CHAPTER 6—Seaplane Operations – Landings


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. [Figure 6-9]

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 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. [Figure 6-10]

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.

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