Luke Skywalker used one to get around in Star Wars. Since then, hovercrafts
have become popular as recreation vehicles. They are used all over North America.
The boat-like vehicles hover eight to 18 inches above the ground. They
can be used as transportation over land, water, ice and snow. Hovercraft racing
is quickly becoming a favorite hobby of many people worldwide.
A hover-in is an informal gathering in which anyone can participate.
A hover rally is generally open only to members of the specific club hosting
the rally. Hover rallies are usually reserved for special events or races.
Hover-ins can happen any time.
William Flett is the marketing director and vice-president of Hovercraft
Concepts in Miami. He estimates about 10,000 people in North America use hovercrafts.
He suggests four to five percent of those use them for professional use.
He says the U.S. Navy spent $1 billion on hovercrafts just last year.
"Hovercrafting is an emerging market," says Flett. "It has not been funded
by governments like the automobile and the airplane were, but in the long
run it will emerge to be just as large a market."
This is because hovercrafts can go into many places that other vehicles
can't, like very shallow water and thin ice.
This is not a strenuous sport. But participants should be able to operate
rudders and other steering mechanisms. They also need to load and unload the
craft from the transport trailer.
"I got to drive an eight-person craft recently," says Sherri Galka of Foley,
Alabama. "It was a huge craft, but it handled just like any of the smaller
ones. The feel, the maneuverability -- it's all the same."
Hovercrafting is a fun activity, but it also has some practical uses. For
example, many fire departments use hovercrafts in rescue situations over hard-to-reach
terrain. The Canadian Coast Guard uses them as ice breakers. Other militaries
use the crafts to transport personnel and equipment.
Hovercrafts are also used for nut farming and on cranberry marshes. "Imagine
not having to put tractor rows into fields," says Flett. "The amount of space
that would save on a large farm would be astounding."
This hobby can lead to careers with fire departments or military organizations.
They use hovercrafting as rescue or transport vehicles. Or you may want to
establish a private business that designs, manufactures, or operates hovercrafts.
Hovercrafts can be either home-built or manufactured. Home-built crafts
are put together by individuals using blueprints they purchase from a designer.
They can be as simple or as sophisticated as the builder chooses.
Manufactured crafts usually come in two- to four-person crafts. Some can
transport eight to 10 people. Buyers can add extra gauges and other accessories
to their manufactured crafts.
The crafts can cost from $800 to $2,000 or more to make. It costs anywhere
from $5,000 to $22,000 for a pre-built, two- to four-person vehicle, depending
on the accessories you add.
If you want to build a craft to take 10 or 20 of your friends out for a
ride, plan to spend $400,000 or more.
Hovercrafting requires that participants be trained to operate the craft.
You also need training in proper safety procedures.
If you are interested in flying a hovercraft, Christopher Haskins of Coupeville,
Washington, suggests, "Find someone with a hovercraft and talk to them.
"Get rides in various types of crafts, and go to a local rally and look
at everything. Also, you need to be familiar with boating rules, since you
have to share the water with boaters."
World Hoverclub Federation
Hoverclub of America
P.O. Box 908
The Hovercraft Home Page
Provides classified ads, answers to FAQs, and links
The Hovercraft Museum Trust
An online encyclopedia of the sport
Lots of pictures of different crafts