Southend-on-Sea RNLI mark the 20th anniversary of the hovercraft

Lifeboats News Release

The inshore rescue hovercraft (IRH) has been an invaluable asset to Southend-on-Sea Lifeboat Station since 2004; aiding over 620 people. The latest figures come as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) celebrates 20 years since the lifesaving craft joined its fleet.

Stephen Duncombe

Southend-on-Sea RNLI's hovercraft, Vera Ravine, during a 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 2004, Vera Ravine arrived at Southend-on-Sea Lifeboat Station; making it the third RNLI station to operate a hovercraft.

Over the 18-year period, the IRH has aided over 620 people and saved 38 lives* at Southend-on-Sea RNLI; the highest numbers recorded by a single hovercraft since joining the charity’s fleet two decades ago.

David Cartwright, Hovercraft Commander at Southend-on-Sea RNLI, said:

‘At Southend, we get called to many rescues involving people getting cut off by the tide, especially during the summer months. For rescues like these, the hovercraft is useful as it enables us to take a direct route across the estuary and mudflats, which results in a far quicker response time.’

The hovercraft’s unique features and capabilities including its versatility and speed has made a huge difference to the efficiency and effectiveness of the RNLI’s 24/7 search and rescue service, enabling the charity’s lifesavers to save even more lives around the UK coast.

Dave continues: ‘The hovercraft has made a huge difference in terms of the lifesaving service we provide at Southend. It’s speed and the types of rescues we can do with the hovercraft enables us to expand our search and rescue capabilities.

‘Before the hovercraft, if we were called to a rescue involving someone in shallow waters or stuck in mudflats, the crew had to get as close as they could to the casualty using the lifeboat and then walk. This could be a long distance, which made it challenging to transport the casualty back to the boat.’

Southend-on-Sea RNLI is the busiest hovercraft station having launched over 600 times with the craft since it went on service in 2004. Five of these launches involved animal rescues, including dolphins. David elaborates:

‘In 2020, we were tasked to rescue two dolphins near London Gateway Port, where they got stranded from the shore at Mucking Flats. It was a multi-agency rescue involving Essex Fire and Rescue and the British Divers Marine Life Rescue.

‘The dolphins had managed to create a hollow in the mud and were unable to get back to the water. Using two inflatable rafts, one on each side of the hovercraft, we ferried the two dolphins back to the open water across the mudflats.

‘It was a surreal experience having two dolphins strapped to either side of the hovercraft whilst flying it. It was an unusual but memorable day.’

For the last 20 years, the hovercraft has extended the RNLI’s lifesaving capability around the UK coast, enabling its volunteer crews to tackle dangerous terrain and assist with shoreline searches. Its ability to carry out rescues in sheltered, shallow waters where other boats cannot operate has made it an invaluable asset for saving lives at sea.

To find out more about the RNLI’s hovercraft, visit:

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.
  • *Southend-on-Sea RNLI’s lifesaving statistics only account for hovercraft rescues from 2004 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].

Stephen Duncombe

Southend-on-Sea RNLI's hovercraft, Vera Ravine, during a 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.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.