Seaplanes – a Uniquely West Coast Way to Travel

Photo:  Philip Tong | Flickr

Photo: Philip Tong | Flickr

If it’s not on your bucket list yet, buckle up and put a seaplane ride on it. In 35 minutes or less, a flight can have you island hopping around the West Coast.

Harbour Air was recently awarded Trip Advisor’s 2014 Certificate of Excellence Award, which is only given to top 10 businesses on the site for consistently achieving outstanding customer reviews.

What makes a seaplane experience on the West Coast stand out? From tales of frigid lake rescues, seals on board to remote island proposals and long distance relationships, Harbour Air has played a critical role in the collective stories of its customers for over 30 years. Here are five distinct customer experiences that the airline has been a part of:

Remote island proposal


It’s handy to befriend a pilot, especially when it means he jets you to a remote island to pop the big question. Pilot Darren Batstone got a chance to do just that for his best friend Trevor Wollard.

Six am on a bright May morning, Trevor and his now fiancée Krista Madden met Darren on the dock for a day of adventure. Trevor told Krista that Darren won an award from work and was given a seaplane for the day. The trio headed to Sidney Spit, a secluded island just off the shoreline of the Gulf Islands. Midflight, Darren pretends to receive a dummy phone call from Harbour Air telling him he needed to switch aircrafts. Darren drops Trevor and Krista off on a remote island and takes off.

With the island to themselves, the couple head along the sandy beach for a walk. Krista recalls she was walking ahead of Trevor when she hears him call out ‘babe’. Looking behind her she sees he has brought along a picnic of wine, croissants, meats and cheeses. He then drops on one knee and confesses, ‘I’ve been lying to you for the past two weeks, with the reason being this!’ It was a magical moment. There are worse reasons to be stranded on a remote island.

Whistler lake rescue


While rescue missions aren’t on the usual flight agenda, one pilot was at the right place at the right time. Chris Cameron was gearing to take off from Green Lake on Canada Day last year, when he saw three people struggling in the frigid water after their canoe capsized. The trio were more than 150 meters away from shore and unable to get the boat upright.The pilot quickly rushed to their rescue in the seaplane. One person grabbed on to the side of the plane and was able to help the other two get on the flat side of the pontoon.

Even on a summer’s day, Green Lake’s glacier fed water is frightfully cold. The pilot immediately radioed Harbour Air’s Green Lake dock to send their boat. Suffering from hypothermia, all three boaters were taken to nearby Whistler Clinic and luckily survived the misadventure.

Seals on board


Seals may be unlikely passengers on most airlines, but Harbour Air works closely with The Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre to jump to these animals’ rescue whenever needed. One seal pup was luckily found by a local resident on a beach in Finnerty Cove, near Victoria, last summer. She noticed the pup was abandoned without his mother for over 24 hours, squirming along the beach and suckling on a log. She called the rescue centre and was given instructions on how to handle the pup.

Harbour Air safely transported the pup, now named Red Square, to the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, where the prematurely born pup was found to be malnourished and underweight. The rescue centre’s ultimate goal is to return the animals back to their natural habitat by helping seal pups like Red Square regain their strength and teach them to forage.

Long distance seaplane relationship

Photo: E/A Photography

Photo: E/A Photography

“We were in a long distance relationship, but it didn’t feel that way,” says customer Sarah Pridy. For two and a half years, Sarah and Reed Pridy would take turns getting on a seaplane every weekend from Vancouver to Victoria or vice versa.

During law school, Sarah moved to Vancouver from Victoria for an articling position and eventually landed a permanent job in the city. Sarah credits the seaplane company for sustaining their long distance relationship, “Harbour Air was indirectly a big part of our relationship; it was part of our routine. If Harbour Air didn’t exist, we would have only seen each other twice a month, but it allowed us to see each other three or four nights out of the week.”

While the commute is no longer necessary, the Pridy’s, now married and settled in Victoria, took their wedding photos on the Harbour Air dock in Victoria to mark the countless flights that kept their relationship strong.

Baby bucket list


Robin Esrock is no stranger to bucket lists. As a travel writer, TV host and author of The Great Canadian Bucket List, seaplanes aren’t a first for Robin. They were however a first for his young 15-month old daughter, who at the time was crazy about airplanes. Robin arranged a surprise trip on Harbour Air to whisk his wife and daughter away to Victoria for the weekend.

Recalling his daughter’s reaction he says, “The plane ride was the highlight of the whole weekend. She was yelling and staring out the window the entire time.” Robin notes that seaplanes really give you a sense of flight, “To me when you’re on a seaplane you are really flying, you get a sense of how flying feels. You can feel the bumps, and see the cockpit.”

He says that Vancouver and the Gulf Islands are beautiful to see from above. “I love flying. Vancouver and the Gulf Islands are beautiful to see from the air. You get a perspective of how the islands and coves are put together.” At the time, Robin’s parents were on an Alaskan cruise and he recalls that their flight literally flew over the cruise ship. “It was like something from a movie, very Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”.

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