What Are Unmanned Seaplanes? Floating Drones Explained

Image Credit: Flyox I – Singular Aircraft; U650 A1 – Shanghai UVS Intelligence System

Unmanned seaplanes are types of drones that have been introduced fairly recently in the unmanned systems industry. They are essentially hybrids between aircraft and watercraft.

These types of robots have the potential to revolutionise various industries (more on this below).

What are unmanned seaplanes?

Unmanned seaplanes are fixed-wing drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that are capable of taking off from, floating and landing on water. A subclass of seaplanes are unmanned amphibians that can takeoff and land on both water and land.

Take note that unmanned ground-effect vehicles (GEVs) are not considered to be unmanned seaplanes and therefore will not be included in this article.

How Do Unmanned Seaplanes Work?

Unmanned seaplanes are capable of taking off from and landing on water by either using floats that keep them afloat (in the case of unmanned floatplanes) or using their hulls for buoyancy (in the case of unmanned flying boats).

These types of drones work the same way as fixed-wing aircraft in that they generate lift using airfoils (wings). They use propulsion systems that propel them to the required speed in order to takeoff.

Check out our full post where we dive into several powerplants and propulsion devices currently used in drones. For each power source, we expand on how they work, the different types, the advantages, disadvantages, and real-world examples of drones that use it.

Related Post: How Are Drones Powered? 6 Drone Energy Sources Explained

Propulsion systems can include powerplants such as batteries, fuel cells, engines along with propulsion devices such as propellers.

Unmanned flying boats need watertight hulls which need to be designed in a way that makes them lightweight and aerodynamic to reduce drag, increase control and stability.

Unmanned seaplanes that are water-bound are not as popular as unmanned amphibians as they limit the range of operating environments that they can be used in.

Companies and individuals often have planes with attachments that can be put on and taken off (floats that replace wheels) allowing a conventional fixed-wing drone to act as a seaplane.

Seaplane unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are a subcategory within fixed-wing UAVs.

Check out our full post that dives further into how fixed-wing UAVs work, the differences between fixed-wing and rotary-wing UAVs, fixed-wing drone applications, parts/components that make them up, advantages/disadvantages, powerplants used in them and some real examples:

Related Post: What Are Fixed-Wing Drones/UAVs? Everything You Need To Know

What Are The Types Of Unmanned Seaplanes?

Unmanned amphibians are a hybrid subclass of unmanned seaplanes.

Here are the four types of unmanned seaplanes:

  • Unmanned floatplanes
  • Unmanned flying boats
  • Unmanned amphibious floatplanes
  • Unmanned amphibious flying boats

Unmanned floatplanes are fixed-wing drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that use floats attached underneath their fuselages for buoyancy.

They can either have a single long float under the fuselage or a twin float also positioned under the fuselage along with floats attached to the wings (wing floats) for stability. The same applies to amphibious floatplanes (more on this below).

Unmanned flying boats are fixed-wing drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that use a watertight hull as their fuselage for buoyancy. They typically also have floats attached to their wings (wing floats) for stability.

Unmanned amphibious floatplanes are fixed-wing drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can use both floats attached underneath their fuselage for buoyancy for water takeoffs/landings and retractable landing gear (wheels) for land-based takeoffs/landings.

Unmanned amphibious flying boats are fixed-wing drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can use both a watertight hull as their fuselage for buoyancy for water takeoffs/landings along with wing floats and retractable landing gear for land-based takeoffs/landings.

Check out our full post that dives into each type of fixed-wing drone/UAV. For each type, we explain what they are, how they work, their sub-types, what they’re used for, a benefit and drawback, and two examples of each:

Related Post: Types Of Fixed-Wing Drones/UAVs Explained (+Pictures)

What Are Unmanned Seaplanes Used For?

