Some seaplane bases have prescribed areas for landing, but are the landing areas marked by buoys or lights? If so are "runways" outlined in the water or just a general area?

Do they have IFR approach procedures?

  • $\begingroup$ Not reality but even after 50 years I still love Largo's gruff command in Thunderball: "switch on the underwater landing lights" $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 21:12

2 Answers 2


Are the landing areas marked by buoys or lights?
In at least one specific instance, Yes.

The seaplanes that operate out of Lake Union, Seattle, have "Advisory Buoys" that help make the many sailboats, kayaks, and motorboats on the lake aware that planes will be arriving or taking off.

The buoys have Pilot Controlled Lighting (PCL) that will turn on yellow flashing lights. They are typically activated approximately 3 minutes before any departure or arrival.

The buoys do not restrict boat movement; they are advisory only.

I am not aware of any IFR procedures for a seaplane base, but I do not know for sure.


The busiest water aerodrome that I know of is Vancouver Harbour (CYHC) in British Columbia, Canada, which has over 50,000 movements a year, as a hub for a large network of seaplane commuter routes up the coast and across to Vancouver Island and down to Washington State. Busy enough that it's also the only water aerodrome that I know of that has a positive control zone with a control tower (at the top of a harbourfront office building).

There is no instrument approach however, and airplanes land in a general area in front of downtown as necessary for winds and to avoid boats, riptides, deadheads, and the wakes of ships. All the flying in and out is VFR, although often in conditions you would think of as IFR.

  • $\begingroup$ There are a number of controlled airports with water runways, though there may not be any others with just water runways and a control tower. For example, Honolulu, HI is a Class B with two water runways 04W-22W and 08W-26W and there are two VOR approaches to them. $\endgroup$
    – JScarry
    Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 0:11

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