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Anyone setting out to obtain a seaplane rating has only to look at a map of Canada to see the world they are about to open up for themselves. It is a world of lakes, rivers, channels, sounds, inlets, bays, reaches, bights, harbours, arms, and whatever else is used to name a body of water. Beyond the geography, there is the history. Much of the history of aviation in this country, and the history of a lot of communities, was written with seaplanes. Just as a good seaplane pilot learns to respect the geography, an appreciation of the history is a nice way to round out the education.
The seaplane rating is intended for the pilot who already holds a licence. In theory, this is quite straightforward as it simply involves converting a skilled pilot from one environment, namely land, to a new environment, which is water. The reality isn't quite that simple and trainers should keep certain things in mind. First, if the pilot seeking the rating isn't starting from a good level of skill, if they haven't remained current on landplanes or have let their proficiency decline since they last passed a flight test, then it may be difficult for them to achieve the seaplane rating in the minimum time. Second, if they want to fly professionally in seaplanes they will want to extend the training to gain skill and experience in more of the situations and maybe some of the types of aircraft they will actually encounter in a commercial operation. A good trainer can help them do this, but it takes more time. Third, seaplane operations demand superior judgment on the part of the pilot. This isn't to say that landplane operations don't require good judgment, too, because they do. But seaplane operations are different. They are often conducted far from resources that landplane pilots tend to take for granted, things like weather and flight planning, refuelling, and air traffic services. And handling a seaplane on the water involves more skill than handling a landplane on the ground.
Although ground school is not a requirement for the float rating, many of the items listed under "Essential Background Knowledge" in the flight exercises can be presented in a general ground training session before the flying begins. Whether or not this approach is taken, the background knowledge that is necessary to support the learning of the flight exercises on a given trip must be understood before going flying. Here are some of the items that could be included in a ground training session:
- Review the training program. Providing an overview of the training for the seaplane rating will not only let the student know what to expect, but what will be expected of the student.
- Float terminology. Terms like deck, bulkhead, mooring cleat, keel, bumper, chine, skeg, step, bilge, water rudder, spreader bar, and bracing wire will be new to most students.
- Using the Water Aerodrome Supplement.
- Using equipment such as float pumps, inflatable safety vests, survival kit, first aid kit, anchor, and ropes.
- Determining seaplane performance.
- Hydrodynamics of a float aircraft.
- Right-of-way rules for water operations.
- Local traffic procedures, including any special use airspace.
The fact that this guide does not have a section dedicated to air work doesn't mean that air work is excluded from seaplane training. Some will be needed. Allow sufficient time in level flight for the student to become familiar with the flight characteristics in normal manoeuvres, and then review some more advanced handling, such as steep turns and stalls. Also, forced landings, including engine failures after take-off, should be reviewed, since the options available to a seaplane are different and the glide performance of the aircraft might be quite different from types previously flown.
Trainers who do checkouts on amphibious aircraft know that some special attention is needed for these aircraft. For one thing, these are airplanes with retractable landing gear. More complex systems mean more things to think about. Particular attention must be given to aircraft performance and to weight and balance. The use of a checklist is very important (some operators use green pages for land operations and blue pages for water operations). Aircraft systems must be well understood, especially the landing gear system, including emergency extension and retraction procedures.
- Water surfaces can become too rough or freeze over making a land operation necessary.
- Some shorelines, due to the rocky nature or lack of protection from wind and swells, make it impossible to moor or beach a seaplane but a nearby airstrip could be used.
- Easily stored in an airport hangar for protection.
- Water operations are restricted to daylight but an amphibious aircraft can depart the water just before dark and operate as a landplane after departure.
- More landing facilities available, and more maintenance and fuel facilities.
- Retractable gear are expensive to obtain and to maintain.
- Useful load will usually be reduced by one to two passengers.
- There is a slight speed loss.
- Insurance costs increase because of the risk of landing in the water with the wheels down.
- If the aircraft is a flying boat design, these tend to porpoise more readily during take-off and landing.
Some Principles of Learning
There are some general principles of learning that should be kept in mind when conducting any training, seaplane training included. A useful reference is the Transport Canada Flight Instructor Guide (TP 975E), especially the first part on learning and learning factors. The Guide sets out a series of "learning factors" that are presented here in a manner that emphasizes their application to in-flight training.
The student must be ready to learn (readiness).
On one level, this reminds the trainer to watch for signs that the student may not be feeling well or may be under stress that could affect the training. If so, it may be better to postpone the lesson. Care must be taken to motivate the student by explaining what is going to be done during the flight, why the different tasks must be mastered, and how they fit into the overall program of training for the rating. But readiness to learn also means that the student must have the knowledge required to undertake the flight lesson in order to fully benefit from the time spent in the air (or on the water). For example, if you wanted the student to learn how to step taxi, the term "step" must be understood before going flying, or if the aim was to learn how to do a forced landing, the student would first have to understand the procedure to be applied.
Teach it right the first time (primacy).
First impressions can be very powerful. This is good, so long as the impression is a good one. Therefore, any demonstration of a manoeuvre should be flown as accurately as possible under the existing conditions. However, some of the most important teaching is done outside the context of a formal lesson, which is to say that your conduct as a pilot must be exemplary because your approach to flying, good or bad, will have a strong influence on your student. Instructors must always guard against complacency. An exercise or situation an instructor may have experienced many times is often the first time the student will have seen it.
Go from known to unknown, simple to complex, easy to difficult (relationship).
