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​Introduced in 2002, the hovercraft has extended the RNLI’s ability to carry out its vital rescue work to areas inaccessible to conventional lifeboats.

Typically, the hovercraft operates on large areas of tidal mudflats or sand where the surface is too soft to support land vehicles and the water too shallow for boats and is particularly useful for shoreline searches. Each year, these areas see a number of incidents where people are caught out by the rising tide or trapped in quicksand or soft mud. Unless help is provided rapidly, such situations result in tragedy.

In 2010, hovercraft launched 75 times and rescued 44 people, saving 3 lives.

Key features

  • Systems and information Management system
  • Self righting
  • Righting and restarting
  • Navigation and communication

Until recently, the only method of rapid access to these areas has been by helicopter, and surface access has been limited to walking, using mud mats and crawling boards.

The hovercraft is kept mounted on its own transporter, which allows it to be rapidly transported from location to location by road to wherever it is needed, and can launch from any flat area such as a car park or beach, provided there is enough room. The sponsons can be deflated, reducing the overall width for travel by road.

Hovercraft can rapidly search large areas of mud, sand and shallow water. Lift is provided by two fans that build up air pressure under the craft, and thrust by two large fans mounted on the back that act in the same way as aeroplane propellers. Steering is provided by aerofoil-shaped rudders located at the rear and the height of the craft’s skirt improves its sea-keeping and increases its ride height.

Once the casualty has been located, the hovercraft can settle alongside and provide a large, stable platform. The two inflatable sponsons provide stability and additional buoyancy and offer a soft edge for casualty recovery.

The hovercraft carries specialised mud rescue equipment to release a trapped casualty as well as basic first aid equipment.

Image of hovercraft at Morecambe. Photo: Jack Lancaster

Date introduced:


Launch type:

From transporter​

Number in fleet:

4 at station plus 3 in relief fleet​








3.86 tonnes​

Max speed:

30 knots​

Fuel capacity:

​127 litres


​3 hours at full speed


Marine-grade aluminium with moulded fibre-reinforced composite​


​2 x VW 1.9 turbo diesel

Survivor capacity:


​High summer and high seas

An open day at New Brighton Lifeboat Station on 16 July, which attracted a steady stream of visitors including the Mayor of Wirral, contributed to a very busy weekend for the volunteer crew.

At 5pm they were called out to help a kitesurfer with a suspected broken foot on the beach at Wallasey. The inshore hovercraft Hurley Spirit was launched to assist an air ambulance and paramedics who were already at the scene. The casualty was put onto the hovercraft and taken to an ambulance waiting by the hovercraft hanger.

Image of Southend-on-Sea’s hovercraft. Photo: Graeme Sweeney

​Locations of hovercraft stations:





Relief fleet

3 lifeboats

  • Poole Bay Image of hovercraft training in Poole Bay. Photo: Tony Baverstock
  • Hunstanton Image of Hunstanton’s hovercraft. Photo: Clifford Hicks
  • The Hurley Flyer Image of hovercraft fans on The Hurley Flyer. Photo: RNLI/ Nigel Millard
  • Southend-on-Sea Image of Southend-on-Sea’s hovercraft. Photo: Graeme Sweeney
  • Morecambe Image of hovercraft at Morecambe. Photo: Jack Lancaster
  • Morecambe at speed Image of Morecambe hovercraft at speed. Photo: RNLI/ Nigel Millard
  • Morecambe mudflats Image of Morecambe’s hovercraft on the wide expanse of mudflats. Photo: Andrew Bruce
  • Morecambe sunset Image of Morecambe’s hovercraft at sunset. Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard
  • New Brighton Image of New Brighton hovercraft crew on their way to a rescue. Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard
  • New Brighton commander Image of New Brighton hovercraft commander. Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard
  • New Brighton wind turbines Image of New Brighton hovercraft in amongst the wind turbines. Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard