and going overnight. The skipper needs to be alert and aware of the changes in the terrain and a set of the superb 'Cree' LED lights seem almost powerless on the giant landscape.  

CLICK FOR VIDEO - NIGHTIME TRANSFER 

It’s certainly been an interesting period with a very steep learning curve. The MACV has performed absolutely faultlessly, proving to be exactly the right size – large enough for two or three crew, but small enough to be ‘handy’ amongst the barges and cranes – able to get into and out of some pretty tight spaces and through the gullies and able to deal with that ‘sticky’ mud. We've been told that at leats one much heavier commercial/rescue hovercraft has become thoroughly stuck when attempting to operate in this area of the Mersey. Our lighter craft and segmented skirt allows us a workaround and the separate lift system is absolutely essential for this work.   

The mud rescue on site is being provided by a 'Sealegs' which if you've not seen one before is a 6m RIB with a hydraulically driven, three wheel system. This allows it to travel across the land as well as water. It's been interesting to compare the two vehicles - the Sealegs certainly offers an advantage in fast flowing tides (reverse is handy, a pointy bow and no skirt to drag in the water when not moving is a luxury) but it's is desperately slow on land and can only run for around half an hour before needing to cool down. On a bumpy day, give me the RIB every time, but crossing the mudflats from one side of the river to the other takes some twenty minutes - by contrast the MACV takes less than four! It's outboard has also proved vulnerable to silt in the shallow water conditions and it can get stuck if the mud is too soft - the wheels do have limits and cause a lot of damage to the littoral substrate that hovercraft don't. Having said that, it's been on the job for some months and is doing a demanding job in an environment I can’t believe it was actually designed for.

Our skippers (myself included) have learned a lot about skippering and driving the MACV in this role. We've managed to bend a few bits that we didn’t think could be bent, we've found components  that have frozen up on cold mornings, we've learned to deal with 'that' mud and certainly discovered the limits of the craft. We're pretty sure that every welder on site weighs a minimum of 100kgs, and every part of the MACV has been jumped or stepped on - so far with no damage which is rather gratifying!

VIDEO - DAYTIME FROM BARGE TO SHORE

So, as we end the year, we'll be bringing the MACV back from Liverpool for some love and attention and will be back in the new year to continue operations until Spring 2015, when we move to another, similar job in the North East of England. Exciting times!

Our thanks must go to the team at the MCA who have allowed small hovercraft to operate in this role, with the adoption of the Ultralight category of the Hovercraft Code of Practice 2014, Peel Ports for quickly assessing the viability and safety of our operations, and our duty skippers Nelson & Dave for their hard work in tough conditions.

 

Evening on the River mersey

 

Early morning, Sealegs and the MACV together.

 

One of our other jobs - providing a solid, stable base for survey equipment on dangerous mudflats.

 


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