Docking. As in beaching, be prepared with seat belt off, everything shut down, paddle within reach and a line attached to the forward cleat. Study the situation carefully as to your approach. Remember also that you need to depart from the dock. The wind direction is most important along with current and tide. Be aware that you might have to leap from the nose to the dock quite quickly. Or, in the worst case, into the drink to save some soft aluminum. This is probably the Lake Amphibian’s weakest feature, but it can be done. The more agile you are, the easier it is. Naturally, if you approach directly into the wind it will be the easiest. The height of the dock is most important. Nose bumper height or lower is what we like and no high posts. The flaps should be retracted if we want to place the dock between the fuselage and the float. Then it is a simple matter of stepping out of the cockpit onto the dock and securing the plane. Cushioning material is preferred. Help on the dock is much welcomed, however they should be told what to do in advance. The engine should be shut down well in advance and the aircraft paddled the remaining distance to the dock. “Sculling” with the water rudder helps. Directly downwind is the next easiest method provided the wind is not too strong. One might have to back-paddle to slow the forward motion, and expect to exit over the nose in a hurry, pushing off the plane as you go to stop the forward motion. Expect it to weathercock immediately. There is a method of tying the aircraft so that it floats away from the dock. It is possible, if the dock is low enough to place the float on top of it. The floats have little bumpers on their nose and on older Lakes there are wingtip bumpers useful for coming up to larger vessels.
Departing the dock requires some idea about what the action of current and wind might do. If you are nosed up to a dock, get on the nose giving a mighty push away from the dock. Crawl in over the nose and immediately begin back-paddling away from the dock until you are at least a wing length away in case the aircraft begins turning. Once you are sure that you are not going to ram into the dock you may start the engine. A little trick at this point, is to use full rudder towards open water, start the engine and you will start an immediate turn as soon as you start moving. While docking is possible, it is generally preferable to beach the aircraft and a lot less work.
Ramping. It is amazing how steep a ramp the Lake can climb, but one also has to go back down. Several very important things; make sure the ramp goes far enough under water so the landing gear rolls up on it. Make sure the space on either side allows for the wingspan and make sure your wheels are down and that the ramp is wide enough for the landing gear plus a good safety margin. Approach at idle power and do not add power until you feel the nose wheel roll on the ramp. At that point add full power to insure that you move straight up the ramp. Do not stop until you have reached level ground at the top of the ramp. The worst scenario is stopping half-way up a steep ramp and having the nose wheel caster to either side.
If you have a crosswind while approaching the ramp you will have to “crab” into the wind to insure a straight-line approach to the ramp. A quartering tail wind in a stiff breeze is the worst situation. With the landing gear down you lose some effectiveness of the water rudder. One must plan ahead for the possibility of aborting. Should you abort, turn into the wind and raise the gear to make the water rudder more effective and use power as necessary.
Good brakes are a must for descending a ramp. Keep it moving to insure a straight line, letting off on the brakes only when reaching the slippery area at the water line. As in ascending, you do not want to stop and have the nosewheel caster to one side or the other. When you enter the water, the nose will float up which lowers the tail and it doesn’t take much angle of descent to hit the tail skid at this point. I have had the experience of almost ripping the tail skid off and filling the rear compartment with water. There are two ways to avoid this. If the ramp is wide enough (they seldom are), enter the water at an angle. But the preferred method is to add a good amount of power as the nose starts to float, which will push the nose way down into the water. It is a wise idea to close the entry hatches in case you get carried away and have a wall of water cascade over the instrument panel into your lap. When it floats up again, the tail will be far enough away from the ramp so as not to hit. Be careful with the Renegade as the fuselage is longer. An after market item sold by Lake is a new tail skid with a built in roller.
Content and pictures courtesy and copyright of John Staber, Owner of Colonial Skimmer SN #1; John has flown and worked on Colonial Skimmers since 1964. In 2011 he published a book on the restoration of N6595K which can be purchased on his website: http://jstaber.com/books/skimmer/ If you are interested to learn about Skimmers and Lake Amphibian Aircraft, come visit and chat with John on www.seaplaneforum.com