With ice-bound waterways breaking up and river flooding an increasing threat, the Maine Marine Patrol and the Maine Warden Service are well-equipped for search and rescue operations on both coastal and inland waters thanks to grants from the Outdoor Heritage Fund and the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

The grant funds allowed the two agencies to acquire a hovercraft in 2012 and after two years of training, the Marine Patrol and Warden Service are prepared to use this unique piece of equipment for rescues on ice-choked harbors and waterways, as well as coastal flats and other areas that are difficult to access by boat.

Housed in the Marine Patrol’s Rockland boat repair facility, the hovercraft is available to both agencies for search-and-rescue operations in the mixed terrain they often encounter throughout the year due to its ability to navigate over nearly any terrain.

Manufactured by Michigan-based Hovertechnics, the hovercraft is propelled by fans mounted on the stern. Part of the fan thrust is ducted through the double skin hull to lift the craft off the surface on a cushion of air. This lift air is contained under the craft by flexible segmented skirts that keep the air cushion pressure up, which allows it to travel over a variety of terrain from ice to water to marshes.

“It’s like no snowmobile, ATV or watercraft that anyone would have operated,” said Sgt. Ron Dunham of the Maine Warden Service in a news release. “There’s no resistance to the surface once you’re on hover. So it takes a unique set of skills. The operators have been hand-picked by the respective departments. We’ll be training more operators as time goes on.”

“As we come into flood season this spring, this piece of equipment will be extremely helpful,” said Marine Patrol Pilot Steven Ingram, who is directing the Marine Patrol operator training. “The Patriots Day flood in 2007 and the St. John Valley flood in 2008 were great examples of situations where the hovercraft would have helped us and the Warden Service in our search and rescue and evacuation efforts.”

“The partnership is very important because Marine Patrol and the Warden Service cover very similar areas and often times work together to perform searches and rescues,” said Dunham. “It’s important to have a variety of operators in different parts of the state, and we’re collaborating with the Marine Patrol to share that responsibility to have available operators in any emergency throughout the State of Maine.”

Training was conducted by both agencies in January on Chickawauckie Pond in Rockland, during which officers from the Marine Patrol and the Warden Service took turns navigating the hovercraft over the ice and through a series of cones.

Acquired with grant money from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which receives proceeds from the Outdoor Heritage lottery tickets, and the Maine Emergency Management Agency, the hovercraft cost approximately $78,000.

“It’s important to have this type of technology,” said Ingram. “It’s another tool in the tool box. If this hovercraft saves one life, it has paid for itself for the rest of its existence.”

To view a video about Maine Marine Patrol and Maine Warden Service training on the hovercraft, visit youtube.com/watch?v=0AjOdOq48Lk.