What’s it Like to Fly on a Seaplane?

Flying on a seaplane is hands down my favorite way to travel. Discover the ins, outs, and can’t-miss destinations.
mikaela on a seaplane

In 2012, I watched a de Havilland Otter land on Lake Washington — the water splashing in a brilliant wake behind the pontoons.

A born and raised Seattleite, it was the first time I’d ever seen a seaplane land — let alone the first time I’d ridden on one. As I stood on the private Medina dock, thesingle-engine plane taxied toward me, I was filled with equal parts excitement and nervousness.

We flew to Debob Bay, to a beach only accessible by seaplane or boat. We flew at 500 feet, past shorelines rarely seen. Big stretches of seemingly untouched wilderness were tucked into the hillsides. Mountains rose from the water like sleeping giants. I sat glued to the window, camera in hand, all my fears fading into the clouds.

Since then, I’ve taken countless seaplane flights — visiting quaint islands like Orcas and Lopez. I’ve gone to elegant cities like Victoria. And, explored remote bucket-list worthy destinations like the West Coast Wilderness Lodge and Chatterbox Falls. And in all my travels, I’ve learned a few things about flying on a seaplane.

What to Bring and Not to Bring on Your Next Seaplane Flight

Bring: Camera

It doesn’t matter what kind of camera you have, bring it. You’ll definitely want to snap some pictures while you’re flying and most likely on the dock too. I typically fly with my phone and my Nikon D810. But you don’t have to have a professional camera to get great photos. The entire flight is stunning.

Tip: If you do bring a professional camera, consider shooting on Aperture Priority with Auto ISO. The light can change quickly up in the air and shooting in manual can often make it hard to keep up.

Bring: Sunglasses

Seriously. Don’t forget your shades — especially if you’re hoping to sit in the co-pilot seat. The sun’s glare can be unforgiving and quickly ruin your trip.

Top Pick: Smith Midtown — I’m seriously digging the snazzy mix of vintage fashion and contemporary flare. The stylish bridge and the Ombre Fade frames paired with Rose Gold lenses have a woman-about-town kind of vibe — which suits me just fine whether I’m sunning on the dock or flying past the Space Needle.

Bring: Earplugs

Generally speaking, most seaplane operators will provide earplugs, like Kenmore Air does. But on the off chance they don’t, get yourself a disposable pair. Even with advancements in the air filtration systems and engines, the planes can still be loud.

Bring: Credit Card & Cash

You never know what’s going to happen. While I personally have never had a flight canceled, it’s not beyond the scope of possibility. Seaplanes fly by Visual Flight Regulations (VFR), which means they don’t fly through bad weather. (That’s a good thing, both in terms of motions sickness and safety. Trust me.) On the off chance you have to stay somewhere longer than intended, you’ll be happy to have cash and a credit card.

It’s also quite likely that you’ll find something fun in one of the small towns. Most seaplane destinations are a hub for artists and farm-to-table cuisine. Having cash and a credit card on hand means you won’t have to miss out on a fabulous find.

Leave: High Heels

There’s an exception to ever rule, but I never take heals with me when I travel by seaplane. Generally speaking, when you arrive you will be your primary mode of transportation. A day of exploring in heals is hard on your feet in the best of circumstances — and most seaplane destinations aren’t filled with freshly paved streets and sidewalks.

Leave: Your Multiple Outfit Changes

Seaplanes are small compared to the jets and 737s you’re probably used to. That’s why the baggage allowance is so much smaller. (For Kenmore Air, total baggage allowance is just 25-pounds, including personal items.) There’s simply not a lot of room for multiple outfit changes. And when you’re busy having fun, why do you need to change clothes all the time?

Seaplane Destinations Worth Raving About

Victoria, B.C.

Victoria, the ‘city’ where the locals say “cheers” and drivers stop for pedestrians, seems to almost ooze with small-town charm. While the majority of joints near the Inner Harbour cater to tourists, the practically flat downtown is also home to a variety of gems even the locals love. Here, chefs and shop owners alike flex their creative muscles.

Lopez Island

Fondly dubbed “Slowpez’ — this amazing destination has a variety of rave-worthy food, not the least of which are the noodle-packed bowls of goodness at Setsunai.

Chatterbox Falls

Carved into the Sunshine Coast, at the head of Princess Louisa Inlet, Chatterbox Falls might steal your heart. It stole a bit of mine.

West Coast Wilderness Lodge

It doesn’t look like much from the air – just a collection of windows tucked between the trees – but that’s the beauty of the West Coast Wilderness Lodge.

Photos taken by the amazing Sara Satterlee.

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