Kenmore Air on Lake Union, Photo by Alex Kwanten

Life in the Fast Lane

Norris Comer Nautical News

Seaplane Advisory Buoys Installed on Lake Union

For the Seattle-area boater, Lake Union is a summertime playground where the hum of seaplanes taking off and landing is part of the experience. Frequent users of the lake have probably witnessed flummoxed pilots circling overhead, looking for an opportunity to land on a busy day as boats, which have the right of way, crisscross the water. To increase communication between seaplane pilots and boaters, the City of Seattle obtained a temporary permit from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to install a line of five advisory buoys in a north-south line across the center of Lake Union.

The move has caused some alarm among the boating community as an attempt by private seaplane companies to hijack public waterways. However, there are some key points to be made with regards to these buoys that may alleviate angst:

Kenmore Air on Lake Union, Photo by Alex Kwanten

A pair of Kenmore Air float planes head in opposite directions on busy Lake Union.
With plans for commuter service between Vancouver and Seattle, the lake
will be seeing even more aircraft movements. (Photo: Alex Kwanten)

1. Advisory Only: These buoys do not change the law of the land with regards to water use or rules of the road. What they do instead is flash yellow lights when seaplane pilots are trying to land or take off. When the lights flash, they are essentially a plea from a pilot to move 200’ away from the buoys to let the plane take off or land.

2. Trial: These buoys are a trial program that started Memorial Day weekend and runs through Labor Day weekend. The City will review the experimental program after the trial to decide whether or not to apply to the DNR for a five-year permit. If you are a user of Lake Union, now is the time to weigh in with your opinion to the City. Local seaplane company Kenmore Air is also welcoming feedback at lakeunionbuoys@kenmoreair.com.

3. Advance Notice: The lights start flashing about two to three minutes before a landing or takeoff and stop flashing once the maneuver is complete. Even for a paddleboarder, 200’ on the water can be leisurely covered in that timeframe.

Northwest Yachting will be following this program throughout the summer and is keeping an open mind. While nobody wants our precious public waterways dominated by private interests, we also believe that we can all coexist. Seaplane companies like Kenmore Air are a part of the local aquatic culture like the rest of us. If this trial is successful, it could make life easier for everyone. We’re eager for your thoughts, so send them in at editorial@nwaychting.com.

Norris Comer

Written by

Norris Comer is the managing editor of Northwest Yachting. He was raised in Portland, Oregon and got his BS in Marine Science at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL where he lived aboard a 1973 Catalina 27 before moving to Washington. He has worked as a commercial fisherman, wandered aimlessly around the world, studied oil spills, and was a contestant on the Norwegian reality TV show, Alt for Norge. He loves living in a state where he can explore the ocean and mountains in the same day.

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