It’s a Boat, It’s a Plane!

Ever wonders what its like to fly a seaplane? So did we. Nicholas Heath gets his feet wet down the shallow end.

Planes are fun. Boats are fun. Why not combine them and have twice as much fun? My only experience of seaplanes was a single flight in the Fiji Islands on a beaver float plane. Good fun, but you’re well removed from the water and someone else was flying it. The dream for most of us is to be able to cruise the waterways, dropping in on crystal clear waters and parking on the sand for a spot of lunch and some fishing.

How do you become a seaplane pilot? David Geers is the president of the Seaplane Pilots Association of Australia. I asked him about his path in to Seaplanes. “When I was young, I travelled around Australia by car. After that I thought I would never do it that way again. So, my dream was to become a seaplane pilot, buy a seaplane and fly it around Australia. Which is what I eventually did.” Flying a seaplane isn’t quite the same as a traditional aircraft. In the air, everything is pretty much standard. It’s the take-offs and landing that provide the challenge. Who would have thought that you would be considering tide flows, boat traffic and channel markers as part of your pre-landing checks? According to David ‘I like to do several passes over an unfamiliar landing site. The first is to check for power lines and traffic – then a lower pass for posts or sand bars”. That’s the sort of thing that you don’t normally need to worry about at an airport. In a seaplane you also need to think about the fact that you don’t have brakes and if the wind is blowing or the water is moving, so will you. So, why a seaplane? Unlike say Canada, which has thousands of lakes, Australia is drier. So, a lot less lakes. What we do have is thousands and thousands of miles of coastline, waterways and inlets – ideal for seaplane activities. The most popular seaplane in Australia is the SeaRey. There’s over 500 flying around the world and more than 40 in Australia. It’s a two-seater, using your choice of Rotax engines – but typically a 912, with a fabric covered wing. The body was traditionally fibreglass, but you can now get a carbon fibre version too. That gives you a hundred horsepower, a cruising speed around 90 knots at 20 litres an hour. The SeaRey is amphibious – it floats and it has retractable wheels for land based operations. In 2015, a fella named Michael Smith flew a SeaRey right around the globe, setting the record for small seaplanes while he did it. So, they have some runs on the board. A new SeaRey might cost you from $140k, but there are plenty of used ones popping up from half that.