A recent development in hovercraft technology has enabled the growth of a family fun activity that just hasn't been available before. After the jet-ski fad, and quad bikes, we now have the exciting prospect of floating around on our own personal vehicle. Younger people love getting their thrills for fast machines, and hovercraft are no exception, but as we get older there are other considerations that become more pressing. Racing around when a teenager is great and necessary, but when we have a family, and thinking to buy four seater hovercraft our protective instincts kick in and we look for an altogether different experience in our fun time together.
Air cushioned vehicles might look pretty harmless, but they have to be treated with respect, just like any other device that can hurtle you along at up to 60km an hour. There are no wheels to hit obstacle on the ground, and it doesn't fly high in the air, so no danger of a fatal crash if power is lost, but there are a couple of things to consider that other means of transport just don't have. Most of the smaller hovercraft are turned by moving a set of handle bars, like a motorbike and simply throwing the body weight over to one side. As the only contact between the vehicle and the ground is air, then the reaction time to operator control is delayed.
For this reason, anticipation is key to successful operation, and very important if you have the family on board. The manufacturer will specify a maximum weight for your passenger load, which should not be exceeded. The load given may seem quite light, but an unfortunate fact is that it takes much more lift power to get a loaded craft off the the ground than to keep it hovering over the ground. On water it's even worse. Lifting off from water is called 'getting over the hump' and it's a particular problem for the design team.
Perhaps the most serious safety factor for a small vehicle is the phenomenon of 'plowing in'. This is when there may be waves when traveling over the surface of the sea which come into contact with the bow of the craft. A poorly designed hull and skirt arrangement can cause the whole assembly to dip into the water, with disastrous consequences. Imagine flying at 50km an hour and the front just drops and meets a solid wall of water. The occupants and everything not tied down would just be launched forwards, which is obviously a very bad situation for people, and particularly children.