Hovercraft CG–SRN–021 in Use for Biological Sampling on Roberts Bank, Fraser River Estuary, September 1973

by Colin Levings 2019


People from left: Biologists Colin Levings, Jean Coustalin, Mike Nassichuk. Hovercraft pilot in window likely Ian Worrall. (Photo by the late John Luternauer)

With the great cooperation of the Canadian Coast Guard, hovercraft (air cushion vehicles) at Sea Island were used for basic geological and biological surveys of Sturgeon and Roberts Bank at the mouth of the Fraser River. These extensive sand and mud banks can be dangerous to traverse by foot at low tide or by small boat at high tide. At lowest tide, when direct observations of the environment can be made, it is up to 5 km from the high tide margin at the sea dikes to the seaward edge of the Banks. John Luternauer from the Geological Survey of Canada was among the first to use a hovercraft for research on the Banks, in the early 1970s.

Beginning in 1973 researchers from the Fisheries Research Board of Canada (FRB) based at West Vancouver also used the relatively small CG hovercraft SNR–021 (compared with those of today) for many important biological investigations. The purpose of the sampling was to obtain data on the distribution and abundance of invertebrate organisms living in the mud and sand. At high tide the animals are eaten by young salmon and other fish species using the Banks as nursery habitat. Temperature and salinity data and other oceanographic measurements were also obtained.

Winter surveys had to be done at night when tides were lowest – always a surprise to jump off the bow ramp in the dark and sometimes sink to the knees or deeper in soft mud or sand. Over the years various hovercrafts were used and some areas away from the Fraser estuary were sampled. The longest trip I had on the hovercraft from Sea Island was in May 1998 when we surveyed the mudflats at the mouth of Bonsall Creek, near Chemanius on Vancouver Island. I noted in my log book that it was a rough trip crossing Georgia Strait that night. Of course if there was a search and rescue mission call out we went along, which happened on a few occasions.


CG–021 Type SRN Hovercraft built by British Hovercraft, Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK. Displacement: 8 tons. One gas–turbine (1100 kW). Speed 55 kts (Photo from the Colin Levings collection.)

Editor’s Note: Colin Levings was born in Victoria BC in 1942. He started his marine science career as a technician on Gulf of Alaska halibut surveys in 1962, studied at UBC and Dalhousie University and then worked for the Department of Fisheries and oceans doing ecological research out of Nanaimo and West Vancouver for 36 years. He is still active as a writer, reviewer and mentor. His research took him along the BC coast from Boundary Bay to Haida Gwaii as well as up the Fraser River. See his website for details of the vessels he sailed on, his Memoir, books and publications list, and more. He lives in Lions Bay, BC.

To quote from this article please cite:

Levings, Colin (2019) Hovercraft CG–SRN–021 in use for biological sampling on Roberts Bank, Fraser River Estuary. Nauticapedia.ca 2019. http://nauticapedia.ca/Gallery/Hovercraft.php

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