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Seaplane Operations - Landings


When a landplane makes an approach at a towered airport, the pilot can expect that the runway surface will be flat and free of obstructions. Wind information and landing direction are provided by the tower. In water operations, the pilot must make a number of judgments about the safety and suitability of the landing area, evaluate the characteristics of the water surface, determine wind direction and speed, and choose a landing direction. It is rare for active airport runways to be used by other vehicles, but common for seaplane pilots to share their landing areas with boats, ships, swimmers, jet-skis, wind-surfers, or barges, as well as other seaplanes.

It is usually a good practice to circle the area of intended landing and examine it thoroughly for obstructions such as pilings or floating debris, and to note the direction of movement of any boats that may be in or moving toward the intended landing site. Even if the boats themselves will remain clear of the landing area, look for wakes that could create hazardous swells if they move into the touchdown zone. This is also the time to look for indications of currents in moving water. Note the position of any buoys marking preferred channels, hidden dangers, or off-limits areas such as no-wake zones or swimming beaches. Just as it is a good idea in a landplane to get a mental picture of the taxiway arrangement at an unfamiliar airport prior to landing, the seaplane pilot should plan a taxi route that will lead safely and efficiently from the intended touchdown area to the dock or mooring spot. This is especially important if there is a significant wind that could make turns difficult while taxiing or necessitate sailing backward or sideways to the dock. If the water is clear, and there is not much wind, it is possible to see areas of waterweeds or obstructions lying below the surface. Noting their position before landing can prevent fouling the water rudders with weeds while taxiing, or puncturing a float on a submerged snag. In confined areas, it is essential to verify before landing that there is sufficient room for a safe takeoff under the conditions that are likely to prevail at the intended departure time. While obstruction heights are regulated in the vicinity of land airports and tall structures are usually well marked, this is not the case with most water landing areas. Be alert for towers, cranes, powerlines, and the masts of ships and boats on the approach path. Finally, plan a safe, conservative path for a go-around should the landing need to be aborted.

Most established seaplane bases have a windsock, but if one is not visible, there are many other cues to gauge the wind direction and speed prior to landing. If there are no strong tides or water currents, boats lying at anchor weathervane and automatically point into the wind. Be aware that some boats also set a stern anchor, and thus do not move with changes in wind direction. There is usually a glassy band of calm water on the upwind shore of a lake. Sea gulls and other waterfowl usually land into the wind and typically head into the wind while swimming on the surface. Smoke, flags, and the set of sails on sailboats also provide the pilot with a fair approximation of the wind direction. If there is an appreciable wind velocity, wind streaks parallel to the wind form on the water. In light winds, they appear as long, narrow, straight streaks of smooth water through the wavelets. In winds of approximately 10 knots or more, foam accents the streaks, forming distinct white lines. Although wind streaks show direction very accurately, the pilot must still determine which end of the wind streak is upwind. For example, an eastwest wind streak could mean a wind from the east or the west—it is up to the pilot to determine which.

Wind streaks show wind direction accurately, but

[Figure 6-1. Wind streaks show wind direction accurately, but
the pilot must determine which end of the streak is upwind]

Wind streaks show wind direction accurately, but the pilot must determine which end of the streak is upwind. If there are whitecaps or foam on top of the waves, the foam appears to move into the wind. This illusion is caused by the motion of the waves, which move more quickly than the foam. As the waves pass under the foam, the foam appears to move in the opposite direction. The shape of shorelines and hills influences wind direction, and may cause significant variations from one area to another. Do not assume that because the wind is from a certain direction on this side of the lake that it is from the same direction on the other side.

Except for glassy water, it is usually best to plan to land on the smoothest water available. When a swell system is superimposed on a second swell system, some of the waves may reinforce each other, resulting in higher waves, while other waves cancel each other out, leaving smoother areas. Often it is possible to avoid the larger waves and land on the smooth areas.

In seaplanes equipped with retractable landing gear (amphibians), it is extremely important to make certain that the wheels are retracted when landing on water. Wherever possible, make a visual check of the wheels themselves, in addition to checking the landing gear position indicators. A wheels-down landing on water is almost certain to capsize the seaplane, and is far more serious than landing the seaplane on land with the wheels up. Many experienced seaplane pilots make a point of saying out loud to themselves before every water landing, “This is a water landing, so the wheels should be up.” Then they confirm that each wheel is up using externally mounted mirrors and other visual indicators. Likewise, they verbally confirm that the wheels are down before every landing on land. The water rudders are also retracted for landings.

