Given its name, a seaplane, which is a fixed-wing aircraft, is clearly capable of landing on and even taking off on water. But what about on land? Can a seaplane land on land, and what about taking off on land too?
Well, in the true sense of the word, a seaplane can only take off and land on water.
If a plane is able to take off and land on both solid ground and water, it is called an amphibious aircraft. The confusion comes from non-pilots referring to amphibious aircraft as seaplanes.
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Why Seaplanes Can’t Land on Land
A pure seaplane is unable to land on land simply because it is not designed to – i.e. it does not have the necessary landing gear for a land-based landing. If a pilot attempts to land on land, the hull would be badly damaged.
An amphibious aircraft, on the other hand, is capable of taking off and landing on both water and land, as they are also equipped with retractable wheels.
This isn’t to say that seaplanes are completely incapable of landing on land, though. In the case of an emergency, while there might be damage to the seaplane, a solid ground landing may be possible. Additionally, if the ground has a soft cover, which could include snow, tall grass or a bog, a landing may be possible, as it more closely resembles the surface of water.
Example of Seaplanes Landing on Land
There aren’t many cases of seaplanes landing on solid ground, though the most famous and historic would be the landing of a seaplane by a famous polar explorer on arctic ice.
Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen and five other team members flew two Dornier seaplanes in their unsuccessful attempt to reach the North Pole in 1925. Amundsen and his crew shoveled 600 tons of ice over the course of three weeks to prepare an airstrip to take off from the ice. While they were understandably widely presumed dead, they triumphantly returned.
Landing on Land : Seaplanes vs. Floatplanes
Floatplanes are a type of seaplane that are differentiated by the former having floats (or pontoons) that are mounted underneath their fuselage, which act as landing gear.
If a floatplane only has floats, then it is incapable of landing on land; if equipped with other landing gear that allows it to operate on land, then it would be referred to as an amphibious aircraft. So, again, in the true sense of the word, a floatplane, just like a seaplane, is incapable of landing on land.
Can Seaplanes Land in the Ocean?
Now you know that seaplanes are incapable of landing on land except in the case of soft cover or under exceptional circumstances. But is a seaplane capable of landing on any body of water?
The answer is yes, a seaplane is capable of landing (and taking off) on any water-based environment, including oceans, seas, rivers, and gulfs.
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.