Q13 FOX Season of Giving

With Lake Union becoming more crowded, new buoys installed to mark seaplane runway

SEATTLE -- Some say the seaplanes that take off and land from Lake Union are a big part of what Seattle is all about.

“The float planes are a nostalgia of Seattle. You can't take away the float plane. It`s a big part of the city,” said James Baker, general manager of Seattle Boat Company.

“I’ve grown up here and this lake is busier and busier every year and the boats get bigger and all of that,” said Baker.

But just like the city, the lake is getting crowded with boats, kayaks and seaplanes all jockeying for space. Kenmore Air just installed what they believe is a solution on the water that could help keep everybody safe -- lighted buoys.

“The pilot has the ability to hit the switch and turn on the lights, if you will. And this just makes people aware of the fact, of what's been going on all of the time, which is a seaplane is about to land,” said Rey Lopez, president of the Agua Verde Paddle Club.

A runway on the water. For many who have been on Lake Union, with the weather getting warmer, the concern is for tourists who have never been on the lake before.

“For people to come to visit in the summer and they’re not experienced kayakers, never been on Lake Union and all of a sudden they see this seaplane coming at them. I think it can be a little disconcerting,” said kayaker Gary Oman.

Crews with the city of Seattle and the state Department of Natural Resources installed the five buoys right down the middle of South Lake Union. According to Kenmore Air, testing of the buoys is planned for Thursday with the actual usage of the buoys scheduled for Friday.

“The pilots are pros but they need all the help they can get, and the people out on the water aren’t necessarily pros,” said Lopez.

Once the pilot lights up the buoys, boaters should be 200 feet east or west of the buoy center-line until takeoff and landing is complete, according to Kenmore Air.

Lopez tells his customers to treat the waterway like a highway, a message he shares with the expected tourists on the summer months.

“As you go along the lake, we would suggest that they go around in a counter-clockwise manner around Lake Union, sticking to the right-hand side,” said Lopez.

And he said the installation of the buoys is a good thing.

“I’m sure Kenmore Air is never going to start landing at night, that's not going to happen, they're not going to increase their flights. This is really all about keeping people safe,” said Lopez.

The idea of the buoys was first brought up five years ago. Right now the buoys are undergoing a trial period for the summer and will be removed after the Labor Day weekend.

At the end of the trial, Seattle officials will review how the program went and decide whether or not to apply to the DNR for a five-year permit to use the buoys.