USA Seaplane / amphibian rating


Presuming that you are a certified and proficient single-engine land pilot, the Single Engine Sea add-on rating requires only a few hours of training (about 15) and, in the United States, a checkride with an FAA examiner. In the process, you'll learn to handle an airplane on the water, read the environment for wind speed and direction information, verify the suitability of a landing area, and secure the airplane at a beach, ramp, dock, or mooring buoy. You'll also learn better judgement, as your choice of runway, traffic pattern, and parking spot is your choice alone. Some of the new things you'll learn during the transition are described below.


Taxying a seaplane is not the simple affair that land-based pilots are accustomed to. A seaplane is always in motion on the water -- there are no "brakes" in the conventional sense to bring you to a stop. Even the run-up is done in motion, with the pilot's attention divided between checklist items and navigation. The pilot must maintain constant vigilance for obstacles such as boats, submerged snags, and floating debris. The seaplane pilot must also be familiar with the vastly different characteristics of seaplanes when taxiing at various speeds.

takeoff and landing

Unlike land-based aircraft, seaplanes have some unique types of landings and take offs. For example, glassy (calm) water inhibits depth perception during landing, and adds significant drag during takeoff. Rough water pummels the airframe and passengers, prompting expedited liftoffs and prompt deceleration on landing. Crosswind landings have much in common with land-based crosswind procedures, but crosswind landings are rarely necessary in a seaplane because the landing surface is usually large enough to land into the wind regardless of its direction.

in the air

Essentially, seaplanes handle the same when airborne as their land-based brethren. The two most significant differences are speed and yaw stability. Speed is obviously reduced by the bulky floatation gear, whether that be floats, sponsons, or the "step" in the hull. Yaw stability is eroded in float-equipped seaplanes by the addition of surface area in front of the center of gravity. When the airplane yaws, air hitting the front of the floats tries to maintain the yaw. Many floatplanes have enlarged vertical stabilizers to counteract this destabilizing effect, but adroit rudder control is still a valuable skill for seaplane pilots.

coming ashore

Flying a seaplane is the easy part. Docking, ramping, and mooring is where a seaplane pilot proves his or her ability. Precise control of the seaplane on the water, accounting for the effects of wind, current, obstacles, and momentum, leads to a respectable finale to the flight. Failure to exercise such vigilance results in very expensive dents.

one more thing...

It is wind that the seaplane pilot curses most often -- and doesn't thank often enough. Seaplanes naturally weathervane to point into the wind, and this is often the downfall of an otherwise perfect approach for docking or beaching, and sometimes a good reason to abort a takeoff or avoid a landing. But wind can also shorten a takeoff or landing, assist a docking or beaching, or act as a brake when motion is not desired. The ability to recognize and take advantage of wind conditions is critical for the seaplane pilot. The good news is that mother nature provides an abundance of clues. Learning to pick up on those clues is as much a part of learning to fly a seaplane as is mastering taking off and landing.