When planning the landing approach, be aware that the seaplane has a higher sink rate than its landplane counterpart at the same airspeed and power setting. With some practice, it becomes easy to land accurately on a predetermined spot. Landing near unfamiliar shorelines increases the possibility of encountering submerged objects and debris.

Besides being safe, it is also very important for seaplane pilots to make a conscious effort to avoid inflicting unnecessary noise on other people in the area. Being considerate of others can often mean the difference between a warm welcome and the banning of future seaplane activity in a particular location. The actions of one pilot can result in the closing of a desirable landing spot to all pilots. People with houses along the shore of a lake usually include the quiet as one of the reasons they chose to live there. Sometimes high terrain around a lake or the local topography of a shoreline can reflect and amplify sound, so that a seaplane sounds louder than it would otherwise. A good practice is to cross populated shorelines no lower than 1,000 feet AGL whenever feasible. To the extent possible consistent with safety, avoid overflying houses during the landing approach. If making a go-around, turn back over the water for the climbout, and reduce power slightly after attaining a safe altitude and airspeed. A reduction of 200 r.p.m. makes a significant difference in the amount of sound that reaches the ground.


The touchdown attitude for most seaplanes is almost the same as for taxiing on the step

[Figure 6-2 The touchdown attitude for most seaplanes is almost the same as for taxiing on the step]

In water landings, the major objectives are to touch down at the lowest speed possible, in the correct pitch attitude, without side drift, and with full control throughout the approach, landing, and transition to taxiing.

The correct pitch attitude at touchdown in a landplane varies between wide limits. For example, wheel landings in an airplane with conventional-gear, require a nearly flat pitch attitude, with virtually zero angle of attack, while a full-stall landing on a short field might call for a nose-high attitude. The touchdown attitude for a seaplane typically is very close to the attitude for taxiing on the step. The nose may be a few degrees higher. The objective is to touch down on the steps,

The touchdown attitude for most seaplanes is almost the same as for taxiing on the step contact the water in a nose-down attitude, driving the float bows underwater and capsizing the seaplane. Raising the flaps can help keep the seaplane firmly on the water. To end the step taxi, close the throttle and gradually apply full up elevator as the seaplane slows.


Landing directly into the wind might not be practical due to water traffic in the area, obstructions on or under the water, or a confined landing area, such as a river or canal. In landing a seaplane with any degree of crosswind component, the objectives are the same as when landing a landplane: to minimize sideways drift during touchdown and maintain directional control afterward. Because floats have so much more side area than wheels, even a small amount of drift at touchdown can create large sideways forces. This is important because enough side force can lead to capsizing. Also, the float hardware is primarily designed to take vertical and fore-and-aft loads rather than side loads. If the seaplane touches down while drifting sideways, the sudden resistance as the floats contact the water creates a skidding force that tends to push the downwind float deeper into the water. The combination of the skidding force, wind, and weathervaning as the seaplane slows down can lead to a loss of directional control and a waterloop. If the downwind float submerges and the wingtip contacts the water when the seaplane is moving at a significant speed, the seaplane could flip over.

Improper technique or excessive crosswind forces can result in an accident

[Figure 6-3 Improper technique or excessive crosswind forces can result in an accident]

Floatplanes frequently have less crosswind component capability than their landplane counterparts. Directional control can be more difficult on water because the surface is more yielding, there is less surface friction than on land, and seaplanes lack brakes. These factors increase the seaplane’s tendency to weathervane into the wind. One technique sometimes used to compensate for crosswinds during water operations is the same as that used on land; that is, by lowering the upwind wing while holding a straight course with rudder. This creates a slip into the wind to offset the drifting tendency. The apparent movement of the water’s surface during the landing approach can be deceiving. Wave motion may make it appear that the water is moving sideways, but although the wind moves the waves, the water itself remains virtually stationary. Waves are simply an up-and-down motion of the water surface—the water itself is not moving sideways. To detect side drift over water and maintain a straight path during landing, pick a spot on the shore or a stationary buoy as an aim point. Lower the upwind wing just enough to stop any drift, and use rudder to maintain a straight with the sterns of the floats near or touching the water at the same time.

If the nose is much higher or lower, the excessive water drag puts unnecessary stress on the floats and struts, and can cause the nose to pitch down, allowing the bows of the floats to dig into the water. Touching down on the step keeps water drag forces to a minimum and allows energy to dissipate more gradually.


