Below are some of the most common questions often asked by our customers and visitors to our website. If you have further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to fill out our online contact form, call us at 317-489-0075 or email us at [email protected].
Learn more about hovercraft and Hoverstream by downloading the resources to the right!
What is a hovercraft?
The hovercraft is an Air Cushion Vehicle (ACV) that flies above a land or water surface on a cushion of air. This multi-terrain, year-round machine is composed of a hull that can float on water carried on a cushion of air retained by a flexible ‘skirt’. It can easily transition from land to water, sliding on this cushion of air with its skirt only slightly brushing the surface.
It is powered by an engine that provides both the lift cushion and the thrust forward or reverse movement. Much more than a boat, it can travel over and through all types of water, land and weather conditions, such as raging rapids, grass, ice, mud, sand, snow, fog and wind.
Who invented the hovercraft?
The concept of the hovercraft can be traced back to the early 1700s. However, during the 1950s, Englishman Christopher Cockerell developed and patented the first official hovercraft. Soon after, British Hovercraft Corporation developed the first commercial hovercraft for passenger transport across the English Channel. Since then, the popularity, quality and usefulness for Commercial, Recreational and Rescue purposes of the hovercraft have only increased and improved over time.
Is it hovercraft or hovercrafts?
Whether used in singular or plural form, the only correct spelling and pronunciation is hovercraft. You may be talking about one single hovercraft or ten large hovercraft, but the word follows the same rule as the word ‘aircraft’.
Is a hovercraft environmentally friendly?
The unique features of the hovercraft make it one of the most environmentally friendly vehicles in the world. There are many environmental benefits to the hovercraft, including minimal wake or wash, no underwater pressure signature and no impact on marine life. So you can be rest assured that, as long as you use your craft responsibly, you’ll cause no damage to the surface over which you travel or the environment.
What materials are typically used to make the hovercraft hull?
The hull is typically constructed from aluminum, fiberglass, plastic or plywood and/or a combination of these materials. It’s crucial that the hovercraft be made for buoyancy to float on water, so usually urethane or styrene foam is installed in the hull as well. In regards to Hoverstream hovercraft, our customers KNOW they will be getting a sturdy, dependable hull. For example, we use the closed-cell foam in the hull. As far back as 2001, the Marlin was tested for ‘flooded buoyancy approval’ and certified by the French Maritime Safety Authority for use throughout the EEC.
What materials are typically used to make the skirt? Why is the skirt important? What types of skirts are available? It is easily damaged? How long does it last?
A hovercraft skirt is typically made from a flexible waterproof material, such as neoprene-coated nylon. The skirt is a crucial part of the hovercraft because it allows the craft to clear obstacles.
Occasionally, a hovercraft skirt may get damaged, and it’s important to understand the differences in design and construction. The skirt must be thought of as the tires on your car. They will wear out and occasionally get damaged, but the choice of material affects how often this happens and how long it lasts.
There are basically two types of skirt used on hovercraft – bag and segmented (or finger) skirts. All of our hovercraft use a segmented skirt and have excellent wear characteristics. Because the skirt is made up of individual segments, each one can be easily replaced individually. It takes just a few seconds. In any case, due to the nature of our design, it’s actually quite rare to damage a segment. For example, if one of the segments gets caught on something, it simply breaks away on the bottom, while remaining attached to the hovercraft on top. When this happens, the segments on either side of the damaged one will simply expand more into the available space – so you shouldn’t even see deterioration in performance until you’ve damaged quite a number of them.
If a skirt breaks away, you simply zip tie it back in place next time you stop. Again, it only takes a few seconds, and you can generally do so at your convenience.
The reality is that damaging skirt segments is a pretty rare event in any case. Our craft have superb lift characteristics, so there’s no skirt dragging on the ground to snag obstacles. Heavier craft tend to be more prone to skirt damage for the opposite reason! A well-designed skirt should generate little spray, something well worth checking when you try out a craft. In normal recreational usage, we find most customers get around 3-5 years from their skirt before it requires complete replacement. In the meantime, if something happens, you’ll replace individual segments as you go.
