The Hovertoon: A Pontoon Boat-Hovercraft Hybrid

This hybrid could be used for making rescues someday.
Dick Schramer running his Hovertoon
Inventor Dick Schramer pilots the Hovertoon over Wisconsin’s Fox River. Top speed is about 45 mph. Charles Plueddeman

And now for something completely different. The Hovertoon is a brainstorm brought to life by 70-year-old retired electrical engineer Dick Schramer of Berlin, Wisconsin, who thinks his creation solves a key shortcoming of hovercraft typically used in the Snowbelt for ice rescue.

Schramer's model of the Hovertoon
Schramer, the former mayor of Berlin, Wisconsin, used this scale model to prove his Hovertoon idea would work. Charles Plueddeman

“The fire-department hovercraft needs to fit on a flat trailer, but that makes them too small to carry more than a couple of people,” Schramer says. “During a recent rescue of four ice fishermen from a floe on Green Bay, it took multiple trips to get them and their gear back to shore. The Hovertoon will fit on a pontoon boat trailer, and has a capacity of about 1,800 pounds and a lot of deck space.”

A utility motor powering lift fans
A utility motor below the foredeck powers lift fans. Charles Plueddeman

As its name implies, the Hovertoon is a hybrid of hovercraft and pontoon. Schramer gave us a demo on his prototype, the product of 12 years and 7,000 hours mostly working alone in a shop behind his house on the banks of Wisconsin’s Fox River. Schramer’s initial calculations told him that to achieve his capacity goal, he’d need a footprint larger than that of a trailerable pontoon boat. By hinging the pontoons and swinging them up and out, he gained 50 percent more surface area and lowered the deck by about 25 inches, so less air would need to be compressed within the hovercraft’s skirts. To test his idea, Schramer first built a 1/12th scale model with four electric motors and a remote control. When that worked, he patented the design and forged ahead.

GM V-6 powering twin fans
A junkyard GM V-6 drives twin propulsion fans. Charles Plueddeman

The working prototype is 23 feet, 6 inches in length overall, with a beam of 8 feet, 6 inches with the pontoons under the craft, and 13 feet, 6 inches with them folded up. Four linear actuators (electric screw devices) move the pontoons. Four other actuators drop down below the deck to support the craft on a hard surface so the pontoons can be rotated back under the craft. A local canvas shop created the skirts. A sheet-metal shop made two 12,000 cfm squirrel-cage fans, belt-driven by a 22 hp Harbor Freight utility motor below the forward deck, to pressurize the skirt and lift the craft. A pair of 42-inch propulsion fans, driven by a 195 hp V-6 engine liberated from a junkyard pickup, make 526 pounds of thrust to push the Hovertoon to about 40 mph. Schramer bought the pontoons but assembled the rest of the boat chassis himself, sometimes from found parts. The inlet vents over the squirrel-cage fans look familiar. “Those are grates from a Charmglow grill,” Schramer says.

Helm seating on the Hovertoon
A surplus boat helm and seat sit over a fuel cell. Charles Plueddeman

“When it was finished, I was a little apprehensive because I’d never driven a hovercraft before,” Schramer says. His expansive backyard was an ideal test site, and the smooth transition to the river lets him glide from land to water and back again. Piloting a hovercraft seems like an exercise in very approximate “point and shoot” navigation, but Schramer drove the Hovertoon right back into his shop after our demo. He’s got it figured out.

Barbecue grate covering fan inlet
A barbecue gridiron covers the squirrel-cage fan inlet. Charles Plueddeman

The prototype weighs about 3,200 pounds, but Schramer thinks a production version could weigh hundreds of pounds less and then carry even more weight. After investing about $40,000 in materials and the patent process, he’s taken the Hovertoon about as far as he can. He’d like to see an investor or boat manufacturer turn it into a finished product. We guess he has another brainstorm to work on.

Hovertoon driving into the water
Renegade Hovercraft offers a variety of models. Charles Plueddeman

Build Your Own!

So, if you don’t count yourself as inventive enough to design and build your own from scratch, Renegade Hovercraft builds and sells a variety of hovercraft at different price and performance levels. For instance, this carbon-fiber Renegade IQ sells for $32,000. It comes with a gauge package, a USB port, navigation lights and more. It’s also available as a kit that requires “basic mechanical knowledge,” according to Renegade. Starting at $17,995; renegadehovercraft.comKevin Falvey