All three options have their advantages. Companies like ourselves and a number of others, supply a turnkey product to buyers who want to get out there and have fun using their hovercraft. Just like you’d buy a jetski, boat, car or quad, you spend your money and make your choice as to the brand, size and specification. For your money, you get a fully warranted, reliable vehicle which should be certified and built to the standards of the MCA Hovercraft Code of Practice. It really should be that simple!
There’s basically two other options.
Build from plans
Companies such as Universal Hovercraft in the USA will sell you a set of plans and you can build the whole hovercraft yourself. You’ll buy the timber, source an engine or two, sew up your own skirt, source fan assembly parts, build steel fan frames, upholster seats and decide what colour gloss it needs to be finished in. It can be a fascinating project – as long as you have the necessary space, time and (crucially) skills & knowledge to complete it safely.
Unfortunately, where new and first time owners/builders are concerned, it’s probably fair to say that more don’t get finished than do. It’s a major project, demanding and time consuming. Enthusiasm and cash often run out before the projects completed – especially given the price of marine quality plywood nowadays! This often means that they end up on ebay as another unfinished project (which in themselves can a be a good buy if the work has been completed safely and well.)
So, if it does make it to completion, what do you have? Well – taking the Sevtec & Universal designs, they’re very much a water craft designed for the American market – much more at home on big, open areas of water than exploring creeks and gullies. Their bag skirted design can be a challenge on mudflats and the large propeller means they can lack maneuverability. This means they work well as a long distance cruisers on calm water, but they’re not really a thrilling ride. Think more ‘limo’ than ‘Lotus’ and you have the idea!
Without the development that a professional manufacturer puts into their craft, homebuilds should always be inspected by a competent engineer before operation. The terrible 2011 incident in New Zealand, when a man who’d built a hovercraft was killed by the propeller flying off the first time he used it just illustrates the point only too clearly. But dramatic accidents aside, (this was an unfortunate but inevitable accident) making the hovercraft work properly can be nearly as big a job as constructing it. The builder often become despondent the first time out when it doesn’t work and it ends up - you guessed it - on ebay. Fine tuning the skirt, lift and thrust fans/props, matching the engine to the fan and selecting the correct speeds, getting the trim right, chasing away vibrations and making the steering safe…none of it is a five minute job and can soak up hundreds of hours of painstaking development.
And so, a year after work began, and with the homebuilder still setting-up his craft and ironing out problems, the feller who bought a professionally manufactured craft has many hours of hovercrafting adventures behind him. Now that’s not to say that the homebuilder isn’t enjoying himself – but it’s certainly a different type of enjoyment!
The other issue with regards building a hovercraft is the resale value. Being of (usually) a timber or aluminium construction, they usually look pretty crude, and are often seen to sport features such as (I kid you not) plastic garden chairs for seating. It’s rare that a homebuilt hovercraft will fetch even a fraction of what it costs to build (especially if you price in your own time.) Sadly, it’s a fact that people simply aren’t prepared to pay much for your own efforts - rather like with homebuilt/converted camper vans. Some are very good, but they’ll never get the same price as a coach-built one. On the other hand, a well maintained, three year old commercially built hovercraft can reasonably be expected to retain as much as 75% of its value.
Some hovercraft home-builds can be....rudimentary! (below) Limited to grassy field, it would be best not set out on a maritime adventure in this one!
Build a Hovercraft Kit
Going back a few years, we realised we were being asked time and again to supply complete kits, so we introduced them and have sold many since then. This is very much ‘halfway house’ between buying a completed hovercraft and building a hovercraft from plans. The kits we supply contain everything needed to build one of our Marlin or Snapper models. The fiberglass hull is fully assembled so that the fit-out is simply a mechanical project which is well within the capabilities of any competent mechanic without needing specialist tools and equipment.
Whilst it gives the builder the satisfaction of building their own machine, there’s two major advantages in the kit, compared to building a wooden hovercraft from a set of plans – aside from the fact it’s a much quicker build, meaning you can get out and play with it that much sooner!
Firstly, it’s going to work. Engine, fan, transmission, hull design are already decided and have been successfully used hundreds of times. No guessing, no calculations - follow the instructions and you’ll build and play!
Secondly, and this one’s a big one, it’ll be worth money when (if!) you come to sell it. The GRP hull’s are the same as we use on production, ‘turn-key’ hovercraft so that the finished article looks basically the same as those models. No clumsy wood, sharp corners, garden chair seating or unfinished edges – the finished hovercraft will look the part and fetch a good price.
Options for a ‘new’ hovercraft
Whether you buy a complete, turn-key hovercraft, a hovercraft kit, or build a hovercraft is down to your own skills, funds and wishes of course. We're here to advise, just pick up the phone!
The next part of this series looks at the various aspects of hovercraft design, with advice about what to look for in a used / second-hand hovercraft.