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Interesting places to earn your seaplane ratingInteresting places to earn your seaplane rating

Have a blast, learn something newHave a blast, learn something new

We’ve all heard what pilots say about flying floats: “Most fun I ever had flying!” So next time you need a flight review or just a fabulous flying challenge, add a seaplane rating to your aviation repertoire. You’ll improve your flying skills in ways that transfer to land-based aircraft, you’ll get a little vacation, and you’ll have a blast. Here’s a list of interesting places to get your seaplane rating.

  • For a real adventure and a bit of mountain flying, head to Alaska, where floats are a way of life in summer. Photo by Joseph Erickson.
  • At Alaska Float Ratings, you’ll have the front seat of a powerful Super Cub. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Students at Alaska Float Ratings can land at a variety of lakes, each a different hue of turquoise. It’s remote, uncontrolled airspace so no ATC.
  • Alaska Float Ratings has cabins with kitchenettes and private baths, just steps from the dock. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Yes, that’s an Alaska brown bear traversing the AFR dock in search of salmon. Photo courtesy Alaska Float Ratings.
  • The tiny hamlet of Moose Pass has a restaurant, mini-mart, and espresso/gift shop, and that’s it. But the beauty is immense, from sockeye in a nearby creek to mountains that rise steeply 5,000 feet above the lakes. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • AFR offers several courses, including some that include fly fishing at secluded lakes or customized itineraries. This Arctic Grayling was caught at Bench Lake. Photo courtesy Alaska Float Ratings.
  • At Grand Seaplanes in Oklahoma, students train in a Lake Amphibian and can enjoy the convenience and comfort of onsite accommodations and delicious, home-cooked meals. Photo courtesy Grand Seaplanes, LLC.
  • The Grand Seaplanes Lake Amphib in its hangar, with new 2017 paint job. Photo courtesy Grand Seaplanes, LLC.
  • A Kenmore Air DHC-3 Otter on Lake Union, Washington. Kenmore is a commercial airline. Students at Kenmore Air Harbor can train in a variety of aircraft, from a Piper Super Cub up to a deHavilland Beaver. Photo by Adbar, courtesy Wikimedia commons.
  • Students at Chowan River Rats train from the Rat Landing Seaplane Base on the Chowan River.
  • Adventure Seaplanes’ Cessna 172 on the shore of Vermilion Lake, Minnesota. Photo courtesy Adventure Seaplanes.

Float flying isn’t cheap, so to keep costs down, the flight schools do their best to get your training covered in as few hours as possible. It helps to be current with your flight skills. If you have to spend a couple of days knocking off rust, you may not be able to learn the new skills required in the allotted time and may blow your checkride, or, at the very least, need to schedule additional days at additional cost. Also, learn how to tie proper knots! You will need to demonstrate that you can tie the airplane up to the dock, so, rather than fumbling around under pressure, learn that at home. Here’s another tip: Buy the FAA book Seaplane, Skiplane, and Float/Ski Equipped Helicopter Operations Handbook, FAA Publication FAA-H-8083-23. This slim volume has all the book learning you need to get your rating. Study this and you’ll be way ahead before you even begin your first lesson. My experience? It was the most fun I ever had flying. What made it even better was the setting—Alaska’s spectacular Chugach Mountains and myriad turquoise glacial lakes.

Summer days in Alaska are long and offer more time for training. This photo of a student landing at Upper Trail Lake was taken just before 9 p.m. Photo by Crista Worthy.

Alaska Float Ratings, Moose Pass, Alaska: Moose Pass is 23 nautical miles north of Seward and about 46 nm southeast of Anchorage; fly to one of these and rent a car or arrange for pick-up via float plane. Owner and DPE Vern Kingsford has been flying for over 52 years. Students usually fly multiple aircraft with different instructors. Incredible, wild scenery: turquoise lakes, massive glaciers, and steep mountains.

Grand Seaplanes, LLC, Grand Lake, Oklahoma: Learn in a flying boat, a Lake Amphibian equipped with a WAAS-certified Garmin 430 that allows IFR training; they also can train you in your Buccaneer or Renegade. Owner/Instructor Steve Robinson is a United Airlines Airbus Captain with over 26,000 logged hours and 5,500 hours of dual instruction. Room and board is available at their cabin, and you’ll enjoy great home-cooking. Fly in to Grove Airport, or, if you airline to Tulsa they’ll pick you up in the airplane and you’ll begin your training on the way back to Grand Lake.

Kenmore Air Harbor, Kenmore, Washington: Want to fly floats as a career? Kenmore Air is an actual airline, with scheduled commercial seaplane flights to over 45 destinations around the San Juan Islands, Victoria, Vancouver, and Alaska. Kenmore Air Harbor flight school offers training in a classic 150-horsepower Piper Super Cub or in a CubCrafters-updated 180-hp Super Cub. Advanced students can continue their training in a Cessna 180 or even a de Havilland Beaver and/or earn a commercial seaplane rating.

Adventure Seaplanes in Minnesota has a variety of float-equipped aircraft: J-3 Cub, Cessna 172, Cessna 185, and deHavilland Beaver. Photo courtesy Adventure Seaplanes.

Chowan River Rats, Winton, North Carolina: Fly a STOL-equipped PA-12 on straight floats from the Chowan River instead of a lake. You can fly in to nearby Tri-County Airport. A nice B&B is nearby.

Adventure Seaplanes, Minnesota: Known as the “Land of 10,000 lakes,” Minnesota is a great place for seaplane training. Adventure Seaplanes offers both private and commercial ratings and a great range of aircraft: J-3 Cub, Cessna 172, Cessna 185, and a de Havilland Beaver. Their new summer location is on beautiful Lake Vermilion, at the Tower Airport and Seaplane Base. Adventure Seaplanes is one of the few companies that rents seaplanes, so you can keep flying after you earn your rating.

After you get your rating, if you don’t put floats on your own airplane, you can now buy renter's insurance for float flying.

Another great resource is the Seaplane Pilots Association, whose slogan is “Putting the Adventure Back in Aviation!” That just about says it all.

Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel, Seaplane, Advanced Training

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