The alternative to a segmented skirt is a ‘bag’ skirt. This is a single piece ‘loop’ like a giant inflatable ring around the whole craft. The advantage of these is that they are very stable (which also means doughy/slow steering characteristics) and are relatively good on water. However, they are more suitable on larger commercial/passenger craft, and in any case, often have small segments fitted to the bottom. The reason for this is that a bag skirt is more like a giant high-pressure balloon and has much more ground contact, but it’s also more likely to be damaged. If you do damage it, unfortunately it’s usually game over. It will need repairing, which involves removing part of all of it from the craft – a huge job and can be costly!
Which is best – the Two-Stroke or Four-stroke Engine?
Not all leisure craft use the same engine type. Our four-stroke engines are one of the most popular reasons customers go with Hoversteam in North America and internationally.
Small/recreational hovercraft have traditionally used two-stroke engines. While they offer an excellent power-to-weight ratio, four-stroke technology has caught up in recent years and offers significant advantages for hovercraft operating in a maritime environment.
The British Hovercraft Company was the first manufacturer to use ‘commercial power’ engines in significant quantities. Our R & D Department has worked tirelessly to develop them to the point where we have the finest engine packages available. All of our hovercraft use a commercial grade Vanguard engine from Briggs & Stratton that is famed for its astonishing reliability. Once inside our workshop, the motors are modified and ‘hoverized’ to match them to the fan assembly, producing astonishing performance from the maximum RPM of only. Four-stroke power means fabulous economy of approximately 1.6 gallons per hour and low noise – low frequency noise as well, meaning it doesn’t carry far. It comes with an electric start as standard and easy, infrequent servicing requirements. They simply purr away endlessly all day long!
Compare this to a two-stroke engine – loads of noise, seven gallons of fuel and hour, plus oil and an uncanny knack of breaking down in the worst possible place.
Which would you choose? How do our hovercraft outperform those with more horsepower? For example, why does the Marlin work so well with ‘only’ 35hp?
There are a couple of ways of looking at it. It all comes down to thrust and weight. The mathematical/scientific answer is that the 35hp Marlin with two people aboard has a power to weight ratio of approximately 96bhp/ton. To get a similar power to weight ratio, a heavy, HDPE hulled hovercraft of similar size needs a noisy 65bhp Rotax two-stroke engine to get 95bhp per ton.
With only on person aboard, the Marlin has a superior power to weight ratio of 120bhp/ton against the HDPE craft’s 112bhp/ton.
However, the practicality is that the Marlin II is by far and away the faster and more agile hovercraft. Unlike cars and boats, hovercraft do not have any mechanical grip on the surface they travel over.
Weight is crucial to acceleration and maneuverability. Overcoming the inertia of a heavy craft takes time, and more power doesn’t necessarily cover the difference in weight.
Extra weight means more inertia to turn and stop. Simple, with a hovercraft weighing twice as much, you can expect it to take twice as long to turn or stop.
Extra weight means the hovercraft doesn’t sit ‘on’ the water when hovering. In practice, they act more like an ‘air lubricated board’ than a hovercraft, being just clear of the water. A good indicator of this is to watch how a hovercraft performs at low speed. If there is a wall of water spray around the craft, you know it’s too heavy.
Extra weight also prevents the hovercraft from starting on water (getting over hump) with ease.
In poor conditions, the lighter hovercraft rides over waves and whitecaps, whereas the heavy hovercraft ploughs through the water, soaks the passengers and can damage the skirt.
Hovercraft owe more to aircraft than boat design and quite simply, the Marlin II needs very little power to offer magnificent performance. It’s lightweight, uncluttered fan, four-stroke engine and advanced skirt design make for a top quality hovercraft, which will outperform many more powerful hovercraft in all conditions.
Remember, in a hovercraft, horsepower by itself is meaningless. You can’t compensate for design problems with extra horsepower.
Which is better – one engine or two?
