Designing, And Constructing Seaplane Base Facilities CHAPTER 1  



Aviation plays a significant role in the nation's economy and in its transportation network. Every community, whether large or small, needs access to the airways. A seaplane base serves the flying community like a marina serves boating enthusiasts. Those who engage in seaplane flying and related activities use a seaplane base as a center of business and pleasure. It provides an opportunity for charter and concession operators, the tourist industry, and other enterprises, as well as employment opportunities for commercial pilots, flight instructors, aircraft mechanics, and flight activity support staffs.

a. Service. The seaplane provides a service that is impossible with any other kind of craft. Where water landing areas are available, seaplanes combine the speed of the airplane with the accessibility of boats. It provides a service which has earned an undisputed place in air transportation.

b. Waterways. Many lakes, rivers, and harbors offer natural aircraft landing and takeoff areas. Seaplane bases can replace the need for airports or can supplement major airports by relieving the heavy traffic congestion experienced at some airports. Also, a seaplane base normally has less adverse impact on the environmental than constructing a land runway in areas of recreational and scenic interest. Close-in or downtown seaplane bases can provide seaplane passenger service where transportation by land is tedious or time consuming.

c. Docking Facilities. Seaplane docking facilities vary in development from a sandy beach, wooden ramp, slip, mooring buoy, pier, or dock, to a more highly developed base that supports a fleet of aircraft with shoreline docks, ramps, and buildings for offices, hangars, repair shops, and recreation.


The Pilot/Controller Glossary of the Airman's Information Manual (AIM) defines terms used in the Air Traffic Control system such as instrument flight rules (IFR), and visual flight rules (VFR). Copies of the AIM may be obtained from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. Other terms used in this publication follow:

a. Aircraft Landing and Takeoff Area. Any area of land, water, or structure used or intended to be used for the landing and takeoff of aircraft.

b. Airport. Any airport, heliport, helistop, vertiport, gliderport, seaplane base, ultralight flightpark, manned balloon launching facility, or other aircraft landing or takeoff area.

c. Airport Available for Public Use. Any airport that is open to the general public with or without a prior request to use the airport.

d. Hazard to Air Navigation. Any obstruction to air navigation having a substantial adverse effect upon the safe and efficient use of the navigable airspace by aircraft or upon the operation of an air navigation facility. An obstruction to air navigation is presumed to be hazard to air navigation until an FAA study determines otherwise.

e. Obstruction. Any object, including a parked aircraft, which may hinder aircraft operations or which may have an adverse effect upon the operation of an air navigation facility.

f. Obstruction to Air Navigation. Any object, including a parked aircraft, located in navigable airspace.

NOTE: Code of Federal Regulation (14 CFR), Part 77, Objects Affecting Navigable Airspace, Subpart C, Obstruction Standards, establishes the standards for determining obstructions to air navigation.

g. Sea Lane. A defined path on a seaplane base prescribed for the landing and takeoff run of aircraft along its length.

h. Seaplane Base. An area of water used or intended to be used for the landing and takeoff of aircraft, together with appurtenant shoreside buildings and facilities.


In order to establish or modify a seaplane base, notification to FAA is required under 14 CFR Part 157, Notice of Construction, Alteration, Activation, and Deactivation of Airports. For the purposes of that Part, seaplane landing and takeoff areas are considered to be airports.

a. 14 CFR Part 157 requires any person who intends to do any of the following to notify the FAA of their intent:

(1) Construct or otherwise establish a new airport or activate an airport.

(2) Construct, realign, alter, or activate any runway, sea lane, or other aircraft landing or takeoff area.

(3) Deactivate, discontinue using, or abandon an airport or any landing or takeoff area of an airport for a period of one year or more.

(4) Construct, realign, alter, activate, deactivate, abandon, or discontinue using a taxiway or taxi channel associated with a landing or takeoff area on a public use airport.

(5) Change the status of an airport from private use to public use or from public use to private use.

(6) Change any traffic pattern or traffic pattern altitude or direction.

(7) Change anticipated aeronautical operations, such as, from VFR to IFR.

