It’s fair to say I live and breathe hovercraft! Apart from running Flying Fish alongside my wife Emma, I’m also secretary of Hovercraft Manufacturers Association, Chairman of SE branch of Hovercraft Club of Great Britain (HCGB), and ‘Cruising Director’ for the HCGB (which frankly, sounds a bit weird.) I also race in the national championships and still thoroughly enjoy taking a hovercraft out for a spin on my favourite patch – the River Medway & Swale.
So it was with some interest that I stumbled across the Medway & Swale Boating Association (MSBA) a little while ago.
To paraphrase their aims (from their website) : “To promote and protect all waterborne sports and pastimes on the tidal Medway and Swale.”
The hovercraft community has been using Medway and Swale for a very long time, why wouldn’t we be part of the MSBA for the modest joining fee? If you’ve seen any of my videos from Hoverclub events, you’ll understand why – it’s very tidal, loads of mudflats and shallow water to explore – and an amazing history with Napoleonic forts and WWI shipwrecks to visit.
So I decided to join up on behalf of the Hovercraft Club of Great Britain. As I’m involved with organising club events 8-10 times a year, which usually launch into the Swale at the Long reach Ski Club, I felt it was important that our sport was represented within this new Organsiation.
Last night, along with Carl & Geoff, two of our growing list of active local enthusiasts, we went along to the Kent Boat & WaterSki club at Cuxton to see what it’s all about. We were made very welcome and met loads of interesting folks who work and play on the Medway & Swale. The MSBA looks a very valuable resource and a great way of ensuring that the river is used responsibly – but that we water users don’t see more of our rights diminish as a result of increasing legislation and the ‘environmental takeover’ of the seashores. It was an interesting meeting and I’m pleased the Hoverclub now has a representation on it.
One issue was the contents of some previous minutes which indicated that reports were being made to Peel Ports (the harbour authorities) of illegal hovercraft launches from Gillingham Strand. I had to question this as the minutes seemed to indicated that the MSBA agreed with these complaints. The feller who’s made these reports is a member and has my respect for saying ‘that was me’ and explaining why he made these reports. Basically, his position is that as somebody who runs a business on the Medway, he’s sick of seeing so many laws and rules flouted by water users and not being enforced. I can see that – if you’re going to have rules, then enforce them. We explained that hovercraft are not PWC’s – legally they are boats and the MCA categorises them as such and are therefore entirely legal to launch at Gillingham Strand. Further discussion centred on usage and speed limits – explaining that hovercraft create less wash at speeds over approx 8 knots which is the approximate speed where the hull is completely out of the water, resulting in no wash! In our experience, most harbour masters understand that and allow a small amount of leeway on the tightest speed limits – after all most speed limits are made largely to prevent dangerous wash in busy and confined moorings.
And one point to remember. In the UK, you have a common law right to navigate on tidal waters. Restrictions may be made, permissions may be required, but you do have that right and it cannot be removed with a byelaw. Just remember that if you are ever told otherwise.
Bearing in mind that there have been literally hundreds of launches and hovercraft operating in the areas, to the best of my knowledge there have been absolutely no accidents involving hovercraft, very few breakdowns or recoveries and to the best of my knowledge and no prosecutions or charges brought against owners.
Statistically, hovercraft are the safest means of passenger transport and its to my own personal delight that this amazing record also applies to the recreational hovercraft.
Hovercraft have considerable environmental advantages compared to other powered vessels.
- They do not pollute the water like a PWC or boats – the exhaust is vented to atmosphere not into the water.
- Recreational craft achieve approximately 20mpg, so use much less fuel than a boat of equivalent size.
- They do not create any wash so they cause no damage to river banks
- They have no protrusions underwater, so cannot strike marine mammals such as porpoises, dolphins or manatees. The lack of propeller or jetdrive also means they do not damage the seabed in shallow water.
- They exert 75 times less pressure on the ground than 12″ of tide, or 100 times less than a man walking.
Hovercraft do have a rep for being noisy but modern craft using small commercial spec air-cooled engines are around a quarter of the noise of earlier two-stroke models. The noise is directional in nature and due to the low frequency dies away very quickly. At 100m it is not any more intrusive than many other water vehicles.
One key point is that recreational hovercraft use tends to be ‘get in and go’ and are used in much the same manner as many people use a rib or small boat. Club events are usually organised so that the group travels to an objective. Our last four hovercraft club cruises this year covered 23/32/50 and 45 miles – we don’t just go round and round in circles near the shore.
Being part of the Medway & Swale Boating Association looks to me like it will be a valuable and useful part of organising events and continuing the growth of the Hovercraft Club of Great Britain – and our thanks for allowing us to be part of it.