The terms floatplane and seaplane are interchangeably used in some parts of the world. Technically, the two terms have different meanings although a floatplane is a type of seaplane, it goes beyond just that. Both a floatplane and a seaplane can take off from, and land on, virtually any body of water (oceans, lakes, rivers, etc.) However, a floatplane does more than a seaplane. Let’s get into the difference between the two.
What’s the difference between a floatplane and a seaplane?
The fuselage or belly of a floatplane does not directly come into contact with water. Instead, a floatplane uses floats or pontoons which make contact with water during take-off and landing. A seaplane, however, lands using the fuselage or belly directly on the water.
Here’s a further explanation of the two types of aircraft:
Definition of a Floatplane
A floatplane is commonly referred to as a pontoon plane. (Which is very accurate!) Instead of a fuselage/belly that can land on water directly, a floatplane has floats or pontoons which serve as a surface to land on and take off from. The fuselage/belly of a floatplane is not intended to touch the water.
Team JAS specializes in the Twin Otter aircraft. To learn more about the Twin Otter on Floats option including specs and pictures, click here.
Example Photo of a Floatplane:
Definition of a Seaplane
A Seaplane is often referred to as a flying boat or a boat with wings. Which are both accurate descriptions! Seaplanes are built around a single hull which serves the aircraft much like the belly of a boat. A seaplane takes off from and lands on its fuselage/belly.
Example Photo of a Seaplane:
Which is better, a floatplane or a seaplane?
Which is better – This is the ultimate question. The answer depends on the operator’s intention/use for the aircraft. I will say that many floatplane applications are amphibious. Meaning, these aircraft can take off and land both in water and on a runway. Plus, they are easier to transport because floatplanes can land in water then pull straight up a ramp! (Here’s an example of what I’m describing.)
One final thing to keep in mind about seaplanes is the corrosion issues. That’s out of my wheelhouse, but here’s a great resource that explains this topic very well. (Seaplanes & Salt Water: To Operate or Not to Operate?)