Make normal landings directly into the wind. Seaplanes can be landed either power-off or power-on, but power-on landings are generally preferred because they give the pilot more positive control of the rate of sink and the touchdown spot. To touch down at the slowest possible speed, extend the flaps fully. Use flaps, throttle, and pitch to control the glidepath and establish a stabilized approach at the recommended approach airspeed. The techniques for glidepath control are similar to those used in a landplane. As the seaplane approaches the water’s surface, smoothly raise the nose to the appropriate pitch attitude for touchdown. As the floats contact the water, use gentle back pressure on the elevator control to compensate for any tendency of the nose to drop. When the seaplane is definitely on the water, close the throttle and maintain the touchdown attitude until the seaplane begins to come off the step. Once it begins to settle into the plowing attitude, apply full up elevator to keep the nose as high as possible and minimize spray hitting the propeller. As the seaplane slows to taxi speed, lower the water rudders to provide better directional control. Raise the flaps and perform the after-landing checklist. The greater the speed difference between the seaplane and the water, the greater the drag at touchdown, and the greater the tendency for the nose to pitch down. This is why the touchdown is made at the lowest possible speed for the conditions. Many landplane pilots transitioning to seaplanes are surprised at the shortness of the landing run, in terms of both time and distance. It is not uncommon for the landing run from touchdown to idle taxi to take as little as 5 or 6 seconds. Sometimes the pilot chooses to remain on the step after touchdown. To do so, merely add sufficient power and maintain the planing attitude immediately after touchdown. It is important to add enough power to prevent the seaplane from coming off the step, but not so much that the seaplane is close to flying speed. With too much taxi speed, a wave or swell could throw the seaplane into the air without enough speed to make a controlled landing. In that situation, the seaplane may stall and 6-4 path. As the seaplane touches down on the upwind float, the water drag will quickly slow the seaplane and the other float will touch down as aerodynamic lift decreases. Close the throttle, and as the seaplane’s speed dissipates, increase aileron to hold the upwind wing down. The seaplane is most unstable as it is coming off the step and transitioning through the plowing phase. Be ready for the seaplane to weathervane into the wind as the air rudder becomes less effective. Many pilots make a turn to the downwind side after landing to minimize weathervaning until the seaplane has slowed to taxi speed. Since the seaplane will weathervane sooner or later, this technique reduces the centrifugal force on the seaplane by postponing weathervaning until speed has dissipated. Once the seaplane settles into the displacement attitude, lower the water rudders for better directional control.

Dropping the upwind wing uses a horizontal component

[Figure 6-4 Dropping the upwind wing uses a horizontal component of lift to counter the drift of a crosswind]

Another technique used to compensate for crosswinds (preferred by many seaplane pilots) is the downwind arc method. Seaplanes need not follow a straight path during landing, and by choosing a curved path, the pilot can create a sideward force (centrifugal force) to offset the crosswind force. This is done by steering the seaplane in a downwind arc as shown in figure 6-5. During the approach, the pilot merely plans a curved landing path and follows this path to produce sufficient centrifugal force to counter the wind force. During the landing run, the pilot can adjust the amount of centrifugal force by varying rudder pressure to increase or decrease the rate of turn. This technique allows the pilot to compensate for a changing wind force during the water run.

A downwind arc is one way to compensate for a

[Figure 6-5 A downwind arc is one way to compensate for a

Figure 6-5 shows that the tightest curve of the downwind arc is during the time the seaplane is traveling at low speed. Faster speeds reduce the crosswind effect, and at very slow speeds the seaplane can weathervane into the wind without imposing large side loads or stresses. Again, experience plays an important part in successful operation during crosswinds. It is essential that all seaplane pilots have thorough knowledge and skill in these maneuvers. Figure 6-3. Improper technique or excessive crosswind forces can result in an accident. Vertical Component Horizontal Component Angle Exaggerated for Clarity. Figure 6-4. Dropping the upwind wing uses a horizontal component of lift to counter the drift of a crosswind.


Although downwind landings often require significantly more water area, there are occasions when they are more convenient or even safer than landing into the wind. Sometimes landing upwind would mean a long, slow taxi back along the landing path to get to the dock or mooring area. If winds are less than 5 knots and there is ample room, landing downwind could save taxi time. Unless the winds are light, a downwind landing is seldom necessary. Before deciding to land downwind, the pilot needs a thorough knowledge of the landing characteristics of the seaplane as well as the environmental factors in the landing area.

