CHAPTER 6—Seaplane Operations – Landings


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 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. [Figure 6-3 on next page]

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 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. [Figure 6-4]

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.

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.

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