Hovercraft have suffered from an image problem for many years. Despite a new Marlin II hovercraft clearly being a professionally manufactured, serious piece of kit, we still hear the same thing at shows from lots of people….”I built one of these at school” – when in actual fact, the difference between a Flying Fish hovercraft and a school-project is like walking up to a BMW and telling the owner you built a soap-box as a kid.
So – build or buy?
Well, both have their advantages. Here at Flying Fish, we supply a turnkey product to buyers who want to get out there in an amazing machine and have fun using it. Just like you’d buy a jetski or quad, we take your money and you get a fully warranted, reliable vehicle with great provenance .
But there’s another option. Companies like Sevtec and Universal Hovercraft will sell you a set of plans and you can actually build a hovercraft from scratch. You’ll buy the timber, source an engine or two, sew up your own skirt, source fan assembly parts, build steel fan frames, upholster seats and decide what colour gloss it needs to be finished in. It can be a fascinating project – as long as you have the necessary space, time and (crucially) skills to complete it safely.
Unfortunately, it’s probably fair to say that more don’t get finished than do. Its demanding and time consuming and enthusiasm and cash often run out before the projects completed (have you seen the price of marine quality plywood nowadays???) with the result that they end up on ebay – another unfinished project.
So, if it does make it to completion, what do you have? Well – taking the Sevtec design, it’s very much a water craft designed for the American market – much more at home on big, open areas of water than exploring creeks and gullies. Their bag skirted design and large propeller means they lack maneuverability and whilst this makes them a great long distance cruiser, they’re not really a thrilling ride. I’ve always said, if a boat will do the job you have lined up for your hovercraft… use a boat!
Without the development that a professional manufacturer puts into their craft, homebuilt should always be inspected before operation. The terrible case earlier this year in New Zealand, when a man who’d built a hovercraft was killed by the propeller flying off the first time he used it just illustrates the point only too clearly. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2021949/Man-pursuing-dream-decapitated-family-tested-home-built-hovercraft.html?ito=feeds-newsxml# But dramatic accidents aside, (this was an unfortunate but inevitable accident) making the hovercraft work properly can be nearly as big a job as making it and builders often become despondent the first time out when it doesn’t work – and it ends up, you guessed it – on ebay. Fine tuning the skirt, lift and thrust fans/props, matching the engine to the fan and selecting the correct speeds, getting the trim right, chasing away vibrations and the steering safe…none of it is a five minute job and can soak up hundreds of hours of painstaking development. We should know, we’ve been there and even after thirty years of making hovercraft – we’re still learning.
And so, a year after work began, and with the set-up and problems still being sorted, the feller who bought a professionally manufactured craft is out in it exploring places nobody else can get to!
The other issue with regards building a hovercraft is the resale value. Being of (usually) a timber or aluminium construction, they usually look pretty ugly and we often see them featuring such crude features such as (I kid you not) plastic garden chairs for seating. it’s rare that a homebuilt hovercraft will fetch even a fraction of what it costs to build (and that’s before you price in your own time.) Sadly, it’s a fact that people simply aren’t prepared to pay much for your own efforts – rather like with homebuilt/converted camper vans. Some are very good, but they’ll never get the same price as a coachbuilt one. On the other hand, as a rule, we usually find that a three year old, well maintained Marlin II hovercraft can be expected to retain 75-80% of it’s value., which isn’t too sad.
So – like everything else, it comes to personal choice and if it sounds like I’m opposed to homebuilding hovercraft, then I apologise. That’s not the case – in fact we’re beginning to look into the idea of selling component sets for self-assembly – ie all the parts that you need to build your own Marlin hovercraft. The advantages of this (rather than the ‘kit/plan’ option) are numerous.
- 1. The craft will work – built from a set of matched and proven parts.
- 2. Much quicker build. There’s no need to build a hull – this is the basic unit on which the hovercraft is built.
- 3. Backup and support from the factory will make the assembly safer and more successful.
- 4. Parts can be bought as you go along – buy the next parts when you can afford it.
- 5. It’ll look great and you’ll have something to be proud of.
- 6. Once complete, you’ll have something with real value which can be sold on.
This is a significant departure from ‘kit’ hovercraft which are usually built from a set of plans and start with you building a plywood hull and fabricating every last piece of hardware. This is more like building a giant Meccano or Airfix kit!
Whatever your choice, Hovercraft are (to quote Jeremy Clarkson) “THE most fun you can have with an engine!”
If the ’component sets’ project sounds like something you may be interested in, then email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll keep you updated with developments.