How Does a Hovercraft Work?

How Does a Hovercraft Work?

A hovercraft is a type of amphibious vehicle that is supported by a cushion of pressurised air. To understand how hovercrafts work, you’ll need to understand that the engineering is more closely related to aircrafts, than that of boats or automobiles. But what goes into a hovercraft and how exactly do they work? Let’s explore that.

What is a hovercraft?

Hovercraft, Hover Barges and Surface Effect Ships are types of vehicles that trap cushions of air below itself and then float above that. The air means the hovercraft doesn’t touch the surface of the water or land, making it capable of travelling from land to water avoiding obstructions in its path. This is particularly favourable in military uses as they can be used to quickly land on sandy beaches without damage to the vehicle.

Types of hovercraft


Hovercrafts come in a variety of shapes and sizes; from one-person vehicles to giant passenger ferries, able to transport over 400 passengers and 50 cars. Unlike most boats which will be slowed down by the drag of the water, hovercrafts can reach speeds of up to 90 mph due to the fact they are not submerged at all.

Hovercrafts have four main applications: larger, commercial crafts are used as high-speed ferries for cars and passengers; smaller military landing craft air cushions (LCACs) are used as beach-landing crafts when deboarding larger ships; finally, you’ll find the smallest crafts are used for things like oil/gas prospecting, search and rescue, and scientific surveys.

Hover Barges

Hover barges are usually towed into position but they can be self propelled. They are used mainly in oil & gas exploration and production and have the advantage of being able to operate over land, sea or ice.

Surface Effect Ships

Surface effect ships combine the speed of a catamaran with the stability of a hovercraft. It is more resistant to slipping sideways when acted on by air or sea, and it can use water jets for propulsion as the inlet nozzles are always covered by water.

The vessel utilises the catamaran twin hulls combined with an inflatable bow skirt and an inflated ‘loop’ at the stern. Surface effect ships are used for fast ferries, tenders supplying offshore wind turbines, military patrol boats and attack vessels.

How does a Hovercraft work?

Hovercrafts create pressurised air between the hull and the water/ground below, with a flexible skirt around the perimeter that creates lift. The rubber skirt traps a cushion of air under the craft, which then escapes between the hovercraft skirt and the surface, reducing friction and allowing the craft to move along the surface.

When building a hovercraft, the skirt must be flexible enough to create clearance between the hull and the surface below, allowing the hovercraft to move over rough ground or waves.

Checkmate Flexible Engineering:

At Checkmate we work with our customers to develop, design, and manufacture the skirts and loops and associated parts. We are recognised across the world for our leading design and manufacturing capabilities.