1. How do I determine where I can legally land a seaplane?
While most pilots assume the FAA has jurisdiction over landing areas, including water based landing areas, the truth is much more complex. Jurisdiction rests with the person or organization that "owns" the waterway. This may be a federal or state agency, a local government, a private corporation, an individual or any combination of these.
Determining who controls a waterway is the first step in determining whether it is legal to land on that body of water.
Another complication enters the picture with overriding jurisdictions, most commonly state-imposed seaplane base licensing requirements. In several states, notably Ohio, New Jersey and Indiana, seaplanes may not land unless the proposed landing area is certified as a seaplane base, regardless of whether the waterway owner provides permission or not. To determine whether this is an issue in your area, call your state aeronautics office (often a division of the state department of transportation), check the Water Landing Directory or call SPA Headquarters at 863-701-7979.
The Water Landing Directory is available to SPA members for free in both an app and online version. It is the fastest way ti determine whether a body of water is open. The WLD is the only publication that lists seaplane restrictions around the nation, and while it is not a complete listing of waterways; it does list the most common waterways that seaplane pilots use or would like to use.
As a member of the Seaplane Pilots Association, you can also ask SPA staff to assist you in determining the legal status of a body of water. These requests prompt research that expands the Water Landing Directory, as well as, providing you with the information you need.
2. Where can I keep my seaplane?
A seaplane can be kept at a certified seaplane base with permission, or at an airport if it is equipped with amphibious floats. If you want to keep your seaplane "off airport", however, you will need to explore the issue with your state aeronautics office, local government and the owner of the waterway.
Some specific problems include mooring restrictions imposed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, seaplane base licensing requirements imposed by state governments and zoning regulations imposed by local jurisdictions.
3. Do I need to license my home or landing area as a seaplane base?
The answer to this question depends on the state in which you reside, and on the purposed use.
In California, for example, you will not need to obtain certification of either a landing area or mooring area. In Florida, you will need to certify an area used for mooring (your home if that's where you keep your seaplane), but you do not need to certify landing areas. In Ohio, New Jersey and Indiana, among others, you are not permitted to land takeoff or moor unless the site is an approved seaplane base.
For more information on your specific situation, contact your state aeronautics office or SPA Headquarters at 863-701-7979.
4. How do I create or license a seaplane base?
The specific procedure required to license a seaplane base varies by state, and in some states, most notably California, licensing is not required at all.
In general, the licensing process is driven by the state office of aeronautics (the specific agency name varies by state). That office will usually require routine contact of ownership information, evidence of zoning approval, evidence of FAA airspace approval, a public hearing and a review of the purposed landing area to ensure basic standards of safety.
In some states or circumstances, approval may also be required from the organization(s) or individual who owns the waterway in question.
The FAA airspace review process is lengthy, and will typically delay state certification by at least 3 months, and often more than 6 months. The FAA will review existing airspace utilization to ensure that the proposed facility will not interfere with existing uses. If there are no airports or special use airspace within 5 miles of the proposed site, airspace approval is very likely. In those cases where an airport or special use airspace exists near the proposed site, careful planning and coordination with other airspace users (controllers, airport managers) will enhance the chances for airspace approval. The FAA review process is initiated by filing FAA Form 7480-1 Notice of Landing Area Proposal.
The local zoning approval, and, if required, waterway owner's permission, are the requirements most likely to cause insurmountable problems for the seaplane base applicant. Potential seaplane base owners are well advised to seek zoning approval in writing from the appropriate local jurisdiction prior to closing on the property to be used as a seaplane base.
The site inspection is intended to detect unsafe circumstances, such as insufficient length or depth, inadequate obstacle clearance, and other circumstances generally identified by law. This inspection is rarely cause for denial of a seaplane base application.
The public hearing is frightening to many seaplane base applicants, and is likely to attract controversy. Applicants are advised to approach hearings with a thick skin and plenty of patience. In many states, while public testimony may be taken on any topic related to the proposed base, only that testimony related to safety or other specific base licensing criteria can be considered by the state when approving or denying the application.
Following the conclusion of the inspections and hearings, the state will approve or deny the application. If denied, the applicant will have an opportunity to appeal the decision to an administrative judge. If approved, the applicant will be granted a certificate and must renew that certificate according to the schedule set by the state.
5. Are there any design guidelines or templates for seaplane docks, ramps and other supporting facilities?
There are two noteworthy publications: Advisory Circular 150/5395-1, published by the FAA, and Seaplane Facilities, a 1940's booklet originally published by the U.S. Commerce Department.
6. How can I address discontent and opposition among my neighbors?
The best course of action to address discontent is prevention. Take your neighbors for rides, and explain what you're doing and why. Do not fly early in the morning or late in the evening. Leave yourself open to suggestions from your neighbors, and avoid direct or low overflight of homes, boats or people. Hold an "open house" or barbecue if you are so inclined. In other words, be neighborly.
If you run into opposition, do your best to meet that opposition face to fact discuss (with patience and calmness) the concerns others have about your operation. Use resources available from the Seaplane Pilots Association, such as the Flying Americas Waterways and Seaplane & Boating compatibility videos which are posted on this site in the video section.
If you need further assistance please contact SPA at 863-701-7979.
7. How should I respond if approached by law enforcement?
Cooperation is best. Many law enforcement contacts are motivated by curiosity, not enforcement action. Even in the latter case, law enforcement officers themselves often do not know whether seaplane operations are legal. It is best to work with law enforcement officers rather than against them. That is even more true today in light of post 9/11 concerns, which give a whole new dimension to law enforcement's reaction to a fleeing or uncooperative pilot.
8. What should I know about new security procedures and restrictions?
The Seaplane Pilots Association publishes a brochure, Security Tips for Seaplane Pilots, with guidance for seaplane pilots on security related issues. This brochure addresses only waterway use issues and sensitive sites, not TFR's, airspace issues or airmen certification issues. For information about these topics, obtain a thorough preflight briefing from a qualified FAA Flight Service Station briefer.
9. What should I know about cross country flight planning?
It would be impossible to address this topic thoroughly here. However, keep in mind that when flying cross country on straight floats, fuel, especially 100LL and jet grades will be difficult to find. Extensive pre-flight planning and creative arrangements (such as landing near an airport and ferrying fuel in containers) may be necessary depending on your proposed route of flight. Consult the Water Landing Directory for facility information. Seek to speak with local SPA Field Directors in specific states and try to access local seaplane pilots for their local knowledge.
10. Are ultralight and LSA seaplanes subject to the same waterway regulations as certified seaplanes?
Generally, yes. The FAA makes a distinction between ultralights and other aircraft, but the FAA plays no role in waterway use regulations. With very few exceptions, the agencies, organizations and persons responsible for waterway use regulations do not distinguish ultralights and/or LSA's from other seaplanes, and thus they are more likely than not subject to the same waterway use regulations that govern traditional certified seaplanes.