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- The Seawind 3000 is best for those looking for water stability
- The Progressive Aerodyne-designed SeaRey LSX is best for shallow water use thanks to its shallow hull.
- The Osprey 2 is best for those looking to build from scratch
- The Aventura II is best for those with no DIY expertise, as it only takes about 250 hours to build
- The Glass Goose has the best quality in terms of its kit components and overall design.
Home built seaplanes are versatile and part of a growing outdoor activity. The trick is finding the best one that suits your needs, skill, and budget.
The best homebuilt seaplanes are:
- Seawind 3000 - Best in Deep Water
- Progressive Aerodyne SeaRey LSX - Best in Shallow Water
- Osprey Osprey 2 - Best plans-only
- Aero Adventure Aventura II - Best for Novices
- Quikkit Glass Goose - Best Overall
As a flight instructor who fell in love with the flying boat and float plane as a child, I have long been fascinated with the concept of homebuilt seaplanes.
Home Built Seaplanes
In searching for the best in each category, only seaplanes with hydrodynamic hulls were chosen. When compiling this list, I have elected to only include true seaplanes - that means only those with a boat hull and no landing gear.
This means flying boats, factory-built aquatic light sport aircraft (sorry Icon Aircraft and the Icon A5) and general aviation (GA) aircraft equipped with amphibious floats; straight floats and any other kind of float planes have been ignored for the purposes of this list.
That being said, I have included the Aventura II, as despite having retractable landing gear mechanisms, it was originally built for water use, hence its inclusion.
I have also only included those homebuilts designed and built in the US, so despite my love of the Super Petrel LS and Seamax Aircraft Seamax, both of which are Brazilian, I have not included them.
The seaplanes that rose to be the best in each category were also not always ones that were built from kits. Many that were considered, came only as plans. Home builds based on plans had significantly more work that needed to be done compared to kits where all the parts came in the box.
Seaplanes offer a very different proposition than land-based airplanes or land planes with a float installation. The key difference is the shape of the hull which is designed like a boat's. Most also have sliding canopies and folding wings. Like their land plane counterparts, they can have features like cabin heat, vortex generators to aid fuel consumption and some are specifically built for certain conditions (eg. salt water or low altitude) or two engines.
Because of this huge versatility, they can be flown everywhere from Lake Michigan to Daytona Beach, and because of their purpose built-nature, often outperform those aircraft equipped with amphibious floats.
Home builts are aircraft that are built by owners in their garages and flown by them for personal use. As many of them - though not all of them - fall into the light sport aircraft category, they are somewhat regulated by the FAA, though not as stringent as other more famous kinds of GA aircraft. That being said, the pilots who fly them must have at least a recreational pilot’s license or Private Pilot’s license with an added seaplane rating.
Aside from the satisfaction that comes from putting together a homebuilt, seaplanes that owners build are also allowed to be serviced and signed off by them without the need for an IA’s signature.
Just take your documentation to the nearest FAA field office and prove to them that you constructed it and they will issue you a Repairman’s certificate that gives you the authority to sign off on maintenance done on your home built seaplane. That being said, you will need to perform a certain number of test flights (or pay a professional test pilot to do this for you) before you can use it whenever you want.
Best Home Built Seaplanes
Seawind 3000 - Best Deep Water Home Built Seaplane
The Seawind 3000 is the best deep-water home built seaplane on the market. Its sophisticated design and high structural strength that is designed to take up to a 20g-impact makes the Seawind capable of using larger engines, including more powerful turboprop ones. It is also one of the strongest homebuilt planes currently on the market.
Replacing the piston engine with a turboprop on the aircraft bestows increased reliability and speed whilst flying, and allows for greater maneuverability in the water, especially with the turboprop's ability to reverse thrust in beta.
Built to fly at a cruising speed of well above 200 KTAS and with the ability to higher altitudes than its peers (at FL210 when using one engine), this home built seaplane platform is a powerful alternative to commercially available airplanes. And, with the obvious advantage of being able to land on water, owning the Seawind 3000 increases the number of potential destinations.
