FateMerged with Seaspeed
Area served
English Channel
ServicesPassenger transportation
One of Hoverlloyd's four SR.N4 hovercraft (Sir Christopher) at the Ramsgate Pegwell Bay Hoverport in the 1970s

Hoverlloyd operated a cross-Channel hovercraft service between Ramsgate, England to Calais, France. It operated four SR.N4 type hovercraft and was a rival to Seaspeed (owned by British Rail).

Company ownership

The origins of Hoverlloyd date back to 1964, when the Swedish Lloyd shipping company investigated the possibility of operating a hovercraft service. Together with Swedish American Line (owned by Brostroms Rederi AB), the Cross-Channel Hover Services Ltd was registered as a British company in 1965. The name was changed to Hoverlloyd Ltd in 1966. In 1976 Brostroms Rederi AB purchased the entire operation.

Early operations

Hoverlloyd commenced operations from Ramsgate Harbour to Calais Harbour on 6 April 1966 using small, passenger only SR.N6 hovercraft. When the much larger SR.N4 craft, capable of carrying 30 vehicles and 254 passengers, were delivered in 1969, Hoverlloyd moved operations to a purpose built ‘hoverport’ in Pegwell Bay, near Ramsgate. A similar facility was provided east of Calais harbour and was shared with Seaspeed (who operated into Dover on the UK side of the English Channel). Crossing ('flight') times were as low as 22 minutes.[1] Hovercraft operations were prone to disruption and cancellation during bad weather, although this was eased over time by various modifications to the craft, a typical problem being damage to the rubber 'skirt'. Also, the hovercraft had an unmatched turnround time, with the ability to disembark/embark cars at both ends of the craft, whilst simultaneously dealing with foot passengers from two main exits on the port and starboard cabins.

The craft

Between 1969 and 1977, Hoverlloyd took delivery of and operated a total of four SR.N4 hovercraft on the Ramsgate-Calais link. These were named Sure, Swift, Sir Christopher and The Prince of Wales.

Main operations

Hoverlloyd craft Swift on an English Channel beach, 1973

Hoverlloyd concentrated on the Ramsgate to Calais link throughout the life of the company. Tentative plans to operate to Ostend in Belgium were never progressed. However, the company did operate a successful express coach/hovercraft/coach service from London to a number of near European cities with fares which were considerably cheaper than the air fares available at the time. The most frequent service was London - Paris with London - Brussels with fewer departures. In 1978 these were the only two destinations. In 1979 Amsterdam was added. On the UK side the coaches were operated with Hoverlloyd liveried coaches provided by Evan Evans Ltd - at that time a subsidiary of Wallace Arnold Tours of Leeds. Coaches did not cross the channel - though the Hovercraft could take standard height coaches with luggage space at the rear. Film footage of operations is included in the 1974 spy film The Black Windmill with Michael Caine. [1] Film footage also appeared in the 1980 film Hopscotch with Walter Matthau.

Economics of large hovercraft operation

The SR.N4 craft were powered by four Bristol Proteus gas turbine engines which consumed significant amounts of aviation kerosene. As the world wide oil crisis of the 1970s caused fuel prices to rise sharply, the operation of the SR.N4 became increasingly uneconomic. Furthermore, the closure of the British Hovercraft Corporation meant that maintenance of the craft was also costly and no new design or build was likely. Indeed, Sure was taken out of service in 1983 and cannibalised for parts to keep the rest of the fleet operating. Seaspeed (and later Hoverspeed) operated a single French built SEDAM N500 craft from 1977 but it was beset by design and operational problems and was withdrawn from somewhat sporadic service in 1983 and later scrapped.

Rationalisation and merger

By 1980, it was obvious that cross Channel hovercraft operation could only continue economically if the two operating companies merged, with consequent rationalisation. Therefore, Hoverlloyd and Seaspeed merged in 1981, to create Hoverspeed. The former Hoverlloyd services from Ramsgate were subsequently withdrawn after the 1982 season and the four ex-Hoverlloyd craft were thereafter based at Dover until their withdrawal from service between 1983 and 1993.

The end

All four ex-Hoverlloyd craft were eventually broken up and none remains extant (one ex-Seaspeed SR.N4 craft remains and is stored at the Hovercraft Museum, The Princess Anne is going to be restored in its former Seaspeed livery but The Princess Margaret was broken up). The hoverport at Pegwell Bay was used as an engineering and administrative base by Hoverspeed for a few years after passenger services ceased but the site was eventually closed and all buildings completely demolished. Nonetheless, the hovercraft pad, car marshalling area and approach road are all still clearly identifiable. Hoverspeed continued cross Channel hovercraft operation until October 2000, when the last two craft were retired and the era of ‘hovering across the Channel’ came to an end.


  1. ^ "Hovercraft Facts". 1966: Hovercraft deal opens show. BBC. 15 June 1966. Retrieved 9 April 2010.

External links

This page was last updated at 2019-11-12 22:36 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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