Seaplanes are safe, scenic and super fun; here's why, and where to fly them...
There is nothing quite like flying in a seaplane; the taxi to the 'runway' feels rather strange, then the engines roar and the aircraft launches into the sky and flies over coral reef and cays, before you land with a peculiar abruptness. And as seaplanes can land on any large stretch of water, it means that you can reach some of the world's most remote beach resorts without a bone-shaking car journey, rough ferry crossing, or both.
The first seaplane flight was in 1912, but they had their golden age in the years before the Second World War, when large flying boats skimmed passengers over the oceans in some luxury. They were a way of travelling long distances before decent runways and airports had been built, and in those days it took 30 stops and 3 weeks to fly from the UK to Australia.
The big flying boats are long gone of course, but small seaplanes are still in use - most often for short scenic transfers to upmarket beach or lakeside resorts.
I first tried a seaplane from Long Beach to Catalina Island, 22 miles off the Californian coast. The plane was an antique Grumman Goose and I was about six years old, but I still remember the flight and the fun splash-landing. Seaplanes of Los Angeles offer trips to Catalina today using an only slightly more modern Helio Courier seaplane.
For anyone curious to learn more about what is was like to fly long distances in the old luxury flying boats, Beyond the Blue Horizon (Alexander Frater; Picador) is a tremendously entertaining account of the Imperial Airways flying boat route from the UK to Australia.
Well, yes: Structurally, they're basically every-day aircraft fitted with large canoe-shaped floats where wheels would normally be. Plus, a seaplane pilot looking for an emergency landing spot when flying over water is spoilt for choice, as the entire ocean is a potential runway.
The taxi to the 'runway' is a tad surreal, take off is a splashy roar, and level flight is the same as on any light aircraft. Landing is unexpectedly abrupt - rather like a duck landing on a pond, as seaplanes need little distance to stop.
Seaplanes are great for sightseeing and photos since the have over-slung wings (and so unobstructed views from the windows) plus as they are propeller planes, they fly low and slow. The best seats are at the front by the way, as take offs and landings spray water from the floats onto the middle and rear windows.
WHERE IN THE WORLD CAN I TRANSFER BY SEAPLANE?
Croatia: European Coastal Airlines fly to 17 destinations in Croatia, including Dubrovnik, Korcola, Hvar, Rijeka and Split, plus Ancona and Pescara in Italy.
Philippines: Air Juan connects Manila Harbour with Boracay, Coron, Puerto Galera and Subic.
Greece: Hellenic Seaplanes has yet to get airborne, despite a couple of years ago floating plans to connect 100 locations throughout Greece.