The composite exterior adds to its aerodynamics and aesthetics while keeping the aircraft light and strong. Its hull design and structural strength not only give it the ability to land in deeper waters but also in rougher water where there is light to mild chop.
Most other seaplanes are not built as sturdily and can handle only calm waters, as best, relegating them to lakes and glass-still water. But beyond the strength of the hull and structure, the design of its hull plays an important role in its ability to navigate choppy waters and waves.
The hydrodynamic design considerations of the hull give the Seawind its robust rough water handling characteristics allowing it to remain laterally stable in the water while having low drag aerodynamic features in the air. Unlike most seaplanes that sacrifice aerodynamic performance for hydrodynamic performance, the Seawind optimizes both to result in a truly enjoyable experience.
The Seawind 3000 uses a vertical-tail-mounted engine that powers the tractor-configuration prop. That design has a considerable effect on the quality of the cabin environment. It’s harder to hear the prop wash and the exhaust in flight with this configuration. As a recreational seaplane, the comfort level in the cabin is an added reason this is a true pleasure to fly.
With the ability to carry a payload of 900 lbs, the Seawind has one of the highest payload capabilities among homebuilt seaplanes allowing the Seawind to carry four adult occupants, including one pilot.
That increases the utility you get for the cost you incur in building it. Most amphibious aircraft have low payload capabilities and tight quarters to save on engine thrust. The aircraft resolved that with high structural strength and low-drag surfaces.
That ample cabin provides spacious head and shoulder room and is the direct result of a wider fuselage which also serves to increase its buoyancy, lateral stability, and water-handling characteristics. All these features allow you to land in the middle of the ocean or lake, shut down the engines, pop the canopy, and cast your fishing line out as you sit back and enjoy the wide open spaces.
Besides the shape of the hull and high engine placement that provides firm control in rough waters, it has an added retractable rudder that many seaplanes don’t have. That provides added hydrodynamic stability.
With the other hydrodynamic design features, including the tapering stepped hull with an extra-wide forward section, and the shallow V-shaped hull, this airplane is undoubtedly superior to a lot of aircraft in terms of safety, maneuverability, and efficiency. It is one of a few seaplanes that uses the inverted curve wingtip design to double as aerodynamic gates for increased lift generation while using the tips as floats to keep the aircraft laterally stable in the water.
But what makes all this technology attractive goes beyond the engineering quality and the specs, they have a swan-like aesthetic with graceful lines and form that meets function.
The result is an increased payload capacity with increased cruise speed wrapped in a sleek, James Bond-style airplane that builders and owners are proud of.
Progressive Aerodyne SeaRey LSX - Best Shallow Water Home Built Seaplane
The SeaRey LSX is a two-seater home built seaplane based on a factory-built design. It has a pusher configuration prop mounted above the wings aft of the cabin and a stepped hull with retractable gear for water landings. This is the best home built seaplane for shallow water use.
It needs hardly any room to become airborne and can get in and out of small lakes high in the mountains.
The stepped shallow hull allows rapid acceleration on the takeoff run by reducing surface contact as it accelerates. The stepped hull also gives the SeaRey its stable handling characteristics in shallow waters, while reducing its gross weight.
What is brilliant about the SeaRey, not evident in other seaplanes, is the way it maneuvers in shallow water. You can either fire up the engine and use the idle prop to generate enough thrust to move forward and make turns or you can carry a paddle and just row your way once you're on the water.
Among the other home built seaplanes out there, the SeaRay LSX is, in my opinion, the most well-balanced. It flies straight and true with no pitch, roll, or yaw instability to speak of. The same goes for its stability in water.
Even with just the pilot occupying the cockpit with no passenger to counter the weight, there is no detectable listing to the heavier side. Gusts of wind that lift one wing and dip the other do not have a lasting effect. Equilibrium is reached before the wing tips touch the water.
Being the best shallow water home built seaplane does not mean that the SeaRey is incapable of landing in deeper water. It can, and it does so very well.
