Since this is boats.com you might be a bit surprised to find that we cover hovercraft, with editorial content like our Flying Fish Hovercraft First Look Video and Top 10 Coolest Looking Boats Ever. But in truth hovercraft are little more than boats that fly—albeit just barely. They have a hull fitted with a series of flexible skirts, and an engine or engines are then hooked up to rotors in order to divert air down under the hull and into the skirts to generate lift. They also push air aft, past a large rudder (or rudders) to produce thrust and directional control.
What all of this creates is a non-displacement platform that replaces the jarring impacts of a conventional boat with the yielding softness of an air cushion. It also means that the handling is defined not by the carved control of direct contact between hull and water, but by the extravagant slides that come from channeling the direction of the air.
Older models were often noisy, heavy, cramped, under-powered, limited in range, stylistically inept and robustly unsophisticated, but the last 15 years have seen some marked improvements. Better materials have produced weight reductions and increases in usable space. More modern engines have generated surges in power and efficiency. And greater commercial viability has encouraged slicker designs, cleaner build quality, a higher grade of fixtures, and in some cases, more sophisticated driver interfaces. While plenty of commercial models could now happily double as leisure craft, the following five flying boats boats seem particularly well suited to family recreation.
1. Hovertechnics Hoverjet GT
Just under 11 feet long and less than 600 pounds this compact, 60 HP, two-stroke model is capable of speeds of up to 40 MPH on calm water. It will handle waves of up to two feet and while a maximum hover height of eight inches means its obstacle clearance isn’t huge, it comes with a pair of replaceable, hardened aluminium skid rails on the underside of the hull for extra protection. A second (optional) fuel tank would be a useful addition to the base six-gallon capacity and the extended screen, extra grab handles, nav lights and horn also look like worthwhile investments. Of course, this agile little boat only has a payload of 400 pounds but for greater capacity, the well established HoverStar or HoverTour 700 are also worth a look. With proven expertise in the design and manufacture of rescue and commercial-grade products, it’s a boat that might just warrant a place in your garage or (with the optional lifting eyes) in your tender bay. Visit Hovertechnics for more infomation.
2. British Hovercraft Company Coastal Pro II
Originally founded as Flying Fish, the British Hovercraft Company, based in Sandwich, Kent, produces four base platforms – the rapid, entry-level, one-man Snapper; the best-selling three-seat Marlin III; the twin-engined four-seat Coastal Pro; and the five-seat, cabin-equipped commercial BBV500. I’ve driven (and enjoyed) the Marlin II but for family fun, the semi-commercial Coastal Pro is a great option. This good-looking fiberglass 14-footer is designed for easy low-speed control, high load carrying capacity, and impressively low noise levels. In fact with a larger, less rapid thrust fan, the builders describe it as “probably” the quietest production hovercraft around. With the Vanguard V-twin 37 HP thrust engine and single-cylinder B&S 17.5 HP lift engine as standard, you can expect about 10 inches of lift, with a top speed of about 40 MPH. A 50 HP Rampage engine is also an option. For information on finding a BHC in the US of A, visit Hoverstream (with several dealers nation-wide).
3. Hov Pod SPX
Unlike most modern hovercraft builders, who strive to pare back every ounce of weight, UK-based Hov Pod has made a calculated compromise by building its hulls from high-density polyethylene. It's heavier than fiberglass, but it's also tougher, more impact-resistant, and easier to repair. It is also inherently buoyant, which means that the Hov Pod SPX is rated to support more than a metric ton in weight. Even the base 65 HP engine will lift a payload of 600 pounds from a water-start and with marine-grade electrical connections and stainless steel fittings throughout, the quality looks, good too. High-class engine options from Weber include the single 65 HP two-stoke and a 120 HP four-stroke that handles both lift and thrust. Skirts are constructed from a woven polyurethane/nylon fabric, which is designed for better durability and anti-rip properties than conventional neoprene-coated nylon. It’s by no means the cheapest option among these five—but it’s certainly one of the best. Find the HOV Pod US dealers on their blog.
4. Neoteric Hovertrek 6
Neoteric, based in Indiana, has spent nearly 50 years building light hovercraft – and that experience is evident in its current Hovertrek model. Available either as a four or six-man platform, it boasts a large cockpit space with user-friendly, side-by-side seating, plus the option of a fully enclosed cabin and an active ‘reverse-thrust’ system to aid braking and maneuverability. In the six-man version (pictured above), a payload of just over 1,000 pounds means you can enjoy your hovercraft as a family pursuit rather than a lone thrill – and while it’s little more than 15 feet in length, it still offers great stability at rest, even under shifting loads. A remarkably low weight of just 640 pounds and the dual fuel tank option brings an impressive cruising range of around 126 miles – and with a huge list of upgrades and customization options, this refined hovercraft is among the most developed of its kind.
5. Pacific Slider XLS100
Pacific Sliders are built in New Zealand. The Sport and its larger sibling, the XL, have been around for a while now, but in the form of the XLS100, the Pacific Slider is aiming to reassert its claimed position as “the most advanced light hovercraft in the world”. Built from fiberglass and weighing around 700 pounds, this 14-foot boat is equipped with a fairly conventional jockey seat with internal stowage, supplemented by extra stowage inside the forward fairing. The use of a permanently pressurized skirt makes it very stable at rest, and the compact Sauer 100 HP engine delivers high torque at low rpm to drive the lift and thrust fans without too much stress. The working parts are positioned aft of the passenger seat and are fully enclosed for extra safety and reduced noise, while the Kevlar-reinforced fiberglass hull uses a skirt built from 77 segments of nylon-reinforced PVC. With cruising economy of six gallons per hour, a generous 26 gallon tank also means up to four hours of cruising between fill-ups. Contact Northern Hovercraft for North American distribution.