Here are 6 applications for unmanned seaplanes:

  • They can be used in firefighting to fight against wildfires. The drone lands on a body of water to grab large quantities of water and transports it in a compartement within the hull and drops it on the target location
  • They can be used for transporting passengers from one water-based location to another
  • They can conduct ocean surveys for extented periods of time
  • They can carry out maritime military ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) missions
  • They can be used in maritime search and rescue operations
  • They can be used in biological research to track and monitor aquatic wildlife

Check out our full post on several fixed-wing UAV applications where we explain what each is, how fixed-wing drones are used in them, how they’re beneficial typically over manned aircraft, and some real examples/concepts if there are any:

Related Post: 12 Awesome Fixed-Wing Drone/UAV Applications Explained

What Parts/Components Make Up Unmanned Seaplanes?

Unmanned seaplanes are made up of several parts including a fuselage, wings, tail assembly/empennage, and landing gear/undercarriage.

The wings typically include control surfaces such as ailerons and devices for stability such as wing floats/sponsons.

A conventional tail assembly/empennage is made up of elevators and a fin acting vertically, and a rudder and tailplane which act horizontally.

Seaplane landing gear/undercarriage includes conventional wheels (typically retractable) and floats (single or twin hulls).

Typical components include a transmitter, receiver, servos, lights, inertial navigation system (INS), electronic speed controllers (ESCs), and flight controller.

Unmanned seaplanes are fixed-wing UAVs, therefore they have most of the same parts and components.

We’ve gone into far more detail in our article where we explain what each part and component of a fixed-wing UAV is, how it works, the different sub-types of each component (if any), and some real examples:

Related Post: Main Fixed-Wing Drone/UAV Parts & Components Explained

What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Unmanned Seaplanes?

There are several advantages and disadvantages of unmanned seaplanes. We’ve split these up into two separate sections below.

Unmanned seaplane advantages

Here are 4 unmanned seaplane advantages:

  • They can takeoff and land in a much wider variety of environments, especially in the case of unmanned amphibians
  • They are much faster than other vehicles that can float on water such as boats
  • They can expand the capabilities of first responders trying to access water-based locations
  • They depend less on aerodynamic devices such as speed brakes to slow down because of the drag induced by the water on contact during landing

Unmanned seaplane disadvantages

Here are 4 unmanned seaplane disadvantages:

  • They’re tyically not capable of operating in rough conditions such as strong waves in storms
  • They’re not always stable which can be dangerous for the drone and potentially the passengers on board
  • They need to have considerable speed before being capable of taking off which requires a large enough body of water to take off from
  • Flying boats are not typically able to park beside a dock as the wings and fuselage are typically too short making any sort of loading and unloading of payloads inconvenient

Check out our post that explains all fixed-wing UAV advantages and disadvantages:

Related Post: 11 Fixed-Wing Drone/UAV Advantages+Disadvantages Explained

What Are Some Examples Of Unmanned Seaplanes?

Here are 6 examples of unmanned seaplanes:

Sea ScoutVigor Industrial – Previously Oregon Iron Works (OIW)Unmanned flying boat
GULL 24Warrior (Aero-Marine)Unmanned flying boat
HamadoriSpace Entertainment Laboratory (SELab)Unmanned flying boat
Flyox ISingular AircraftUnmanned amphibious flying boat
GuardianPrinceton UniversityUnmanned flying boat
U650-A1Shanghai UVS Intelligence SystemUnmanned amphibious flying boat

If you’d like to discover who the best drone companies are in the world for the consumer, commercial and military drone markets and some fun facts about them, we have a full post on this topic below:

Related Post: Top Drone Companies/Manufacturers In The World [History, What They Offer, Popular Drones And More]


Although these types of fixed-wing UAVs are not as popular and known as others, they have the potential to leave a lasting positive impact on our society.

As we’ve already mentioned, unmanned seaplanes are a subcategory of fixed-wing UAVs. We highly recommend you check out our main article here on what fixed-wing drones are to learn more.

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