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