As with a downwind landing in a landplane, the main concern for a seaplane is the additional groundspeed added by the wind to the normal approach speed. The airspeed, of course, is the same whether landing upwind or downwind, but the wind decreases groundspeed in upwind landings and increases groundspeed in downwind landings. While a landplane pilot seldom thinks about the additional force placed on the landing gear by a higher groundspeed at touchdown, it is a serious concern for the seaplane pilot. A small increase in water speed translates into greatly increased water drag as the seaplane touches down, increasing the tendency of the seaplane to nose over. In light winds, this usually presents little problem if the pilot is familiar with how the seaplane handles when touching down at higher speeds, and is anticipating the increased drag forces. In higher winds, the nose-down force may exceed the ability of the pilot or the flight controls to compensate, and the seaplane will flip over at high speed. If the water’s surface is rough, the higher touchdown speed also subjects the floats and airframe to additional pounding.

If there is a strong current, the direction of water flow is a major factor in choosing a landing direction. The speed of the current, a confined landing area, or the surface state of the water may influence the choice of landing direction more than the direction of the wind. In calm or light winds, takeoffs usually are made in the same direction as the flow of the current, but landings may be made either with or against the flow of the current, depending on a variety of factors. For example, on a narrow river with a relatively fast current, the speed of the current is often more significant than wind direction, and the need to maintain control of the seaplane at taxi speed after the landing run may present more challenges than the landing itself. It is imperative that even an experienced seaplane pilot obtain detailed information about such operations before attempting them for the first time. Often the best source of information is local pilots with comprehensive knowledge of the techniques that work best in specific locations and conditions.


Flat, calm, glassy water certainly looks inviting and may give the pilot a false sense of safety. By its nature, glassy water indicates no wind, so there are no concerns about which direction to land, no crosswind to consider, no weathervaning, and obviously no rough water. Unfortunately, both the visual and the physical characteristics of glassy water hold potential hazards for complacent pilots. Consequently, this surface condition is frequently more dangerous than it appears for a landing seaplane. The visual aspects of glassy water make it difficult to judge the seaplane’s height above the water. The lack of surface features can make accurate depth perception very difficult, even for experienced seaplane pilots. Without adequate knowledge of the seaplane’s Centrifugal Force Skidding Force Figure 6-5. A downwind arc is one way to compensate for a crosswind. 6-6 height above the surface, the pilot may flare too high or too low. Either case can lead to an upset. If the seaplane flares too high and stalls, it will pitch down, very likely hitting the water with the bows of the floats and flipping over. If the pilot flares too late or not at all, the seaplane may fly into the water at relatively high speed, landing on the float bows, driving them underwater and flipping the seaplane.

The consequences of misjudging altitude over glassy water can be catastrophic

[Figure 6-6 The consequences of misjudging altitude over glassy water can be catastrophic.]

Besides the lack of surface features, the smooth, reflecting surface can lead to confusing illusions as clouds or shore features are reproduced in stunning detail and full color. When the water is crystal clear and glassy, the surface itself is invisible, and pilots may inadvertently judge height by using the bottom of the lake as a reference, rather than the water surface. The lack of surface texture also presents a physical characteristic that adds slightly to the risk of glassy water landings. A nice smooth touchdown can result in faster deceleration than expected, for the same reason that the floats seem to stick to the surface during glassy water takeoffs: there is less turbulence and fewer air bubbles between the float bottoms and the water, which effectively increases the wetted surface area of the floats and causes higher drag forces. Naturally, this sudden extra drag at touchdown tends to pull the nose down, but if the pilot is expecting it and maintains the planing attitude with appropriate back pressure, the tendency is easily controlled and presents no problem. There are some simple ways to overcome the visual illusions and increase safety during glassy water landings. Perhaps the simplest is to land near the shoreline, using the features along the shore to gauge altitude. Be certain that the water is sufficiently deep and free of obstructions by performing a careful inspection from a safe altitude. Another technique is to make the final approach over land, crossing the shoreline at the lowest possible safe altitude so that a reliable height reference is maintained to within a few feet of the water surface. When adequate visual references are not available, make glassy water landings by establishing a stable descent in the landing attitude at a rate that will provide a positive, but not excessive, contact with the water. Recognize the need for this type of landing in ample time to set up the proper final approach. Always perform glassy water landings with power. Perform a normal approach, but prepare as though intending to land at an altitude well above the surface. For example, in a situation where a current altimeter setting is not available and there are few visual cues, this altitude might be 200 feet above the surface. Landing preparation includes completion of the landing checklist and extension of flaps as recommended by the manufacturer. The objective is to have the seaplane ready to contact the water soon after it reaches the target altitude, so at approximately 200 feet above the surface, raise the nose to the attitude normally used for touchdown, and adjust the power to provide a constant descent rate of no more than 150 feet per minute (f.p.m.) at an airspeed approximately 10 knots above stall speed. Maintain this attitude, airspeed, and rate of descent until the seaplane contacts the water. Once the landing attitude and power setting are established, the airspeed and descent rate should remain the same without further adjustment, and the pilot should closely monitor the instruments to maintain this stable glide. Power should only be changed if the airspeed or rate of descent deviate from the desired values. Do not flare, but let the seaplane fly onto the water in the landing attitude.

