2002: Hovercraft joins the RNLI fleet
Since its introduction in 2002, the RNLI inshore rescue hovercraft has enabled us to carry out our vital rescue work in areas inaccessible to conventional lifeboats and lifeboat crews.
Each year, on mudflats and sandbanks – where the surface is too soft for land vehicles or the water is too shallow for boats – people find themselves in desperate need of assistance. Whether caught out by quicksand, mud or rising tides, these situations can often end in tragedy unless help arrives quickly.
Prior to 2002, the only method of rapid access to these areas had been by helicopter, with surface access limited to walking or using mud mats and crawling boards.
The introduction of the rescue hovercraft to our lifeboat fleet in 2002 not only allowed quick access to these hard to reach areas, but was also particularly useful for assisting with shoreline searches.
Due to its unique qualities, 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 – as such, the hovercraft is the only lifeboat in the RNLI fleet to have pilots, not coxswains.
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, with the two inflatable sponsons providing stability, additional buoyancy and a soft edge for casualty recovery.
RNLI rescue hovercraft also carry specialised mud rescue and first aid equipment to release and treat a trapped casualty.