CHAPTER 6—Seaplane Operations – Landings


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 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.

 ©AvStop Online Magazine                                                                                                                                                      Contact Us              Return To Books

AvStop Aviation News and Resource Online Magazine

Grab this Headline Animator