FAA Form 7480-1, normally used to submit the required notice, can be obtained from the nearest FAA Airports District or Regional Office.

b. AC 70-2, Airspace Utilization Considerations in the Proposed Construction, Alteration, Activation, and Deactivation of Airports, emphasizes the requirement to notify the FAA, outlines some of the airspace utilization factors which seaplane base proponents should consider early in the planning stages, and lists the addresses of FAA offices concerned with implementing this program.

c. When a notice of intent is filed to establish a seaplane base on a body of water, the resulting FAA determination is for seaplane operations landing on and taking off from that body of water. In the case of publicly owned bodies of water, the FAA will issue determinations to subsequent proponents for seaplane bases proposing to utilize the same body of water. In these cases, the subsequent FAA determinations may contain limitations that apply collectively to all previous FAA seaplane base determinations. Subsequent determinations, however, do not normally affect a prior proponent's mooring areas.

(1) It is not uncommon for a point to be reached where seaplane operations to or from different landing and takeoff areas in close proximity to each other must be coordinated to ensure safe and efficient use of the airspace. The FAA will identify the coordination procedures that must be implemented to prevent traffic pattern overlap of adjacent aircraft landing and takeoff areas and their respective approach and departure paths.

(2) The FAA airspace determination is independent of permission granted by local authorities to use the water area. The proponent may seek and obtain permission to use the water prior to or subsequent to an airspace determination. However, local authorities may require an FAA airspace determination as a prerequisite for granting permission to use the water area.


14 CFR Part 77 applies to seaplane bases only if the sea lanes are outlined by visual markers.

a. 14 CFR Part 77 requires any person who intends to construct or alter any building or structure on, or in the vicinity, of an existing or proposed airport (including seaplane base) available for public use to notify the FAA of their intent.

b. Form 7460-1 is used to submit the required notice.


The FAA conducts aeronautical studies of existing objects whenever there is a need to determine their physical or electromagnetic effect upon aeronautical operations. Situations that normally result in an aeronautical study of existing objects include but are not limited to:

a. A determination as to whether an obstruction to air navigation has a substantial adverse effect upon the safe and efficient use of navigable airspace;

b. A change in an aeronautical procedure at a seaplane base with a marked water operating area;

c. A request for technical assistance in the design and development of a seaplane base with a marked water operating area;

d. A determination as to whether an object should be altered, removed, marked, or lighted;

e. A determination as to whether marking and lighting can be reduced or removed without adversely affecting aviation safety, or whether marking and lighting should be added, intensified, or expanded to make pilots better aware of an object's presence;

f. A determination of an existing activity's electromagnetic effects upon a navigational aid or communications facility; or

g. A recommendation to the Federal Communications Commission concerning the erection or dismantling of an antenna.


All seaplane base development financed with Federal funds must be in accordance with an FAA approved SBLP.

a. An FAA approved SBLP is a determination considering all known obstructions to air navigation and all proposed construction whose exact location and dimensions are identified on the SBLP. Approval of a Federal agreement SBLP includes items shown on the plan, such as terminal buildings, NAVAIDs, lighting, fences, cargo facilities and maintenance or service areas. Structures in industrial area development, motels, storage hangars, and other nonaviation development inside the seaplane base boundary are also appropriate items for inclusion in the SBLP. The SBLP is similar to the ALP described in appendixes 6 and 7 of AC 150/5300-13, Airport Design.

b . Approval of a SBLP does not constitute approval of structures unless so indicated on the SBLP.


The Corps of Engineers is charged with maintaining and regulating the use of navigable waterways. The Corps' regulatory program concerns the integrity of navigation channels and the quality of the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas. Activities and fixed facilities requiring Corps permits include but are not limited to dredging, filling, breakwaters, boat ramps, piers, bulkheads, and riprap. Appendix I contains an application form for a Department of the Army Permit.


The Coast Guard is charged with marking navigable waterways. Markers of the type used to identify sea lanes are classified as private aids to navigation and require Coast Guard approval. Appendix 2 contains an application form.


a. State Approval. Many state aviation agencies or similar local authorities require notice or application for the establishment of seaplane operating areas, to allow issuance of a state approval, permit, or license. Requirements vary and may depend on factors such as: ownership, public or private use, commercial activities, type and number of based aircraft, and type and number of aircraft operations. Coordination with the state's department of transportation or aviation agency is recommended.

b. Local Permits. Most communities have zoning laws, building codes, fire regulations, and environmental, noise, or similar ordinances. A review should be made to determine whether local laws, rules, and regulations affect the establishment and operation of a seaplane base.


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