CHAPTER 4—Seaplane Operations – Preflight and Takeoffs


Make normal takeoffs into the wind. Once the wind direction is determined and the takeoff path chosen, configure the seaplane and perform all of the pre-takeoff checks while taxiing to the takeoff position. Verify that the takeoff will not interfere with other traffic, either on the water’s surface or in the air.

Hold the elevator control all the way back and apply full power smoothly and quickly, maintaining directional control with the rudder. When the nose reaches its highest point, ease the back pressure to allow the seaplane to come up on the step. Establish the optimum planing attitude and allow the seaplane to accelerate to lift-off speed. In most cases, the seaplane lifts off as it reaches flying speed. Occasionally it may be necessary to gently help the floats unstick by either using some aileron to lift one float out of the water or by adding a small amount of back pressure on the elevator control. Once off the water, the seaplane accelerates more quickly. When a safe airspeed is achieved, establish the pitch attitude for the best rate of climb (VY) and complete the climb checklist. Turn as necessary to avoid overflying noise-sensitive areas, and reduce power as appropriate to minimize noise.


In restricted or limited areas such as canals or narrow rivers, it is not always possible to take off or land directly into the wind. Therefore, acquiring skill in crosswind techniques enhances the safety of seaplane operation. Crosswinds present special difficulties for seaplane pilots. The same force that acts to lift the upwind wing also increases weight on the downwind float, forcing it deeper into the water and increasing drag on that side. Keep in mind that the allowable crosswind component for a floatplane may be significantly less than for the equivalent landplane.

A crosswind has the same effect on a seaplane during takeoff as on a landplane, that is, it tends to push the seaplane sideways across the takeoff path, which imposes side loads on the landing gear. In addition, wind pressure on the vertical tail causes the seaplane to try to weathervane into the wind.

At the beginning of the takeoff roll in a landplane, drift and weathervaning tendencies are resisted by the friction of the tires against the runway, usually assisted by nosewheel steering, or in some cases even differential braking. The objective in a crosswind takeoff is the same in landplanes and seaplanes: to counteract drift and minimize the side loads on the landing gear.

The sideways drifting force, acting through the seaplane’s center of gravity, is opposed by the resistance of the water against the side area of the floats. This creates a force that tends to tip the seaplane sideways, pushing the downwind float deeper into the water and lifting the upwind wing. The partly submerged float has even more resistance to sideways motion, and the upwind wing displays more vertical surface area to the wind, intensifying the problem. Without intervention by the pilot, this tipping could continue until the seaplane capsizes.

During a takeoff in stiff crosswinds, weathervaning forces can cause an uncontrolled turn to begin. As the turn develops, the addition of centrifugal force acting outward from the turn aggravates the problem. The keels of the floats resist the sideways force, and the upwind wing tends to lift. If strong enough, the combination of the wind and centrifugal force may tip the seaplane to the point where the downwind float submerges and subsequently the wingtip may strike the water. This is known as a waterloop, and the dynamics are similar to a groundloop on land. Although some damage occurs when the wingtip hits the ground during a groundloop, the consequences of plunging a wingtip underwater in a seaplane can be disastrous. In a fully developed waterloop, the seaplane may be severely damaged or may capsize. Despite these dire possibilities, crosswind takeoffs can be accomplished safely by exercising good judgment and proper piloting technique.

Since there are no clear reference lines for directional guidance, such as those on airport runways, it can be difficult to quickly detect side drift on water. Waves may make it appear that the water is moving sideways, but remember that although the wind moves the waves, the water remains nearly stationary. The waves are simply an up-and-down motion of the water surface— the water itself is not moving sideways. To maintain a straight path through the water, pick a spot on the shore as an aim point for the takeoff run. On the other hand, some crosswind techniques involve describing a curved path through the water. Experience will help determine which technique is most appropriate for a given situation.

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