We receive a lot of enquiries from people who don't understand what is and isn't possible in a hovercraft - based on our vast experience we have written this guide.
BHC Hovercraft have been developed over the course of more than 3 decades. The lightweight yet strong construction, beautiful engineering, and intelligent designs produce hovercraft which out-perform any other hovercraft in their class, whilst costing a fraction of imported (and in some cases, UK) manufactured hovercraft. BHC is an appointed OEM supplier of the Briggs & Stratton motors that power our smaller hovercraft, as well as being one of the world's leading tuners of these superb little engines.
Aside from the >1000 hovercraft we've manufactured and sold commercially in the last 15 years, we've also learned a massive amount from our competitive activities. From victory in UK National Racing Championships to less successful World Championship campaigns and the massive challenge of the 'Coastal Series' championship wins in 2005 and 2006, the craft have been developed based on first-hand challenges and adventures that few manufacturers can equal.
BHC Marlin hovercraft are the only small hovercraft to have made two-way crossings of the English Channel, and we believe – the only hovercraft to have crossed the Irish Sea!
Whilst all these shenanigans were going on, we also ran a very busy driving events business where the public could come along a drive a hovercraft. True-to-form, the public then demonstrated every possible way in which a hovercraft can be broken and provided priceless experience in producing a hovercraft designed to survive plenty of rough and tumble! We sold off the driving events business in 2010, much wiser, to concentrate solely on our core business - building hovercraft.
It's this spread of knowledge from building personal, corporate events and race-winning hovercraft that make the BHC range some of the most accomplished recreational hovercraft available anywhere in the world. All our hovercraft are made by us, in the UK - they boast marine quality fittings, such as stainless steel exhausts, frames, and transmission. The engines are 'hoverised' four-strokes designed to operate in a salty marine environment and marine specification wiring is used throughout. There are no nasty, unreliable and noisy two-strokes here!
But the beauty isn't hidden away. We've worked endlessly to constantly improve the overall look, appearance, and presentation of our hovercraft. Our Snapper is a simple, little hovercraft designed for the driving events market, or just as a 'play-around' craft for kids and adults. But it still looks great and is beautifully finished with a high standard of glasswork. The more expensive Freestyle & Beast models and the Coastal-Pro hovercraft easily stand up to comparison with boats, jet skis and other marine vehicles.
BHC craft genuinely work as well as you'd hope and expect them to, and just as we describe. So, whether it's exploring rivers, mudflats, estuaries or the coastline - or simply blasting around your own private land, you can be sure you're buying a quality bit of kit that will provide many years of fun.
Hovercraft aren’t your 'average' vehicle - they combine elements of boat and aircraft. Looking after your hovercraft pays dividends in terms of reliability, performance, and longevity. Please read on for our advice, following it is an essential part of maintaining your warranty.
First things first, all our craft are built completely in-house, we don’t just retail imported junk. Hulls are hand laid by our team of professional laminators to a high standard. All assembly is undertaken in-house, with just a few bespoke parts outsourced, such as fuel tanks and exhausts. All hovercraft work through processes which ensure that the specification, delivery date, and pricing are all correct, and our aim is to offer fantastic machines at value-for-money prices.
Hovercraft remain a rather specialist vehicle, and demand is unlikely to ever rival even the smallest manufacturers of jet-ski's boats, cars or motorbikes. That's what makes them such an absorbing and unique recreational vehicle - the fairest comparison is to say that our recreational hovercraft fall into the same category as such vehicles as Rage buggies, Jet-Levs, Segways, and Mini-Motos.
Within what we describe as the 'Light Commercial' market, we supply hovercraft to organisations and businesses for specialist applications where a boat, quad or aircraft either cannot operate - or is not a cost-effective option. Again, this keeps demand relatively low but it's definitely growing and with the MCA ‘Hovercraft Code of Practice’ now in place, much red tape has been removed and the commercial market is now open to small hovercraft.
Glasswork quality and finish
Both the recreational and commercial markets are price sensitive. Businesses are obviously watching every penny in the current global economy, and recreational buyers are likewise keen to get the biggest thrill for their money. Given the demand, we could indeed build our products to an even higher standard, for instance, using carbon fibre and kevlar in place of fibreglass. But… adding another £10,000 to the price would be a bold move!
What we supply as standard are hovercraft built to a high specification for the price we charge. They're great value for money - our nearest competitor's craft is nearly twice the price of a 2/3 seater. Having manufactured over 1000 hovercraft over the last fifteen years, we've ironed out problems and found the parts and suppliers allowing us to provide the best product at the best price.
