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Clyde Hovercraft

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Introductory leaflet
Courtesy of The Hovercraft Museum
Hovercraft on Largs beach, 1965
Hovercraft on Largs beach 1965
Christine Matthews

Clyde hovercraft operated during the 1960s, with a number of services being established on the Clyde, but none were to prove viable using the craft available at the time.

See the detailed page in ButeWiki.

Why hovercraft failed to continue in service

The BBC produced an article that looked at why the hovercraft disappeared from service.

What happened to passenger hovercraft?[1]

A hovercraft service connected with Rothesay in the 1960s. A later service would also call there in the 1970s.

Dating to 1965, Clyde Hover Ferries operated a hovercraft ferry service connecting Rothesay with locations such as Wemyss Bay, Gourock, Dunoon, Millport, Tarbert and Largs. The Largs service was terminated when the local council decided they had the right to impose a charge for the hovercraft's use of the shore, a right that was disputed given the part of the shore used by the hovercraft (and for which 5 shillings was already being paid to British Rail, who did have the right). A service to Helensburgh never materialised, as a suitable landing area was not available.

In 1965, the fare for the service to the above destinations was 1, with a special service connection Tarbert to Portavadie being 30 shillings, or 1.50 in today's money (c. 2000).

The service was demonstrated using an SR.N5, but when finally launched was able to utilise the larger SR.N6. This could provide 38 seats, and cruise at 50 knots. Today's ferries cruise at a more leisurely 15 knots. Their colour scheme would have been familiar to travellers from Glasgow, as the craft shared the orange, white and green livery of Glasgow Corporation buses of the period.

The service was only to last from 1965 to 1966. Although the owner, an entrepreneur named Peter Kaye, had boldly predicted that within ten years most passengers would be crossing the Clyde by hovercraft The company was to make heavy losses, which they blamed on the weather.

SRN6 Hovercraft, Largs, July 1965

SR.N6 010 - CF-HOZ

SRN6 Clyde Hover Ferries
SRN6 Clyde Hover Ferries
Courtesy of The Hovercraft Museum

Completed in May 1965, and taken by road to John Brown's yard on the River Clyde near Glasgow, she was delivered to Clyde Hover Ferries on a five year lease-purchase contract. She arrived at Tarbert June 14, 1965, and Clyde Hover Ferries services began two days later, with SR.N6 012 scheduled to join the service a few months later.

SR.N6 012 - CF-HOV Completed in July, 1965, and taken by road to John Brown's yard on the River Clyde near Glasgow, she joined SR.N6 010 on Clyde Hover Ferries service on July 24, 1965. On September 9, 1965, she struck Gourock pier, and was taken off the service for repairs. On her return, and following sea trials, she became the first hovercraft to cross the Irish Sea on October 1, 1965. In December 1965, she returned to Cowes by road for a refit. Unfortunately, history now shows that the Clyde-based hovercraft ferry service was unable to sustain itself, and the craft returned to Cowes in October 1966.

Caledonian Steam Packet Company

The Caledonian Steam Packet Company, forerunner to Caledonian MacBrayne, operated a hovercraft service between Largs and Cumbrae from 1970 to 1972. Carrying 65 passengers, crossings were reported to be uncomfortable even in only moderate conditions. One passenger described the crossing: "It was great. Incredibly noisy! Like one long bumpy landing on a plane!"

Although not a dedicated service to Bute, the 1970s hovercraft service did have occasion to call at the island. The main route was Largs to Millport, beginning the day from Gourock, where the craft was based. Rothesay and Dunoon were later additions to the route.


This craft was noteworthy in that it was not of the usual flexible skirt design, but followed a design proposed in the early 1960s by William Denny & Bros of Dumbarton.

Rigid sidewalls supported the main structure, while flexible skirts mounted fore and aft maintained the air-cushion between them. Drive was by three engines, with one for lift, and two for marine propellers to provide thrust. Unlike conventional hovercraft with fully flexible skirts, these craft were not amphibious and could only operate in water. In this case, the purpose of the air-cushion is to reduce the hull area and resultant drag, thereby raising the cruising speed, to 35 knots in this case. By comparison, the passenger only Ali-Cat which began operating on the Clyde in the early 2000s, cruises at 16 knots.

High fares, mechanical problems, unreliability, wet weather, and low comfort levels arising from noise (the craft were very lightly constructed) together with the small craft's susceptibility to choppy waters meant the service never gained popularity. The service concluded when HM2-011 was finally sold back to its manufacturers' American owners, Hover Marine Ltd, in 1972.

Hovercraft on Bute in 2017

Bute Hovercraft Visit, 2017
Bute Hovercraft Visit 2017

Two small hovercraft visited the Isle of Bute in 2017.[2]


1 What happened to passenger hovercraft? - BBC News Retrieved November 09, 2015.

2 7th May photo - Hovercraft - Zak photos at pbase.com Retrieved 9 May 2017.

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