The overall design with the Rotax engine located two-thirds of the way back toward the empennage creates a slightly aft center of gravity while the wide cabin design and the hull beneath it create a more forward center of buoyancy resulting in a dynamically stable floating experience that can handle the choppy nature of deeper waters.
Above and beyond its hydrodynamic features, its flying characteristics are even better than some of the commercially available floatplanes, seaplanes, and even general aviation land planes.
The SeaRey is also the best seaplane for new seaplane pilots. The SeaRey is not a seaplane that can be stalled easily, even when you try hard. That's what makes this aircraft novice-friendly. It almost even lands by itself, all you have to do is bring the power back and hold the nose back. It's one of the easiest seaplanes to fly.
As for construction, it takes about 1,000 hours for someone with fair skills. Which makes it a brilliant project to come home to and work on in your spare time. It's not a quick-build kit that leaves you with no pride and satisfaction in knowing that you built your own seaplane.
You will need to understand simple electrical schematics and have the skills to handle the wiring. You would need the necessary tools to hoist and install the engine on its mounts, and you would have to be able to complete the external finish.
If you are used to working on your car and are handy around the house, then the skills necessary to get the SeaRey build and launch-ready will be loads of fun. Builders, almost unanimously rave about the experience they had in building the aircraft as it comes with all the necessary parts and there is nothing you need to fabricate, unlike seaplane designs that come with just the plans.
The aircraft comes with one of three engines to choose from. All of them are designed and manufactured by Rotax and range between 85 and 100 horsepower. The 100-horsepower engine does the best job and extracts the most potential from the seaplane's design.
If you head out to shallow waters significantly more than you do deeper waters, and you don’t have a jetty to pull up to, but rather slide up to the banks of the lake or the shoreline, then this is definitely the design for you. The SeaRey does not particularly lend itself to mooring up to a jetty or a ledge.
However, what is really fantastic is that if you have a ramp that dips into the water, the SeaRey gracefully transitions to a landplane that allows you to taxi up the incline.
Aside from being the best home built seaplane for shallow waters, the SeaRey also has one of the neatest and most well-laid-out cockpits.
With its wide shoulder room and loads of dash real estate, you can upgrade the cockpit to include two large PFDs and one MFD, although you won’t need that much information if you just go out to fish on bright sunny days. But it would be possible to have a dedicated display for the fishfinder, which is a typical addition.
Osprey Osprey 2 - Best Plans-Only Home Built Seaplane
For those who prefer to build their seaplanes from the ground up, the Osprey 2 is the one that they should do to get their feet wet and put their skills to the test. The Osprey 2 was first designed in 1972 and remains currently available as a plans-only design. It uses wooden beams and plywood skin to make up all of its components. You can even use an old-fashioned wooden prop to power this classic.
The Osprey 2 requires a crew of one and has room for one passenger, seated by the pilot’s side. It can cruise at 110 knots using a Lycoming O-320 engine. Using the tanks specified in the plans, the aircraft has a range of 400 nautical miles.
If you are already a pilot and have a good grasp of weight and balance, there are a few things that you can tweak on the design to improve its performance and flight characteristics. If you are an engineer or just a really ardent aviation buff, it is also possible to use a CAD program and modify the existing plans.
What is brilliant about this model is that it is an extremely stable platform to build on and to build up. You have the choice to build it as it is, or make changes to it and then test it out.
The final build will vary, but if the plans are followed precisely using the grade of wood specified, the aircraft can carry 180 pounds of fuel, and take off with 410 pounds.
Pilot-builders who still currently fly this aircraft rave (and I do mean rave) about its simple flight characteristics and ease of maintenance. Most pilots do their own maintenance work, whether it is to replace sections of the frame or skin. The main advantage of being built of all wood, nothing needs to be sent away for fabrication or molding, unlike composite structures.
Having been around for fifty years, the Osprey 2 is a proven design and has stable flight characteristics, having climb rates in excess of 1000 fpm with full fuel and useful load as well as adequate handling in smooth water conditions.
As far as stability goes, its dihedral wings use a cuffed design that emerges midspan to provide a highly stable aircraft in flight. Pilots are quick to point out that a power-on stall is not possible with this design.