It depends on the size of the hovercraft!
Our Marlin and Snapper hovercraft have one engine, which provides lift and thrust, both at the rear of the hovercraft. The reason being that on a small hovercraft, one engine simply makes more sense! A single engine craft is extremely simple to operate, even for complete novices. One engines means less weight, critical on a small hovercraft, and great simplicity due to fewer mechanicals. The result is a lower priced, better performing hovercraft.
That’s not to say that two engines don’t work well. They’re essential on larger craft. In our opinion, all hovercraft over 15 feet should be fitted with two engines. Because of its larger size and the role for which it is designed, our Coastal Pro II uses separate lift and thrust engines. On a bigger hovercraft, such as the Coastal Pro, you have a much more widely varying payload. Two engines allow you to always get exactly the right amount of lift for the weight you’re carrying.
Also, in commercial settings or when traveling over ice or rough terrain, the ability to have full lift (and therefore, maximum obstacle clearance) at any time independent of your forward speed means the Coastal Pro II can safely navigate more treacherous conditions. It also helps maneuverability since twin engines allow the big Coastal Pro II to spin on a dime in tight quarters, something that is typically only possible with smaller hovercraft.
Is a hovercraft easy or challenging to drive?
Learning to steer or maneuver a hovercraft is more like learning to fly a helicopter, so that’s why the person operating a hovercraft is usually called a ‘pilot’. Although it might seem a bit challenging at first, you’ll find it doesn’t take long to master the principles and get the craft to point it in the direction you want it to go. Everything is pretty simple, including the controls and controlling the rudders for steering. Once you have your hand-crafted hovercraft, our team will make sure you get the support and training you need to understand how to drive and operate your hovercraft.
What are some examples of uses of hovercraft?
- Recreational use for all seasons, land and water
- Exploring the vast number of areas that are not accessible by boat or helicopter
- Rescue work in places, such as swift water, ice, snow, mud flats, deserts, wetlands, shallow water, swamps, bogs, marshes and floodwaters and dive recovery teams
- Commercial purposes, such as mosquito abatement, water treatment, bird removal, oil spill clean up and passenger operations
- Military services, border patrol, forestry and homeland security
- Many, many more uses! We’d be glad to talk with you about the many ways our hovercraft can be used to benefit you!
What to do with your hovercraft?
Good quality, reliable, recreational hovercraft can be used pretty much as you’d use as a boat, but without the need for water! Where a sandbar, ice or a shallow section would stop a boat cold, a hovercraft can zip right over it without noticing. This allows the hovercraft to explore areas that few, if any, other vehicles can get to or explore. You can find many organized events scheduled through the Hoverclub of America, an excellent organization where you can get together with over hovercraft owners. For more information, go to www.hoverclubofamerica.org
Should you build or buy your hovercraft?
Building a hovercraft is still a popular pastime, with plans available to construct your own. To some people, that’s the thrill of it, building the hovercraft is as much as part of the thrill as driving it. If that’s what brought you to this site, email us, and we’ll be happy to point you toward companies and supplies that can help. The biggest challenge is that builders often lose their enthusiasm halfway through when they realize what a time consuming project it is or just how much it costs to build. Sometimes, as they have no experience with hovercraft, the craft doesn’t work well the first time out, and they don’t have enough knowledge to sort out why. Safety is also an enormous consideration. Are you positive that you have the skills necessary to safely finish the craft? One of the other problems is that ultimately, all the hard work is financially unrewarded. Homebuilt hovercraft just doesn’t have much resale value, and it’s a depressing thing to sell hundreds of hours of your precious time for a few hundred dollars!