Hold the landing attitude, airspeed, and 150 f.p.m. rate of descent all the way to the surface

[Figure 6-7 Hold the landing attitude, airspeed, and 150 f.p.m. rate of descent all the way to the surface]

Upon touchdown, apply gentle back pressure to the elevator control to maintain the same pitch attitude. Close the throttle only after the seaplane is firmly on the water. Three cues provide verification through three different senses—vision, hearing, and body sensation. The pilot sees a slight nose-down pitch at touchdown and perhaps spray thrown to the sides by the floats, hears the sound of the water against the floats, and feels the deceleration force. Accidents have resulted from cutting the power suddenly after the initial touchdown. To the pilot’s surprise, a skip had taken place and as the throttle closed, the seaplane was 10 to 15 feet in the air and not on the water, resulting in a stall and substantial damage. Be sure all of the cues Flare Too Early Stall Failure to Flare Figure 6-6. The consequences of misjudging altitude over glassy water can be catastrophic. 6-7 indicate that the seaplane is staying on the water before closing the throttle. After the seaplane settles into a displacement taxi, complete the after-landing checklist and lower the water rudders. An accurately set altimeter may allow the pilot to set up for the touchdown at an altitude somewhat closer to the surface. If the pilot can be certain that the landing configuration and 150 f.p.m. descent will be established well above the water’s surface, starting the final glide nearer the surface shortens the descent time and overall landing length. This technique usually produces a safe, comfortable landing, but the long, shallow glide consumes considerable landing distance. Be certain there is sufficient room for the glide, touchdown, and water run.


Rough is a very subjective and relative term. Water conditions that cause no difficulty for small boats can be too rough for a seaplane. Likewise, water that poses no challenge to a large seaplane or an experienced pilot may be very dangerous for a smaller seaplane or a less experienced pilot. Describing a typical or ideal rough water landing procedure is impractical because of the many variables that affect the water’s surface. Wind direction and speed must be weighed along with the surface conditions of the water. In most instances, though, make the approach the same as for any other water landing. It may be better, however, to level off just above the water surface and increase the power sufficiently to maintain a rather flat attitude until conditions appear more acceptable, and then reduce the power to touch down. If severe bounces occur, add power and lift off to search for a smoother landing spot. In general, make the touchdown at a somewhat flatter pitch attitude than usual. This prevents the seaplane from being tossed back into the air at a dangerously low airspeed, and helps the floats to slice through the tops of the waves rather than slamming hard against them. Reduce power as the seaplane settles into the water, and apply back pressure as it comes off the step to keep the float bows from digging into a wave face. If a particularly large wave throws the seaplane into the air before coming off the step, be ready to apply full power to go around. Avoid downwind landings on rough water or in strong winds. Rough water is usually an indication of strong winds, and vice versa. Although the airspeed for landing is the same, wind velocity added to the seaplane’s normal landing speed can result in a much higher groundspeed, imposing excessive stress on the floats, increasing the nose-down tendency at touchdown, and prolonging the water run, since more kinetic energy must be dissipated. As the seaplane slows, the tendency to weathervane may combine with the motion created by the rough surface to create an unstable situation. In strong winds, an upwind landing means a much lower touchdown speed, a shorter water run, and subsequently much less pounding of the floats and airframe. Likewise, crosswind landings on rough water or in strong winds can leave the seaplane vulnerable to capsizing. The pitching and rolling produced by the water motion increases the likelihood of the wind lifting a wing and flipping the seaplane. There is additional information on rough water landings in Chapter 8, Emergency Open Sea Operations.