The airplane just keeps hanging on the prop as it moves forward. With no power-on stalls achievable, neither are spins in that condition. Power-off stalls do happen, but happen with total control. There is no wing dip or a flip that can progress into a spin.
One of the many reasons this is the best seaplane in the plans-only category is its takeoff distance - less than 500 feet in zero-wind conditions. Landing is accomplished in less than 700 feet over a 50-foot obstacle.
Where this plane beats the rest is that it puts the pilot’s skills as a builder to the test. This is not a plan for novice builders or those who do not have a full garage or woodworking tools. This is for the carpenter and pilot who understands the characteristics of wood and knows how to work with it.
The allure of this aircraft is the toil that goes into the building process. With no toll-free number to call for help, and hardly any videos on the net that show step-by-step construction, the pride and joy of building this airplane is for the few and the skilled.
There is nothing fancy about this aircraft , but as for the aerodynamics and hydrodynamics of the aircraft, it is one of the smoothest and most stable aircraft that can be built - if the builder is exacting and precise in his craft.
The aircraft has seating for two, but a number of builders have elected to leave the cockpit with just one seat, and place the control stick in the center. The hull’s design is gradual, unlike some of the more modern designs, and with the horizontal stabilizer situated halfway up the rudder, it is effective even at slow speeds, enough to raise the aft hull out of the water very early in the takeoff roll.
Builders are pretty unanimous in their approval of the aircraft's aerodynamics and hydrodynamics and note how easy it is to maneuver the aircraft in water with just idle power.
For someone who has all the necessary tools, the aircraft takes about 1500 hours to build.
Aero Adventure Aventura II - Best For Novices
Built by the legendary Aero Adventure Inc, the company famous for being the gold standard when it comes to the manufacturing of LSA seaplanes, the Aventura II is the best novice home built seaplane.
It beats all the other seaplanes because of its overall flying characteristics, ease of operation, and ease of construction regardless of your skill level. Even if you are a novice at recreational flying or have not done any home built projects in the past, this is the best seaplane for you to get started.
In its most basic form, the Aventura II takes about 225 to 250 hours to build. There are several options that the Aventura can be enhanced with, including a ballistic parachute and extra range tanks, just to name two from a long list of extras you can choose from.
This is one of the reasons this plane takes the prize in this category. It allows novice builders to get flying quickly, then continuously upgrade and modify their ride.
The Aventura II is designed with two seats and has an empty weight of 650 pounds. It can carry up to 23 gallons of fuel with extended-range tanks, or just 12 gallons with regular tanks. You can carry 444 lbs of payload, which is more than enough to carry both people with bags and gear.
The aircraft can launch in under 400 feet in water and land in just 600 feet. The extra wing-mounted floats hang low to prevent the wings from coming close to the surface of the water, therefore, giving it unmatched stability even in the hands of a low-time pilot.
The shape of the hull makes it ideal for any kind of water, even ones with a mild chop, and it depends more on the pilot’s skill than the seaplane’s ability. The rudder is one of the most effective, being able to steer the airplane even at water taxi speeds. The maneuvering is aided by the shallow hull and obviates the need for a special water rudder. All these design implementations render the Aventura II the best choice for a novice seaplane flier.
On the ground, the Aventura II is a taildragger. With all the benefits taildraggers bring to the table, the Aventura also has none of the downsides of trailing link gear, namely the deck angle that obscures what is directly ahead. The gentle nose-high attitude allows the novice good visibility on the ground, further distinguishing this airplane as the best seaplane for novices. With its aft-of-main-gear center of gravity, the Aventura also doesn’t have the propensity to tailspin if something goes wrong.
Getting in and out of the Aventura II is easy enough on land. In the water, it sits significantly lower.
It can be moored alongside a jetty as it has no major protrusions from the side of its hull that prevents this - which is a huge plus and a major factor in why this design is great for novices. This design feature makes it easy for you and your passenger to get in and out of the cockpit without getting your feet wet.
