How to Buy a Hovercraft

How to Buy a Hovercraft

Hovercraft are becoming more affordable for commercial, rescue and leisure applications, so what should you consider before buying a hovercraft? 

1/. Weight. Hovercraft are very weight dependent, so designers must have clear objectives. A race hovercraft is probably going to be extremely lightweight, so consequently, not very durable. Race hovercraft tend to be constructed from very thin glass fibre, and do not last many seasons, whereas for commercial, cruising and leisure activities, durability is probably more important, assuming you want the hovercraft to last a few years. I recommend High Density Polyethylene, (HDPE) as used for construction of kayaks - this material is lightweight, strong and extremely buoyant. 

2/. On-water starts. Starting from an on-water start is more difficult for hovercraft, since they create a pressure wave commonly known as “The Hump”. Some suppliers confuse buyers by quoting payload ratings for land - no Hump problems occur on land, so generally hovercraft can lift more weight when starting from on-land. Be sure that you ask the supplier - what weight can this hovercraft lift when starting from on -water? If you plan to travel over water, assume that at some point, you might need to stop - be sure of your passenger and fuel weight, is this within the on-water payload capability for your chosen hovercraft?  

3/. Number of seats. Don’t ask a supplier how many seats the hovercraft has - the fact that a hovercraft has 3 seats does not imply it can take three people, ask for on-water payload and on-land payload capacity. If one of your passengers has eaten too many pies lately, the number of seats is irrelevant - think weight, especially if traveling over water. 

4/. Engine Power. As hovercraft do not work well with outboard motors, you are reliant totally on the hovercraft engine. Cheaper hovercraft have cheaper engines which tend to be under-powered. Some suppliers modify smaller engines to get more power output, but unfortunately, such modification will invalidate the engine supplier’s warranty. Engine manufacturers do not want their engines played around with to work at 100% power output, they like to allow a safety margin, so modified engines could turn out to be troublesome and expensive to repair.

5/. Safety. Although hovercraft have generally a very safe record, in recent times, a couple of accidents have occurred due to poor construction. Dr Alastair Kenneth Senior, 40, died in New Zealand when the hovercraft he constructed was started without fan blade protection. Recently in Australia, a 60 year old man lost a finger due to an unguarded propeller. Some suppliers do not fit fan guards - can you imagine not guarding a factory apparatus while fans spin around at 2000 rpm or more - why would anyone design such a machine? One very good reason. By leaving a guard off a fan, more air can travel through the duct unrestricted, allowing better performance, more speed and better fuel economy. Your decision ultimately, but I would strongly advocate having a spinning fan protected at the front and at the rear of a hovercraft duct. to protect you, your friends and family, and bystanders. 

6/. Ploughing, or plowing. All hovercraft have a tendency to nose dive when traveling over water. Some suppliers simply say, get used to it, it happens, whereas other suppliers design anti-plough measures such as anti-plough skirts. If ploughing does occur, the hovercraft will stop abruptly, jettisoning the driver, passengers and contents into the water.  Check for anti-plough skirts.

7/. Skirt design and materials. Some hovercraft have a one-piece skirt, some hovercraft have segmented skirts, which limit damage to a single section, minimizing replacement costs. Cheaper hovercraft can cost more in operating costs, if the skirts are made from sub standard materials. Don’t allow the suppliers to claw back their profits through consumable skirt replacement costs, because apart from the skirt purchase price, you also need to consider shipping or courier costs. Steer clear of neoprene coated nylon - this material degrades through exposure to sunlight (UV). Also be wary of Hypalon, this tears too easily. Conduct a rip test - cut a sample of the skirt material to see how durable it is, try to tear a section. I recommend polyurethane / nylon weave skirts.

8/. Engineering. Check how the hovercraft is designed and engineered, choose computer aided design (CAD) and CNC engineered parts. Some hovercraft parts, are molded rather than tooled from solid metal billets. Digitally controlled engineered parts (robotically controlled lathes) provide superb engineering tolerances, reduced vibration and wear so longer product life.

9/. One engine or two. Some hovercraft have different lift and thrust engines, but this involves having two control sets to independently controlling lift and thrust. Having a one engine design reduces weight, maintenance and simplifies operation. With the one engine integrated design, 25% of the air is directed to inflate the skirts to provide lift, with 75% directed through the rear of the duct to provide thrust. Some hovercraft designers add unnecessary controls, such as trim levers and even reverse thrusters, but this complicates operation unnecessarily - automatic trim is better than having a trim lever that could be set in the wrong position.

10/. Durability. As previously mentioned, many hovercraft are constructed from thin glass fibre which can shatter on impact. Boats are generally made from thicker glass fibre, but generally don’t travel over land whereas hovercraft do, meeting the occasional tree in their path. Check the underside of the hovercraft to see whether it has underside protection, look for aluminum impact plates, runners, kevlar, or even better, constructed from HDPE.

11/. Price. We all like a bargain, but particularly with hovercraft, you get what you pay for. Look for hovercraft with full warranty, unmodified engines with power in reserve, front and rear fan guards and other safety features, and for a supplier capable to provide support.  
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