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Rescue hovercraft

RNLI inshore rescue hovercraft can reach areas inaccessible to conventional lifeboats, extending our lifesaving capability around the coast.

Hunstanton lifeboat volunteers onboard their rescue hovercraft, The Hunstanton Flyer H-003, at sunset

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Hunstanton lifeboat volunteers onboard their rescue hovercraft, The Hunstanton Flyer H-003, at sunset

Typically, the hovercraft operates on large areas of tidal mudflats or sand where the surface is too soft to support land vehicles and where the water is too shallow for boats.

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 often result in tragedy.

Our hovercraft is invaluable. A lot of our rescues would be very difficult to execute in any other craft. This craft gives us a far quicker response time by allowing us to take the direct route across the estuary and mudflats, often to otherwise inaccessible areas.


Fast and manoeuvrable, the top speed of our rescue hovercraft is 30 knots.

She is kept on her specially-designed transporter, which has a ramp, so that she can be taken to the best area for launch and head to the scene as quickly as possible.

The rescue hovercraft 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 craft’s overall width, for travel by road.

Her twin diesel engines provide lift and propulsion through the fans. They also provide electrical power for navigation, communication and searchlights.


The rescue hovercraft is ideal for shoreline searches and rescues. She can easily tackle the dangerous terrain that catches many people out, allowing our volunteers to reach them quickly.

The lift created by the hovercraft fans means she can fly over mud, sand and shallow water.

The lift is provided by two fans that build up air pressure under the craft. And thrust is provided by two large fans mounted on the back that act in the same way as aeroplane propellers.

The hovercraft commander can settle the hovercraft alongside the casualty so that the craft provides a large, stable platform.

Steering is provided by aerofoil-shaped rudders at the rear. And the height of the hovercraft’s skirt improves her seakeeping and increases her ride height.


The hovercraft’s two inflatable sponsons provide stability and additional buoyancy and offer a soft edge for casualty recovery.

They are deflated when the craft is being road transported to comply with legal requirements.

The rescue hovercraft carries specialised mud rescue equipment so that volunteers can release a trapped casualty.

She also carries comprehensive medical equipment including oxygen and full resuscitation kit, Entonox for pain relief, large responder bag and two different stretchers.

Efficiency and effectiveness

Before rescue hovercraft were introduced into the fleet in 2002, the only method of rapid access to areas like mudflats and quicksand was by helicopter. And surface access was limited to walking, using mud mats and crawling boards.

The versatility and speed of the RNLI rescue hovercraft has made a huge difference to the efficiency and effectiveness of our search and rescue service, enabling us to save even more lives around the coast.

Illustration of the RNLI inshore rescue hovercraft

Lifeboat category:

Year introduced to the RNLI fleet:

Launch type:
From transporter and slipway


Survivor capacity:

Maximum speed:
30 knots

Range / endurance:
3 hours at full speed

8.04m (including skirt); 7.5m (excluding skirt)

Beam / width:

Displacement / weight:
3.86 tonnes

Fuel capacity:
127 litres

2 x Volkswagen AVM 1.9 litre inline 4-cylinder turbocharged 84hp diesel engines

Marine-grade aluminium with moulded fibre-reinforce composite (FRC)

Number in fleet:
Currently 7 in total, 5 at stations, 2 in repair

All lifeboats have a unique identification number.
The first part indicates the class so hovercraft start with H.
The numbers after the dash refer to the build number. So the first rescue hovercraft built was given the number H-001.

The following four lifeboat stations have a rescue hovercraft:

Morecambe was the first station to receive a rescue hovercraft, the Hurley Flyer H-002, in 2002.

There are also three rescue hovercraft in our relief fleet.

Last updated November 2022

Watch our rescue hovercraft in action