20 years of saving lives: Hunstanton RNLI mark the anniversary of the hovercraft

Lifeboats News Release

The inshore rescue hovercraft (IRH) has been an invaluable asset to Hunstanton Lifeboat Station since 2003; aiding over 260 people. The latest figures come as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) celebrates 20 years since the lifesaving craft joined its fleet.

RNLI/Nigel Millard

Hunstanton RNLI's hovercraft, Hunstanton Flyer, out on an evening training exercise.

The amphibious inshore rescue hovercraft has enabled the RNLI to carry out its lifesaving work in areas inaccessible to conventional lifeboats since 2002. Designed for search and rescue purposes, the hovercraft can tackle incidents on tidal mudflats or sand where the surface is too soft to support land vehicles and where the water is too shallow for boats.

In 2003, Hunstanton Lifeboat Station received Hunstanton Flyer, funded by The Civil Service Lifeboat Fund; making it the second RNLI station to operate a hovercraft.

The IRH has extended the charity’s lifesaving capability around Hunstanton having aided over 260 people and saved 13 lives* over the 19-year period. The hovercraft has been an invaluable asset for its volunteer crews in saving lives at sea.

Hovercraft Commander and Pilot at Hunstanton RNLI, Ian Devenney, said:

‘The hovercraft’s unique features and capabilities including its versatility and speed makes it essential at Hunstanton in getting over sandbanks, mudflats and other dangerous terrain that a traditional lifeboat can’t cross. It has made a huge difference to the efficiency and effectiveness of our 24/7 search and rescue service, enabling us to save even more live around the coast.’

Hunstanton RNLI is also known for its pioneering role within the charity as the station saw two hovercraft female-firsts: Charlie Parfitt, the first female Hovercraft Commander and Leesa Epsley, the first female Hovercraft Pilot in the RNLI.

Leesa said: ‘I felt so proud to be the first female at the RNLI to hold a hovercraft pilot licence. It’s a great achievement.’

Leesa juggles volunteering with being a supply teacher, retained firefighter and a mother but has always had an interest in lifesaving:

‘I joined the RNLI back in 2003, the same year the hovercraft arrived on station at Hunstanton. As a previous powerboat instructor and lifeguard, I wanted to use my experience to help others.’

Leesa became the RNLI’s first female hovercraft pilot in 2007, meaning that this year she is celebrating 15 years in the role. Leesa shares:

‘One of the things I love most about being part of the crew is that every time we’re called out, we’re faced with new challenges and we work together to solve them.

‘The hovercraft is totally different from a traditional RNLI lifeboat in terms of how it launches, how it’s flown, crew roles, equipment onboard, methods for rescuing people and it’s accessibility to inland areas. It has no brakes, it can’t reverse and because it’s all on a cushion air, it can be easily affected by the wind. It’s great to fly but it can be challenging.’

During its 19-years on service, Hunstanton Flyer has launched over 240 times to rescue people in difficulty. The craft has allowed Hunstanton RNLI tackle dangerous terrain, assist with shoreline searches, and carry out rescues in sheltered, shallow waters.

The RNLI urges those on or near coastal waters to:

  • Check the weather forecast and tide times before visiting the coast.
  • If you find yourself unexpectedly in the water, remember to FLOAT – fight the urge to thrash around, lean back, and extend your arms and legs.
  • If you find yourself in an emergency or spot someone else in trouble, you should call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard.


Notes to editors

  • The charity currently operates seven hovercrafts out of four RNLI stations including, Morecambe, Hunstanton, Southend-on-Sea and Hoylake, with three part of its relief fleet.
  • *Hunstanton RNLI’s lifesaving statistics only account for hovercraft rescues from 2003 to 2022.
  • Interviews with RNLI spokesperson available upon request.
RNLI media contacts

For more information please contact Chloe Barr, National Media Engagement Placement on 07790 772788 or [email protected], or contact the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789 or [email protected].

RNLI/Nigel Millard

Hunstanton RNLI's hovercraft, Hunstanton Flyer, out on an evening training exercise.

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

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