CHAPTER 6—Seaplane Operations – Landings


AND PLANNING 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. [Figure 6-1]

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.;

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