There’s Nothing Like Flying A Seaplane!

by Steve Guetter
President Minnesota Seaplane Pilots Association
Published in Midwest Flyer – April/May 2017

Like many pilots, after I got my private pilot certificate in 1998, I began accumulating ratings and various endorsements for pure fun, and to challenge myself. Getting my seaplane rating was on the list, but I was in no hurry, as I did not own a seaplane, nor did I know where to rent one.

In the summer of 2011, when I completed my seaplane training, I did not realize the impact it would have on my flying and my life. Today, I actively fly, travel and train others to fly seaplanes, and was recently elected president of the Minnesota Seaplane Pilots Association (MSPA).

MSPA is dedicated to protecting seaplane access to waterways in Minnesota. The organization provides a forum to educate government agencies and the public on seaplanes, and fosters safe operations by our members through educational programs.

The privilege to fly seaplanes starts with adding a rating to one’s pilot certificate and taking a checkride; a written test is not required.

The seaplane rating is the most fun training I have ever experienced. I still remember coming over the tree line for my first water landing. The smile has never left my face, and now as a seaplane flight instructor, I can enjoy seeing the same smiles on the faces of others.

Training for a seaplane rating is very straight forward. Most pilots will complete the rating in seven to 10 hours. The training focuses on takeoffs, landings and handling the plane on the water, such as step turns (not to be confused with steep turns) and docking. After a few years building experience flying seaplanes, I began teaching others to fly them.

Once you have your seaplane rating, what’s next? The answer is, it depends on you. Some pilots use seaplanes to access remote areas of wilderness to hunt and fish…others use them for transportation to lake homes. For me, the seaplane is the destination, wherever it may take me.

After I got my seaplane rating and built a little time, I was approved as a solo renter at Adventure Seaplanes at Surfside Seaplane Base in Lino Lakes, Minnesota.

We all remember our first solo. I also recall fondly the first time I took a seaplane up for an evening flight. My destination was Cedar Lake, across the Minnesota border in Wisconsin, to get a burger at “Meister’s” restaurant. Meister’s has a dock designated for seaplanes.

The feeling of freedom that day was incredible. I was no longer confined to airports. The majority of lakes in Minnesota were now landing facilities at my disposal.

One of the challenges of seaplane flying is to assess the condition of a lake or river to determine if it is safe to land. That goes for bodies of water I frequent often. Water levels can vary from season to season, and day to day depending on what’s happening upstream, and there can be obstacles to contend with, such as floating and submerged logs, as well as boaters and swimmers. Seaplane pilots also have to determine wind direction from the air. All of this goes into a strategy for the approach and landing.

I spent my first summer flying seaplanes building time and confidence in my judgment to pick safe landing conditions. And while day trips to lakes in the Twin Cities is fun, flying cross-country over multiple days and in various weather conditions, requires advance planning, especially when it comes to identifying fuel stops.

I have had the opportunity to fly a plane on straight floats (floats that can only land on water, not to be confused with amphibious floats with retractable landing gear that can land on either land or water) from Florida to Minnesota, twice. These trips allow a pilot to experience varied weather conditions, different sizes and types of bodies of water, and a wide range of parking facilities.

One of my favorite ways to use a seaplane is for transportation to, and entertainment during, a summer vacation. Minnesota is home to many excellent resorts for a seaplane getaway. I have used seaplanes to go golfing, access islands in the middle of nowhere, and drop in at a friend’s cabin for an afternoon barbecue.

The weekend of May 19-21, 2017, the Minnesota Seaplane Pilots Association will hold its annual Safety Seminar & Fly-In at Madden’s on Gull Lake. The seminar is held in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Office of Aeronautics, and includes topics specific to seaplane flying, as well as topics of interest to all pilots and aircraft owners. The event will also include a spot landing contest, and lots of pilot camaraderie and fine dining.

This year, AOPA President Mark Baker, who is an experienced seaplane pilot and aircraft owner, himself, will provide the keynote speech at the Saturday evening banquet.

All pilots are welcome to attend. A seaplane rating is not required.

For additional information, contact Steve@PenguinFlight.net.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Steve Guetter is the director of business development for an aerospace company in St. Paul, Minn., and owns a 1958 J35 Bonanza. He has logged 1,800 hours and holds a Commercial Pilot Certificate (ASEL, SES, MEL, CFI, CFII, MEI). Guetter regularly rents and flys a 1971 Cessna 172L Skyhawk with a 160 hp Lycoming engine on Baumann 2250 amphibious floats from Adventure Seaplanes, located at Surfside Seaplane Base, Lino Lakes, Minn.

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