The other type of hovercraft enthusiast is our customer! They want a turnkey recreational vehicle that offers magnificent thrills without the workshop time, maintenance and safety concerns confronting them with a homebuilt craft. Recreational hovercraft have come a long way recently, using modern material, engines and methods to move hovercraft from an eccentric toy to a practical recreational, commercial and rescue vehicle. Hovercrafting these days should be simply a case of jumping in, using the craft, washing it off at the end of the day, inspecting it before use next time. Servicing shouldn’t be demanding either. It should be easily available or within the abilities of any owner. Driving a modern craft should be easy, safe, intuitive and learned quickly. The craft should be easily registered and insured with good parts backup and support. Finally, a professionally built hovercraft with a long established reputation for performance and reliability will have far more resale value. The resale value of manufactured hovercraft is very good – we often find that customers sell their craft for as much as 80% of the purchase price.
Stopping on land or water?
Aluminum skids and runners to prevent damage when stopping on rough ground or sliding to a halt protect the Kevlar reinforced floor of our hovercraft. Planing surfaces are also reinforced during construction to ensure that the hull is up to the knocks and bangs of day-to-day usage.
Stopping on water is actually a challenge for some recreational hovercraft. This is because they have seriously compromised flotation and some aren’t even buoyant – they can actually sink if they take water on the craft. We think that’s a design flaw! ALL of our models have POSITIVE BUOYANCY due to the closed-cell foam located in the hull. As far back as 2001, the Marlin was tested for ‘flooded buoyancy approval’ and certified by the French Maritime Safety Authority for use throughout the EEC.
Another aspect is the placement of buoyancy. We’ve seen hovercraft with nearly all their buoyancy located in the floor – meaning that they risk capsizing if too much load is placed on one side of the hull. In our hovercraft, the hull is shaped like a flat-bottomed boat, so they’ll happily float while you fish the day away or wait for a lock to open.
Another issue that many hovercraft find challenging when stopping on water is that of getting back onto the ‘plane’ (called ‘getting over the hump’ in hovercraft terms). This is because they don’t have enough lift and thrust to push their way out of the hole in the water and create massive wash – spraying the unfortunate occupants with gallons of water. This potentially dangerous situation means a very wet, slow and embarrassing journey back to the shore and is completely unacceptable in a modern recreational craft – yet surprisingly common. Our hovercraft, loaded to their rated capacity, will be ‘over hump’ within a few seconds and on its way, with NO DRAMA at all. This is due to great skirt design, lightweight construction and lots of ‘push’ from the fan.
What is the term ‘plowing in’ mean?
‘Plowing in’ is a term to describe a problem where a hovercraft suddenly decelerates due to the nose of the craft dipping into the water, usually at high speed when running downwind. It can only happen on water. Some hovercraft manufacturers claim to have a craft that does not do this, by design. Without getting too technical – that’s entirely possible. If you build a hovercraft, which is far too heavy for its size, it will generate very high skirt pressure. Coupled with the fact that it will be very slow, it will certainly resist plow-in very well, as it will never go fast enough to collapse the high-pressure skirt. Of course, the down side is that it’s slow, wet (all that pressure blows the water past the skirt – and onto you!) and the handling, maneuverability and general performance will be very poor. In other words, avoid any hovercraft that claims to be immune from the plow-in phenomenon!
So what’s the answer? A well-designed craft with a good skirt system will still plow-in (every craft can – even the 400 ton SRN4 cross channel craft used to plow in if driven badly). It’s just the nature of the hovercraft construction, like all aircraft can go into a spin. But it’s not a big deal at all. What we’ve done with our craft is to push the plow-in limit as far as possible, making the craft give you adequate warning and a chance to recover, minimizing the deceleration, so that when it does plow, the shallow planning surface simply slows the craft up a little, then it recovers and carries on as normal.
The plow-in issue is a big concern with anyone familiar with the old and very popular ‘SCAT’ model of hovercraft. These had a notoriously bad plow that sometimes sent the occupants swimming! Rest assured, our hovercraft are NOTHING like this! If you plow, it will SLOW YOU DOWN. Just kick the throttle, back up again and be on your way. For any additional questions or concerns about plow-in, please do not hesitate to ask your Hoverstream service representative!
Do I need a special license to operate a hovercraft?
The hovercraft is legally considered a boat, so no special licensing requirements are needed.