One of the first concerns when considering a landing in a confined area is whether it is possible to get out 200 Feet Establish Landing Attitude and 150 f.p.m. Descent at 200 Feet Maintain Landing Attitude, Airspeed, and Descent Rate All the Way to the Water After Landing, Close Throttle and Maintain Planing Attitude Perform a Normal Approach, but Set Up to Land at 200 Feet Above the Water Surface Figure 6-7. Hold the landing attitude, airspeed, and 150 f.p.m. rate of descent all the way to the surface. 6-8 again. For most seaplanes, the takeoff run is usually much longer than the landing run. Before landing, the pilot should also consider the wind and surface conditions expected when it is time to leave. If the seaplane lands into a stiff breeze on water with small waves, it might be more difficult to leave the next morning when winds are calm and the water is glassy. Conversely, if the seaplane lands in the morning when the air temperature is low, departure in the hot afternoon might mean a significant loss in takeoff performance due to the density altitude. It is especially important to carefully inspect the landing area for shallow areas, obstructions, or other hazards. After touchdown is not the time to discover factors that make a confined landing area even smaller or less usable than originally supposed. Evaluation of the landing area should include approach and departure paths. Terrain that rises faster than the seaplane can climb is an obvious consideration, both for the eventual takeoff as well as in case of a go-around during landing. If climbout over the terrain is not easily within the seaplane’s capabilities, be certain there is sufficient room to make a gentle turn back over the water for climb.


Whenever landing conditions are not satisfactory, execute a go-around. Potential conflicts with other aircraft, surface vessels or swimmers in the landing area, recognition of a hazard on the water, wind shear, wake turbulence, water surface conditions, mechanical failure, or an unstabilized landing approach are a few of the reasons to discontinue a landing attempt. Climb to a safe altitude while executing the go-around checklist, then evaluate the situation, and make another approach under more favorable conditions. Remember that it is often best to make a gentle climbing turn back over the water to gain altitude, rather than climbing out over a shoreline with rising terrain or noise-sensitive areas. The go-around is a normal maneuver that must be practiced and perfected like any other maneuver.


Emergency situations occurring within gliding distance of water usually present no landing difficulty. Although there is some leeway in landing attitude, it is important to select the correct type of landing for the water conditions. If the landing was due to an engine failure, an anchor and paddle are useful after the landing is completed. Should the emergency occur over land, it is usually possible to land a floatplane with minimal damage in a smooth field. Snow covered ground is ideal if there are no obstructions. The landing should be at a slightly flatter attitude than normal, a bit fast, and directly into the wind. If engine power is available, landing with a small amount of power helps maintain the flatter attitude. Just before skidding to a stop, the tail will begin to rise, but the long front portions of the floats stop the rise and keep the seaplane from flipping over. A night water landing should generally be considered only in an emergency. They can be extremely dangerous due to the difficulty of seeing objects in the water, judging surface conditions, and avoiding large waves or swell. If it becomes necessary to land at night in a seaplane, seriously consider landing at a lighted airport. An emergency landing can be made on a runway in seaplanes with little or no damage to the floats or hull. Touchdown is made with the keel of the floats or hull as nearly parallel to the surface as possible. After touchdown, apply full back elevator and additional power to lessen the rapid deceleration and nose-over tendency. Do not worry about getting stopped with additional power applied after touchdown. It will stop! The reason for applying power is to provide additional airflow over the elevator to help keep the tail down. In any emergency landing on water, be as prepared as possible well before the landing. Passengers and crew should put on their flotation gear and adjust it properly. People sitting near doors should hold the liferafts or other emergency equipment in their laps, so no one will need to try to locate or pick it up in the scramble to exit the seaplane. Unlatch all the doors prior to touchdown, so they do not become jammed due to distortion of the airframe. Brief the passengers thoroughly on what to do during and after the landing. These instructions should include how to exit the seaplane even if they cannot see, how to get to the surface, and how to use any rescue aids.


After landing, lower the water rudders and complete the after-landing checklist. The flaps are usually raised after landing, both to provide better visibility and to reduce the effects of wind while taxiing. It is a good practice to remain at least 50 feet from any other vessel during the taxi. After landing, secure the seaplane to allow safe unloading, as well as to keep winds and currents from moving it around. Knowing a few basic terms makes the following discussions easier to understand. Anchoring uses a heavy hook connected to the seaplane by a line or cable. This anchor digs into the bottom due to tension on the line, and keeps the seaplane from drifting. Mooring means to tie the seaplane to a fixed structure on the surface. The seaplane may be moored to a floating buoy, or to a pier, or to a floating raft. For this discussion, docking means securing the seaplane to a permanent structure fixed to the shore. To beach a seaplane means to pull it up onto a suitable shore surface, so that its weight is supported by relatively dry ground 6-9 rather than water. Ramping is defined as using a ramp to get the seaplane out of the water and onto the shore.