The Aventura II is a docile aircraft, handling easily in the air and giving the novice pilot plenty of reaction time as he or she builds their flight experience. With a cruise speed of just 65 knots, the Aventura II is easy to maneuver with little to no stick pressure required to make course corrections.
But the best thing above all the characteristics that make this the best homebuilt seaplane for the novice is that there is a vibrant after-market parts list with additions and upgrades that are not complicated, and as you get more comfortable with the plane. Upgrading the hull to kevlar, for instance, will give you a weight advantage while increasing its strength.
Some of the upgrades will give you a weight advantage, others will reduce drag, like the engine cowling addition or the prop spinner. And while adding components to increase performance is a good thing, the feeling you get when tinkering with your home built is even better.
Quikkit Glass Goose - Best Overall Quality
The Glass Goose, built by the Quickkit Corp is a two-seat composite biplane with a stepped hull and retractable wheels. It has a Lycoming O-320 engine that sits above the cabin providing centerline thrust that flows over the vertical and horizontal stabilizer.
You can have the Glass Goose built in any two-car garage without any difficulty as it is not that heavy to move around. The one thing that will strike you as you assemble the Glass Goose is the quality of all the parts that come together effortlessly. This is the reason this is the best quality home built seaplane that you will find.
The wings and the hull mate perfectly with tight tolerances in the fit, while the engine is shrouded in a composite cowl that has zero vibration. The build that results from spending 1000 hours to get this from box to tarmac is the best quality you will find on the market.
The design quality is also exceptional, characterized by the well-thought-out features that provide convenience, comfort, and safety at every turn. Take the sponsors for instance. The Glass Goose uses a pair of positive-angle sponsons to allow both people onboard to step on while they also act as a pair of lateral stabilizers and hydroplanes in the water. In addition to the stepped hull, the sponsons are responsible for lifting the front of the airplane out of the water and letting it hydroplane until the wings are ready to take over.
The Glass Goose easily won the title for best quality because of its design and manufacturing quality. Builders had no complaints when it came to the Glass goose, as all the parts fit the way it was supposed to.
The Glass Goose is also one of the most sturdy home built airplanes because of its design and also because of the quality of its manufactured parts. When everything fits together and there is a tighter fit and tolerance, the plane flies better.
The Glass Goose is constructed of composite fiberglass, carbon fiber, and Kevlar. All composite parts come pre-molded. Most come in whole parts, a few, in halves that will require joining. No jig or rig is required by the builder and whatever is necessary to mate the aluminum parts are provided. The manufacturers should be commended for thinking of everything.
This level of attention to detail and build-resilience almost always looks like a factory built to the untrained eye. Looking dashing as it hydroplanes to the jetty, non-pilots and pilots alike are surprised to find that it was built in the garage by the person getting out of the cockpit.
The Goose has a useful load of 850 pounds. Of this, 420 pounds is for fuel, leaving you with another 430 pounds for pilots, passengers and cargo. Four fuel tanks are spread across the four wings. Located on the inboard section of the wings, the added stability of weight toward the centerline and the dihedral of the wings ensure the fuel gravitates toward the aircraft's centerline and therefore keeps the Glass Goose stable even in various conditions.
With that weight allowance, you need a large cargo area. And that's what this aircraft has. It allows you to store anything from life jackets to overnight bags, and even your extra-large tackle box. A rear window that lets sunlight into the cargo bay gives you good lighting in the cabin.
The added fuel capacity gives it a better range, beating most two-seater seaplane home builts and certainly beating many 4-seaters as well. At 1200 nautical miles, that is better than most of the Piper Super Cubs.
Another aspect of quality in the Glass Goose is the quality of flight. The rolls are smooth and the grace it exhibits when pitched up or in a glide on final is evident, even new pilots look seasoned. It’s effortlessly smooth in the way it handles and even when it lands a little nose up in the water, the stepped hull gently slows the plane down, bringing the rest of the hull into the water and coming to a gentle stop. All in less than 600 feet.
The Glass Goose also comes as a quick kit. More parts are already assembled and it will take almost half the time than assembling the full kit to get the quick kit up and running.