Students seeking a seaplane rating have already mastered many skills, such as landing, so you can build on these known skills to help them learn new ones. Let them achieve some mastery of normal landings before moving to more advanced situations, such as rough water or crosswind landings. Be sure they have mastered the small "component" tasks before trying the whole task. For example, docking won't be easy if they haven't first learned displacement taxiing.
Engage the student in meaningful activity (exercise).
Careful planning of each flight lesson is needed to ensure that maximum training benefit is obtained from each hour of flight. Opportunities for correct practice of a task must be built into the lesson. The practice must be of the correct task, or correct part of the whole task. If this is important for each dual flight, it is equally important for solo flights. Solo flights are not just opportunities to log time. Instructors must be sure their students understand what tasks must be accomplished with each solo flight.
Dramatic or realistic things are long remembered (intensity).
Realism is a good thing to build into the training, provided that it is done safely. For example, if you can, don't just simulate a glassy water landing, do the real thing. Think of all the situations the student might encounter once they get the rating and do as much as you reasonably can to prepare them for these situations.
A student should feel satisfied for having taken part in the lesson (effect).
Organize the lesson so there will be plenty of room for success. Show respect and courtesy toward the student. When you analyse student performance, point out the positive elements first and don't "nitpick".
Last things learned and practised are remembered longest (recency).
A pre-flight briefing immediately before the flight lesson can help the student recall some of the main points of the exercises that are going to be covered. In flight, review some of the exercises that may have been mastered earlier. This will reinforce good performance. Use a good post flight debriefing to review student performance, both strengths and weaknesses, to answer any questions and assign any study that might help the next lesson.
Demonstration — Performance Method of Teaching
The demonstration — performance method of teaching a skill can be broken down in different ways (the Flight Instructor Guide lists five basic steps). Perhaps the simplest way to see this valuable technique is in four basic steps: explain, demonstrate, imitate, critique.
The instructor takes control of the aircraft for a brief explanation of the key points of the exercise. For this to work, any necessary ground instruction must have been completed before going flying. The explanation here mainly tells the student what to look for in the demonstration. This is no time for lengthy explanations or questions.
The instructor, with the student following through on the controls, flies as accurate a demonstration of the manoeuvre as possible, calling attention to important details the student should notice.
Let the student try it, but give enough verbal assistance to prevent large errors from developing. Don't ride the controls. Take control only if it is necessary to correct major errors and then hand control back to the student.
The instructor takes control of the aircraft to point out strengths, weaknesses, and to give specific suggestions for improving. This is not a chance to catalogue all the errors that may have been made. Rather, focus on the most important errors and limit the critique to two or three main points. And if you can't give them any suggestion for improving then little will be gained in telling them about a mistake.
Control of the Aircraft
When an instructor is teaching a manoeuvre, students can "follow through" on the controls by placing their hands and feet lightly on the controls so they can feel the control movements. They won't feel the control pressures, of course, but the follow through can help. When the student is flying, the instructor must avoid "riding" the controls as this will rob the student of the correct feel of control pressures. It could also lead to confusion as to who is flying the aircraft. An exception to this could arise in teaching landings, in which case the student should be made aware that you may provide some assistance rather than taking control.
Both the student and the instructor must be clear when a transfer of control is intended. For example, if the instructor wishes to give control to the student, the instructor says "You have control." When the student says "I have control," the transfer is complete. If the instructor wishes to take control, then the words "I have control" will start the transfer and when the student says "You have control", the transfer is complete.
Awareness, Attitude, and Discipline
All pilots must learn to be aware of the environment in which they are operating. Seaplane pilots are no different in this respect except the environment in which they operate presents special challenges. And when they operate alone in the wilderness there are few resources on which to draw other than the knowledge, skill, and attitude they bring to the situation. All pilots, seaplane pilots included, must have the required knowledge and skill to accomplish their tasks. They must develop a high degree of situational awareness that is built on knowledge and skill and maintained through vigilance. They must have an attitude that values safety and that drives them to act on their situational awareness. Finally, they must have the discipline to deal with the situations and pressures they face. If these are qualities of first importance for a seaplane pilot then the job of the trainer is to be an exemplary pilot by demonstrating, always, these necessary qualities.
Recommending for the Rating
Before recommending anyone for a seaplane rating, the instructor must ensure that the completion standards set out in this guide have been met. The necessary items must have been covered and the required performance demonstrated. In this sense, the instructor is also the flight test examiner, even though there is no formal flight test for the seaplane rating, and when they recommend someone for the rating they are certifying that they have done their job properly. Once the training has been completed, the instructor will have to guide the student through the paperwork to get the rating, specifically the form "Flight Crew Licence — Application for Endorsement of a Rating (Form 26-0083)".
Some Headings Explained
Information with respect to air exercises is presented under six headings: Objectives, Motivation, Essential Background Knowledge, Advice to Instructors, Air Instruction and Student Practice, and Completion Standards.
Material under this heading outlines what the student is expected to learn.
This explains why the student needs to learn particular skills. The instructor must ensure that the student knows why a given lesson is important, and where it fits into the overall training program.
Essential Background Knowledge
This is the minimum knowledge required for a student to benefit fully from the air instruction. One of your obligations as an instructor is to make sure students complete all the pertinent ground instruction before beginning air instruction.
Advice to Instructors
Advice to Instructors provides information that may help you in presenting or teaching a particular lesson.
Air Instruction and Student Practice
suggests exercises that will help the student to develop the skills needed to meet the lesson objectives.
There is no flight test for the seaplane rating. Instead, the instructor is expected to certify that the student is competent to hold the rating. To help the instructor make this judgment, completion standards are given. The student must be able to perform the required exercises to the given performance standard before being recommended for the rating.