Rescue hovercraft

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

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.

Hovercraft Commander Harry Roberts, Morecambe RNLI

Photo: John Beatty

Morecambe Hovercraft Commander - Harry Roberts
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.

Lifesaving features

Speed

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.

Manoeuvrability

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.

Safety

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.

Technical specifications

Illustration of the RNLI inshore rescue hovercraft

Lifeboat category:
Inshore

Year introduced to the RNLI fleet:
2002

Launch type:
From transporter and slipway

Crew:
2-4

Survivor capacity:
6

Maximum speed:
30 knots

Range / endurance:
3 hours at full speed

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

Beam / width:
3.36m

Displacement / weight:
3.86 tonnes

Fuel capacity:
127 litres

Engines:
2 x VW 1.9 turbo diesel engines

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

Number in fleet:
Currently 4 at stations and 3 in the relief fleet

Identification
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.

Locations

The following four lifeboat stations have a rescue hovercraft:

Hunstanton
Morecambe
New Brighton
Southend-on-Sea

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.

Watch our rescue hovercraft in action