Seaplane Safety Issues

Accident Analysis

In these pages in past issues both I and Associate Editor Dean Chamberlain have extolled the virtues and pleasures of flying seaplanes. And rightly so, since both of us are seaplane pilots. It is relatively easy to obtain a seaplane rating. I did it at a small seaplane operation in East Haddam, CT over a long weekend, about five days of ground school, familiarization, and practicing takeoffs and landings and other maneuvers on the water.

Dean went to a small operation as well in Philadelphia, PA for his single-engine seaplane rating in a similar amount of time. Some time later he took a couple of weeks off and got a multiengine seaplane rating at a well-known and popular seaplane base in central Florida. Again, if you're already a pilot, picking up the water operating skills is quick and relatively easy.

As with any endeavor and with any certificate or rating, becoming a proficient seaplane pilot requires experience and practice. As I've said before, seaplanes can combine the best of two worlds aviation and water recreation.

Also as mentioned before, we seaplane pilots, when we use popular water sites at least those that still allow seaplane operations we may have an extra responsibility. By regulation we are responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft, but we also have to look out for people on the water who may be fascinated by this large and commanding water creature, the seaplane, but who may not know anything about safely avoiding a spinning propeller. There is a favorite pastime among operators of personal watercraft, for example, one that has proved fatal jumping the wakes left by powerboats. Accidents have happened when the quicker more maneuverable personal watercraft have leapt a wake, done a 180 to repeat, and collided with a slower-moving powerboat. Some of those accidents have been fatal, usually to the operator of the personal watercraft. If these hotdoggers enjoy wake-hopping behind a powerboat, imagine the way a seaplane step-taxiing will set their hearts aflutter.

Seaplane pilots have another responsibility, too, a hidden one. Seaplanes may be perceived by the non-aviation public as noisy and dangerous. In many ways because of a lack of understanding about the versatility and purpose of seaplane operations, people and local governments have reacted negatively to seaplane activity, often without cause. The result has been restrictive local rules and regulations prohibiting seaplane operations in some sensitive areas. Part of our responsibility as seaplane pilots, then, may be not only to educate the public but also to operate as the most knowledgeable and proficient seaplane pilot possible; that is, to put our best float forward at all times.

To help the seaplane pilot with his or her responsibilities, this three-part series will try to provide some background on seaplane accidents (Part 1), how people react to seaplane noise (Part 2 ), and explain just who has jurisdiction over what (Part 3 ). A major resource for these articles is a report released in May 1996 by the Seaplane Pilots Association (SPA) entitled, Seaplane Compatibility Issues. This report focuses as well on safety, noise, and jurisdiction.