Our hulls are constructed from fibreglass, core materials, and Kevlar, which need to be considered almost 'organic' materials. Being hand-laid means parts can never be absolutely identical (think Caterham, not Vauxhall Vectra!) As part of our ongoing monitoring and development, we've carefully examined hand built GRP cars and even some brand new £2m yachts and we're very happy that the quality of our laminated parts compares favourably with much more expensive products. That's not to say that every single one is absolutely flawless - this is an unrealistic goal for any GRP product which is laid up by hand. But within the constraints of the lightweight design of hovercraft and the price we charge for our products, we're happy that they offer fantastic value for money and are built to what is realistically the highest possible standard.
All our demonstration craft are built to a standard you'll see in a customer's hovercraft so as part of the demonstration, we ask clients to assess the finish and presentation of the finished item as this represents what you can expect in your own craft - we're sure you'll be delighted!
How tough is a BHC Hovercraft?
One of the challenges of manufacturing hovercraft is that they can travel over pretty much any surface you may wish them to. So, customers can fly small hovercraft along at 40 mph on water, before flying straight over a stony beach without stopping. No other vehicle can do that, and just because you can, doesn’t mean you should! Hovercraft of all sizes owe more to aircraft construction than that of a boat or land vehicle and this means they have to be built as lightly as possible, whilst retaining enough strength to be safe and practical. Quite simply, if a hovercraft is built too heavy, it won't work safely or well on either land or water so weight is a factor and hulls built with extra strength in the areas which take the knocks and bangs of reasonable daily usage.
This requirement dictates that small hovercraft must be built from composites such as GRP (fibreglass), Kevlar or carbon fibre type materials. Wood or aluminium makes for an ugly design and is crude, heavy and not commercially viable. Plastics such as HDPE weigh twice as much as GRP, and no hovercraft can work properly if it's 100% overweight (the clue is that the 'HD' in 'HDPE' stands for 'High Density' – i.e heavy!) Plus HDPE is almost impossible to mend if it does get busted and once it gets muddy, the 'orange peel' effect will never clean up nicely again.
So - fibreglass remains the material of choice for small hovercraft production. It's light, can be laid up in attractive shapes, ‘any’ colour and has a fantastic finish quality. It's strong for its weight, is impervious to salt-water, dirt and mud easily washes off the high gloss finish. Whilst somewhat labour intensive, fibreglass is a cost-effective material which allows us to keep the price down to an affordable level.
However, hovercraft - as stated above - can be used in many and varied environments. So we also use a 'core' material within the hull to further strengthen the hovercraft, together with Kevlar (the same stuff they make bullet proof vests from!) The lightweight construction means hovercraft needs to be used intelligently - this is aircraft technology remember. Crashing the craft down onto rocks, hurling it into 10ft deep gullies, thrashing it at 100% throttle everywhere - all these are unrealistic expectations of a lightweight vehicle. They'll shorten the life of the hull and show up premature wear - in some cases, excessively hard use will invalidate the warranty. It is absolutely imperative that the servicing requirements are followed, that the craft is 'pre-flight' checked & salt water is washed off immediately after each use. It's all there in the user guide that we supply with British Hovercraft Company products. In the last year, we've calculated that misuse or brutally hard use was a factor in 75% of all warranty claims, closely followed by poor or neglected servicing. There's not much we haven't seen! BHC hovercraft have been improved year on year and when used and maintained properly, give very little trouble.
We're always very fair in our administration of warranty claims and are always willing to help, advise and replace any parts which fail. However, no other vehicle can take you - theoretically at least - anywhere. A hovercraft can, but cannot ignore the laws of physics! We don't limit where you can use your hovercraft - whereas motor manufactures exclude damage from off-road usage of any type - but we expect owners to look after their craft without relying on our warranty to put right damage and neglect. Building an effective small hovercraft is full of challenges and we believe that overall, the BHC range achieves more of them than any other make. For full details, request a copy of our warranty information.
What are the capabilities of a small hovercraft?
We make modest claims for our craft and have exceeded all of them in practical tests. However, being exposed to such a wide variety of conditions, operating conditions and varied surfaces means that any figures can only be at best, an indication. Do click on the 'Hovercraft Interaction' link at the top of this page (under 'resources')to open a graphic showing how different factors must be taken into account when determining capability. If you have any questions, just ask!
Hopefully, this sets out our design philosophy and explains a little about why looking after your craft is so important in order to enjoy trouble-free and enjoyable ownership!