Anchoring is the easiest way to secure a seaplane on the water surface. The area selected should be out of the way of moving vessels, and in water deep enough that the seaplane will not be left aground during low tide. The holding characteristics of the bottom are important in selecting an appropriate anchorage. The length of the anchor line should be about seven times the depth of the water. After dropping the anchor with the seaplane headed into the wind, allow the seaplane to drift backward to set the anchor. To be sure the anchor is holding, watch two fixed points somewhere to the side of the seaplane, one farther away than the other, that are aligned with each other, such as a tree on the shore and a mountain in the distance. If they do not remain aligned, it means that the seaplane is drifting and dragging its anchor along the bottom. The nautical term for when two objects appear directly in line, one behind the other, is “in range” and the two objects are called a range. When choosing a place to anchor, think about what will happen if the wind shifts. Allow enough room so that the seaplane can swing around the anchor without striking nearby obstacles or other anchored vessels. Be certain the water rudders are retracted, as they can interfere with the seaplane’s ability to respond to wind shifts. If anchoring the seaplane overnight or for longer periods of time, use a heavier anchor and be sure to comply with maritime regulations for showing an anchor light or daytime visual signals when required.

Seaplane Anchoring

[Figure 6-8 Anchoring]

When leaving the seaplane anchored for any length of time, it is a good idea to secure the controls with the elevator down and rudder neutral. Since the seaplane can rotate so that it always faces into the wind, this forces the nose down and reduces the angle of attack, keeping lift and wind resistance at a minimum.


Mooring a seaplane eliminates the problem of the anchor dragging. A permanent mooring installation consists of a heavy weight on the bottom connected by a chain or cable to a floating buoy with provisions for securing mooring lines. Approach a mooring at a very low speed and straight into the wind. To keep from overrunning the mooring, shut down the engine early and let the seaplane coast to the mooring. If necessary, the engine can be started again for better positioning. Never straddle a buoy with a twin-float installation. Always approach while keeping the buoy to the outside of the float to avoid damage to the propeller and underside of the fuselage. Initial contact with the buoy is usually made with a boat hook or a person standing on the deck of one float. While approaching the mooring, have the person on the float secure one end of a short line to the bottom of a float strut, if one is not there already. Then taxi the seaplane right or left of the mooring so that the float on which the person is standing comes directly alongside the buoy. The free end of the line can then be secured to the mooring. Exercise extreme caution whenever a person is assisting in securing the seaplane. There have been many instances of helpers being struck by the propeller. On Figure 6-8. Anchoring. 6-10 most floatplanes, the floats extend well in front of the propeller arc. Eager to do a good job, an inexperienced helper might forget the spinning propeller while walking forward along the float.


The procedure for docking is essentially the same as for mooring, except that approaching directly into the wind may not be an option. The keys to successful docking are proper planning of the approach to the dock, compensating for the existing environmental conditions, and skill in handling the seaplane in congested areas. Bear in mind that a seaplane is fragile and hitting an obstruction can result in extensive damage. Plan the approach to the dock so as to keep the wind on the seaplane’s nose as much as possible. While still well clear of the dock area, check the responsiveness of the water rudders and be sure the seaplane will be able to maneuver in the existing wind and current. If control seems marginal, turn away and plan an alternative method of reaching the dock. While approaching the dock, the person who will be jumping out to secure the seaplane should take off seatbelts and unlatch the door. When it is clear that the seaplane will just make it to the dock, shut down the engine and let the seaplane coast the remaining distance to encounter the dock as gently as possible. The person securing the seaplane should step out onto the float, pick up the mooring line attached to the rear float strut, and step onto the dock as the seaplane stops. The line should be secured to a mooring cleat on the dock. Use additional mooring lines if the seaplane will be left unattended. Be sure to complete any remaining items on the checklist, and to double-check that the mixture, magnetos, and master switch are in the off positions.


