You may have noticed some recent changes on Lake Union. The City of Seattle, with a permit from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), installed a line of five buoys on 5.24.2018 in a north-south line in the center of the lake. These are to mark a seaplane advisory area for a trial period this summer. While this is a City of Seattle initiative we know a lot of you have questions and want to hear from us. Here are some FAQs.

Why are the buoys there?

Lake Union is home to a diverse group of commercial and recreational users. With the continued development of the South Lake Union neighborhood, overall lake usage has increased. The seaplane advisory buoys are intended to provide increased separation between seaplane operations (takeoffs and landings) and other recreational watercraft (paddleboards, kayaks, etc.) and boat traffic during periods of peak lake usage. The purpose of the buoys is to bring greater predictability to both seaplane pilots (both ours and others who use the lake) and boaters/paddler enthusiasts on Lake Union.

How do the buoys work?

During periods of peak lake usage, the pilot-activated flashing yellow lights on top of the buoys indicate that seaplane takeoffs or landings are about to occur.

When the buoys light up, what am I supposed to do?

When you see the yellow warning lights flashing, move 200 feet east or west of the buoy centerline if it is safe and easy for you to do so. When the seaplane operation (takeoff or landing) is completed, the lights will stop flashing.

How much notice will I get?

The yellow warning lights will begin flashing approximately 2-3 minutes before a landing or takeoff.

How often will this happen?

Overall use of the light system depends upon the density of recreational watercraft and boat traffic on the lake, which is often influenced by weather. In general, the flashing light system is not anticipated to be used very often from Monday-Thursday. Heaviest use of the light system is expected to be Friday-Sunday after 2-3 pm.

Does this mean the ‘rules of the road’ are changing? Don’t boats, kayaks and paddleboards have the right of way?

These are advisory buoys only. This warning system is intended to support public safety on the water but does not change any current regulations about right of way for boaters or seaplanes.  

Are the buoys permanent?

The buoys will be in place for a trial period of Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. At the end of the trial, the City will review the program, and decide whether to apply to the DNR for a five-year permit.

Will the buoys be a night-time disturbance to Lake Union area residents?

As with all navigation buoys, they will be lit at night with white anti-collision lights for vessel safety reasons. However, these white lights should not be bright enough to disturb anyone shoreside. The yellow flashing light system will be turned off at night.   

Does this mean there will be an increase in seaplane traffic on the lake?

No, there will not be an increase in Kenmore Air takeoffs or landings during the trial period this summer.