As you can imagine, we get asked all sorts of questions from interested onlookers when we’re using hovercraft or exhibiting at boat shows – they range from those that have absolutely no knowledge of hovercraft, for instance…
“Does it float if you stop on water?” is pretty common but my favourite was when I explained to a lady at the London Boat Show that hovercraft run on a cushion of air and she commented that it was very clever…”because most vehicles run on petrol…”
via the folks that tell you you’re doing it wrong
“What it needs is wings like that Caspian Sea Monster.” (Google it…!) to “That’s an extremely dangerous machine… it has no seat belts!” (Seriously, the guy advocates seat belts on motorbikes too!)
Anyway, the recurring theme is that many potential hovercraft owners don’t actually know what they’d do with a hovercraft.
Well, in the world of recreational hovercraft, there’s two very clear options of what you can do with your machine!
Racing or Cruising
Racing events currently take place all round Europe with the strongest support in the UK, rounds of the National Hovercraft Championships taking place in every corner of England throughout the summer months. Anywhere from 30-50 hovercraft race in differing formulas from entry level low-cost ‘F35’ via fast ‘control engine’ formulas such as F503 up to the mighty 200bhp Formula One craft (figure 0-60mph in 4 seconds!)
Events are held in grassy fields with a pond or lake to make a course which covers both surfaces – races last around ten minutes and the craft are built light with limited flotation and freeboard and no concession to comfort! These craft (apart from some F35’s) wouldn’t survive an outing on the sea as they’d be mis-firing in no time and couldn’t handle any chop at all. However, they are very fast and for a motorsport, a relatively safe and inexpensive hobby. To be successful, you’ll need a fair bit of knowledge to build, maintain and repair the craft and there’s not too many places where you can buy a racing craft off the shelf.
Cruising is the side of the hobby for which Flying Fish supply hovercraft. Craft are built stronger and heavier to deal with an uncontrolled environment and must – obviously – be able to float as well as a boat. Priorities are low noise, good fuel economy and performance and superb reliability. So, to answer the original question of ‘where, when and who’ the basic answer is…’just like a boat of the same size.’ I’ve operated boats and hovers for many years and generally, I’ve found that a 3-4m hovercraft is capable of pretty much what a boat of equivalent size is. In the UK at least, hovercraft are catagorised as boats, so you’re not restricted in areas where PWC’s (Jetskis) are banned and there’s very few places with any specific restrictions (notably Langstone Harbour.) Remember, you have a common law right of navigation on tidal waters, so drive sensibly and with consideration towards nature reserve’s SSSI’s and other water users and you’ll find no more issues than a boat owner.
So, where do you use a recreational or cruising hovercraft?
Well, the best starting point is to join the Hovercraft Club of Great Britain at www.hovercraft.org.uk
The HCGB is the UK hovercraft club which arranges both race meetings and recreational events all over the country. Whilst there are other clubs, they tend to be predominantly for those that wish to build their own hovercraft from plans or kits – the great thing about the HCGB is that whilst it fully supports this, it’s also a club focused on usinghovercraft, either for racing or cruising. The Hovercraft Club of Great Britain has been in existence pretty much since the hovercraft was invented by Christopher Cockerell and the 700 odd members have a wealth of knowledge and experience to offer. Throughout the summer of 2012, the HCGB has organised over a dozen events and covered hundreds of miles of cruising in the Thames, Medway, Solent and French Rivers.
It costs just £27.00/year to join and there’s branches all around the country who hold regular meetings or you can ask for advice on the club internet forum. You can contact the hovercraft club via the website or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If your interest is in cruising, I’ve been asked by the HCGB to head up the recreational side of the club so you can contact me on russ(at)flyingfishhovercraft.co.uk and I’ll be happy to tell you what’s coming up!