There's more used hovercraft than ever currently offered on Ebay, Gumtree and other sites - so now seems a good time to offer some advice to potential buyers. They're still, to most people, a bit magical and often misunderstood. That they are the most environmentally sound powered vessel available should be a massive boon to their popularity but – but this worthy fact is sadly often outweighed by unnecessarily noisy and unreliable examples which cause too much of a disturbance and get the good ones a bad name!
But here we are in 2017, and with more professional, high quality cruising/recreational craft operating than ever before, it's fair to say it's an activity that's flourishing. Over the course of the last five years we’ve really seen both the hobby and the market radically change. There’s more manufacturers producing good quality, affordable and safe hovercraft - some excellent plans available for home builders, and new engines which make practical small hovercraft with great performance and reliability. On top of that, last year, the MCA issued an industry led ‘Hovercraft Code of Practice’ which sets out standards for hovercraft construction and reassures buyers they're getting a legitimate bit of kit for their money.
Throughout this brief series, we’ll look at what hovercrafting is all about, where/what to buy or build and the options open to you, where to operate your craft and what the Hovercraft Club of Great Britain(HCGB) is all about.
First Off - Racing Hovercraft
I’ve raced hovercraft with a mixed bag of success and it’s fast, fun & loud. Racing craft are a completely different beast to recreational craft and designed for blasting round a grassy field – they’re extremely lightweight and overpowered (top Formula Ones are nearly 200bhp….!) making them a spectacular sport. They feature some sublime engineering but push the limits of what's possible to the maximum - so they tend to break down a lot and are usually two stroke powered. They’re very noisy, don’t float very well and are completely unsuitable as a cruising/recreational vehicle…but when you open the throttle on an F1 and you’re doing 100km/h four seconds later - well, suddenly all the disappointments make sense!
Take a look at www.hovercraft.org.uk for more details about when and where to see these machines in action.
Racing hovercraft are singularly unsuitable for recreational and cruising use for the reasons listed above, and this brings us neatly onto the first – and most important piece of advice we can give you when looking at buying a hovercraft….Not all small hovercraft are the same - make sure you buy the right type and design of hovercraft for your purposes!
We'll roll the information out over the next week or so, looking at different designs, suitability and 'what to look for' with regards parts and components when buying a hovercraft second hand. The important thing is that you understand right from the off that not all small hovercraft are the same - to avoid disappointment - and possible danger - we want to make sure you buy the right type and design of hovercraft for your purposes.
Recreational Hovercraft - What’s it all about?
Hovercraft come in all shapes and sizes from small single seat examples, medium size commercial/passenger vehicles to the massive American LCAC naval landing craft, which can deliver a squad of Marines and an Abrams main Battle tank to a contested beach . All work on the same basic principle of the vehicle riding on a cushion of air, generated by engine driven fans. This principle allows the hovercraft to travel over any sealed surface – grass, sand, ice and snow, water etc etc. Personal/Recreational/Cruising hovercraft (the three terms get used and are all pretty much the same thing!) are typically 1-6 seats and used as a leisure vehicle in much the same way as a Jetski, Boat or Quad etc. Some folks choose to build their own craft, others prefer to buy a professionally manufactured craft with the benefits of a warranty and proven design. In both cases, you have a vessel which allows you access to anywhere boat can go - in addition to its incredible shallow water/intertidal/amphibious ability. It’s this unique ability that make hovercraft so appealing to a growing number of enthusiasts.
There are plenty of events organised by clubs - especially in the United Kingdom, USA and Australia and suitable, well maintained hovercraft are just as capable of solo or ‘buddy’ cruising in protected waters as any other marine vehicle.
As a quick example of a recent cruise, four of us launched two-seat integrated, professionally manufactured hovercraft into the Swale in Kent (the stretch of water separating the Isle of Sheppey form the mainland.) From there, we traveled up to the River Medway - the Medway's a hovercrafter's heaven with massive tidal sandbanks and mudflats. In no time, we were exploring the gullies and saltings which no other vehicle can access. We visited a WWI German U-Boat laying at Stoke Marshes, climbed inside a Napoleonic Fortress and took a spin around 'Deadman's Island' (a macabre yet fascinating island containing the - often exposed - graves of quarantine victims and French Prisoners of War….) Then it was off to Upnor Castle for Sunday lunch and a pint, before returning via Bee Ness Jetty, Grain Tower and finally home via our favourite hover pub 'The Old House at Home' in Queenborough. In all we covered 65 miles, used less than three gallons of fuel and all agreed it was a fabulous day out. I'm still grinning as a I write this….
So where do you start?
First off, you’ll need to decide what you’re planning to use your hovercraft for. You might just want it as a toy for driving round a big garden/inland lake or playing field. You might be a bit more ambitious and planning maritime cruises. The usage does have a big effect on the type of craft you’re looking for. Larger 3-4 seat hovercraft are often more challenging to steer in confined places, but more comfortable on long distance cruises. Small hovercraft are great for inexperienced drivers and kids and are more sporting in nature – providing bigger thrills.
Are you a builder or a buyer? Lots of people over the years have built hovercraft as much for the thrill of building it themselves as for what it can do. Lots of them built one at school and are revisiting that. We’ll come onto building craft in due course, but for now it’s enough to consider whether you have the time, money, skills, tools and space to invest into what is going to be a huge project building a successful hovercraft.
If you're going to buy a craft, new or used? What are the pitfalls of buying a used hovercraft (or even a new one….) and how can you avoid them? More than ever, there’s a thriving recreational hovercraft scene in the UK.
There’s a massive range of hovercraft out there, some good, some bad, and some plain dangerous! Before we start getting into specifics in tomorrow's article, there's plenty of places for you to start your research, a few of which are listed below.
www.Youtube.com (type hovercraft cruising into search)
www.hovercraft.org.uk (the world's biggest club - 30 quid a year to join is money well spent!)
http://britishhovercraft.com/Contact.aspx (our own contact page lists up events companies where you can go along and drive a hovercraft.)