Success in beaching depends primarily on the type and firmness of the shoreline. Inspect the beach carefully before using it. If this is impossible, approach the beach at an oblique angle so the seaplane can be turned out into deeper water if the beach is unsatisfactory. The hardest packed sand is usually near the water’s edge and becomes softer where it is dry, further from the water’s edge. Rocky shorelines are likely to damage the floats, especially if significant waves are rolling in. Mud bottoms are usually not desirable for beaching. To protect them from damage, water rudders should be up before entering the shallow water near a beach. Sand is abrasive and erodes any protective coatings on the bottoms of the floats. If possible, beach the seaplane by sailing backward with the water rudders up. The aft bottoms of the floats do not dig into the sand as deeply as the forward bottoms, so backing onto a beach is not as hard on the floats as going in nose-first. Do not leave the seaplane unattended unless at least a tail line is fastened to some solid object ashore. Moderate action of the water rapidly washes away the sand under the floats and lets the seaplane drift. An incoming tide can float a beached seaplane in just a few minutes. Likewise, a receding tide may leave a seaplane stranded 30 or 40 feet from the water in a few hours. Even small waves may alternately pick up and drop the seaplane, potentially causing serious damage, unless the seaplane is beached well out of their reach. Flying boat pilots should be sure to clear the main gear wells of any sand or debris that may have accumulated before departing. If the seaplane is beached overnight or higher winds are expected, use portable tiedowns or stakes driven into firm ground and tie it down like a landplane. If severe winds are expected, the compartments of the floats can be filled with water. This holds the seaplane in very high winds, but it is a lot of work to pump out the floats afterward.


For the purpose of this discussion, a ramp is a sloping platform extending well under the surface of the water. If the ramp is wood, the seaplane can be slid up or down it on the keels of the floats, provided the surface of the ramp above the water is wet. Concrete boat ramps are generally not suitable for seaplanes. Water rudders should be down for directional control while approaching the ramp, but raised after the seaplane hits the ramp. If the wind is blowing directly toward the shore, it is possible to approach the ramp downwind with enough speed to maintain control. Continue this speed until the seaplane actually contacts the ramp and slides up it. Many inexperienced pilots make the mistake of cutting the power before reaching the ramp for fear of hitting it too hard. This is more likely to result in problems, since the seaplane may weathervane and hit the ramp sideways or backward, or at least need to be taxied out for another try. When approaching at the right speed, the bow wave of the float cushions the impact with the ramp, but if the seaplane is too slow or decelerating, the bow wave moves farther back along the float and the impact with the ramp may be harder. Many pilots apply a little power just prior to hitting the ramp, which raises the fronts of the floats and creates more of a cushioning bow wave. Be sure to hold the elevator control all the way back throughout the ramping.

The bow wave cushions the contact with the ramp

[Figure 6-9 The bow wave cushions the contact with the ramp]

When the seaplane stops moving, shut down the engine and complete the appropriate checklist. Ideally, the seaplane should be far enough up the ramp that waves or swells will not lift the floats and work the seaplane 6-11 back into the water, but not so far up the ramp that shoving off is difficult. Ramps are usually quite slippery, so pilot and passengers must be very cautious of their footing when walking on the ramp. The most difficult approach is when the wind is blowing parallel to the shore, and strong enough to make control marginal. If the approach is made into the wind, it may not be possible to turn the seaplane crosswind toward the ramp without excessive speed. In most cases, the best procedure is to taxi directly downwind until near the ramp, then close the throttle at the right point to allow weathervaning to place the seaplane on the ramp in the proper position. Then apply power to pull the seaplane up the ramp and clear of the water. This should not be attempted if the winds are high or the ramp is too slippery, since the seaplane could be blown sideways off the leeward side of the ramp.

Crosswind approach to a ramp

[Figure 6-10 Crosswind approach to a ramp]

Experience and proficiency are necessary for ramping in strong winds. In many instances, the safest procedure is to taxi upwind to the ramp and near enough for a helper to attach a line to the floats. The seaplane may then be left floating, or pushed and pulled into a position where a vehicle can haul it up the ramp.


Any time the seaplane has been operated in salt water, be sure to flush the entire seaplane with plenty of fresh water to minimize corrosion.

List below the topics for Seaplane, Skiplane and Float Airplane types .

Seaplane Rules, Regulations, and Aids for Navigation

Principles of Seaplanes

Water Characteristics and Seaplane Base Operations

Seaplane Operations – Preflight and Takeoffs

Seaplane Performance

Seaplane Operations - Landings

Skiplane Operations

Emergency Open Sea Operations

Float and Ski Equipped Helicopters