Hoverbarges – What & Why

The hoverbarge, hover platform or air-cushioned barge is an amphibious, heavy lift marine vessel designed specifically for operation in shallow water, soft ground or over ice.  Hoverbarges have been used for payloads ranging from 50 to 450 tonnes with designs commissioned up to 2,500 tonnes.  Hoverbarges have been predominantly been used over relatively short distances, however, with the right traction unit or self-propulsion they are capable of operating over much longer distances.

The hoverbarge is historically a steel craft, similar in arrangement to a flat-topped marine barge, with a simple air cushion retained by a flexible skirt.  The buoyant core is surrounded around its perimeter by a plenum chamber with fans filling the chamber with lift air.  Hoverbarges operate with very limited infrastructure in remote locations and as such have a focus on reliability, ease of repair and maintenance; rather than speed.  In simple terms, comparing a hoverbarge to a highspeed hovercraft is like comparing a tractor with a sports car.  For these reasons, steel structures that would be too heavy to work for high speed craft are used that allow the hoverbarge to ground on unmade riverbeds and beaches.


Typical uses for hoverbarges include:-

  • Cable ferries over frozen rivers to replace bridges
  • Ship-to-shore transport
  • Shallow water / swamp workboats
  • Shore-crossing cable / pipe laying
  • Remote location heavy lift
  • Flexible oil spill response platform

Hoverbarges are not highspeed craft, cheap, fragile, capable of operating on steep inclines or gravity defying magic carpets!

Hoverbarges – Where and When

Hoverbarges have been developed in many countries on the back of the development of the hovercraft in the Solent (UK) in the 1960s.  Many of the successful projects have been overseen by Dan Turner, who as previous Technical Director of Mack-ace, hovertrans and hoverfreight, has designed and delivered more than 20 hoverbarge projects over 40 years.  Dan’s geographical reach has included North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.  Projects and studies have covered the high arctic, swamps, tundra and many beaches in developing countries.  It is fair to say that the low infrastructure requirements for hoverbarges make them attractive in some of the least glamourous locations around the world!!

Staff from Argo have supported Dan with structural, mechanical, weights and naval architecture support through three different employments across 20 years.  Argo staff have been involved in all successful operating hoverbarge projects over the past 20 years.


Unfortunately, there are no working hoverbarges that are currently available that Argo would endorse a client to buy*.  This means that there is a 2 year delivery from initial route survey contract to delivery, however, Argo plan to have a modular hover platform available for charter in late 2021.

*Note – Argo have been involved in two hoverbarge projects where the platforms are currently available for purchase.  Both projects are considered to be beyond economic repair for use as project critical capital assets.

Fleet Designs


Argo have developed a fleet of hoverbarge designs that consists of hover trailers, modular / transportable hover platforms and larger payload monocoque hoverbarges.  The latter would require fabrication or shipyard assembly in-country, close to the intended route.  The outline designs in this range of trailers, modular and monocoque hoverbarges are available now. 

Argo can also develop bespoke designs of hoverbarge for larger projects to meet specific functional requirements.  

Please call or email to discuss your requirements.



Cable, towed or self-propelled

Hoverbarges can solve some niche heavy lift problems across a large range of geographical locations.  The most critical procurement decision is the choice of propulsion option to best match the route and ground conditions.  There are four favoured solutions.

  • For very short routes (river crossings or ship-to-shore connectors) a cable ferry solution is the most reliable solution and has good historical precedents
  • For large infrastructure projects where building a dock is not viable, launching a hoverbarge from the beach and towing with marine tugs is possible
  • For routes in swamps, shallow water an amphibious traction unit can offer reliability and flexibility
  • For longer routes a self-propelled hoverbarge fitted with our patented propulsion unit is preferred – the propulsion and fuel weights do reduce the payload

Modular or Monocoque

One of the key decisions in specifying hoverbarges is to make the choice between a modular / transportable hover platform and a monocoque hoverbarge.

Modular hover platforms are suitable for loads between 100 and 350 tonnes.  They can be broken down into road-transportable units and can easily be shipped to site on standard highway trucks.  This makes them ideal for short-term contracts.  Argo have our own proprietary pontoon and skirt frame system that is designed to be as lightweight as possible but still remain robust for use in the field.

Monocoque hoverbarges are more structurally efficient so have a larger load capacity and are suitable for much larger loads.  They are, however, much more difficult to move around the world and require port access for delivery.  This makes them suitable for long term contracts or where very high value cargos can amortise the cost of the craft over a few journeys.

Payload capacities for monocoque hoverbarges range from 350 to 2,500 tonnes.

monocoque hoverbarge
Argo Engineering Solutions Ltd


Because of the unique capabilities of hoverbarges, Argo have defined the following process to help you procure the hoverbarge to meet your project needs.

In Stage 1 we ask the client to provide details of the intended route by supplying maps, gradient information, ground conditions and details of any specific obstacles.  This study allows us to offer initial advice and pricing for the best hoverbarge for the project or whether hoverbarges are the best solution.  If you would like us to send you our route survey questionnaire and undertake a route study for you please get in touch  with us at

We hope that you are now better informed and hope to talk to you about your project soon.

Stage 1 – Route Study

Stage 2 – Route Survey

Stage 3 – Approval Package

Stage 4 – Detail Design (bespoke hoverbarges only)

Stage 5 – Delivery

Stage 6 – In-service support

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