Canadian Light Amphibians - SeaRey Pros & Cons

The Searey Choice

 

Deciding to build or purchase a seaplane still leaves open the question of design.  Perhaps you have already made up your mind about an amphibious seaplane but there are still many choices! Here is my biased take..

Cost:  Let's assume that you have a price target of less than Can$80,000. There are an increasing number of two-seat amphibious floatplanes and flying boats that qualify. But if you need four seats you are going to have to buy a more expensive aircraft.  You also have to look at operating costs and depreciation.  If you build your own aircraft you may expect it to depreciate faster than many certified machines. Liability insurance won't be a problem but hull insurance for amateur built seaplanes is difficult if not impossible to purchase.  (You may simply have to "self insure.")
However, at 16 -18 litres per hour and with owner maintenance, the Searey is very economical to operate and maintain.

Time:  They say that only one in ten aircraft projects ever gets completed (at least by the original builder!) Today with the proliferation of fast-build kits, LSA "out of the box", and factory assistance programs, perhaps this statistic has changed. Do you really want to spend 10 years building your dream machine?  I completed C-GJIB as a evening and weekend project in a year and five months (and with no previous experience.)  Several years later I completed C-FPTQ after 12 months of work on the project (inaccessible during the winter.) If 12 to 18 months is too long, perhaps some builder assistance or a completed aircraft is a better choice for you.

Composites vs. Tube & Fabric vs. Aluminum:  Composites are pretty slick. They are great if "out of the box" or when provided under a fast-build factory assistance program. They can deteriorate in the hot sun (that's why many are white.)  Tube and fabric is very light weight, but also should have some protection from the elements (and sharp objects!) and the fabric installation takes time and patience.  Two weeks and starting about US$5,000 will professionally cover a Searey's wing and tail feathers and this assistance is readily available.   Covering aircraft in durable aluminum is also time consuming and does require some corrosion protection. Aluminum hulls and floats are eventually subject to leaks.
Well, the Searey gives you a chance to try your hand at all three! The pylon, wing leading edge, wing gap seals and aft fuselage fairings are covered in aluminum. The wings and tail feathers are tube and fabric and, thankfully, the composite hull, foredeck, turtledeck, wingtips, rad housing and fin fairing are all provided professionally finished in the kit (just add paint or decal trim.)

Speed & Performance:  It would be great if someone would design an inexpensive STOL seaplane that cruises at 150 mph, lands slow and  handles rough water. The Searey is certainly one of the best water handling aircraft ever! She can also get in and out of small lakes and short grass strips.  But with that big high-lift wing you had better enjoy the gorgeous view because at 85-95 mph you are not going anywhere fast! 
Can another seaplane carry enough fuel to get up to the lake and back without refuelling?
Getting all the compromises sorted out of a new design can take years. Don't buy the new kit on the block until it has a verifiable track record. 

Utility: If you want a good fishing platform, perhaps a floatplane should be your choice. Float planes are also much easier to dock solo.  But amphibious floats will reduce your payload significantly and won't handle rough strips as well as the Searey's gear.  In fact the tail wheel configuration is what makes the Searey so easy to drive up on most beaches (small nose wheels tend to dig in.)

Comfort:  I think one of the nicest things about the Searey's side by side seating is the communication it facilitates. The wide 44 inch cockpit is great but head and legroom could be a problem for people 6'4". The seats do permit a reclined position and most people find them very comfortable.  The aft mounted engine is quieter (with the canopy closed :)) and leads to an unexcelled view over the nose (great for photo opportunities!)  And how many other aircraft allow you to fully open the canopy in flight?   (No lack of fresh air here!) In the colder months a heater using engine coolant keeps the cockpit toasty..

Safety: Before you jump in with both feet please consider the hazards of water operations. No one ever expects to face a life-threatening incident and with more than 1500 water landings in Seareys, neither do I.  But accidents do happen.  Look for a design that will permit easy egress if you end up inverted under water. Those large single piece bubble canopies look slick but can they be easily opened if inverted under water?
Does the aircraft operate at speeds that might not allow you and your passenger to survive a  water accident?
Training is an important life insurance for any new seaplane acquisition. Does the factory or its dealers offer this training?
Please, no matter what aircraft you choose, install an interactive gear alert system.

Fun Factor: Look at the photos! Man, this plane is a ton of fun! (and two up is fun squared!)

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