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How Floatplanes Are Helping Elite Travelers Reach Remote Isles Off Florida and the Bahamas

Quick and easy yacht access is always the preference, but what to do if it’s 100 miles away from the nearest port? For more than a decade, Tropic Ocean Airways has operated a cottage industry centered on shuttling yacht owners and their guests via floatplane from bustling South Florida urban centers to remote parts of the Florida Keys and even outlying islands in the Bahamas—and now, increasingly, that route network includes private vessels.

“Before the pandemic, we also had airplanes in the BVI and Antigua,” says the airline’s founder, Rob Ceravolo. “But when the Bahamas became North America’s favorite charter destination, the boat traffic moved there.”

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Besides making transport more time-efficient, the aircraft can also provide a sense of security. “We’ve had airplanes stay with a boat in very remote locations all week,” Ceravolo says. While overall the owners didn’t make much use of the planes (“A few used it for Instagram moments,” he says), the Cessna Caravans still served as backup transport, a shuttle for crew, cargo, and spare parts, and a potential emergency medevac.

Tropic Ocean Airways aircraft on ground
Tropic Ocean’s floatplane fleet can access remote islands that other conventional aircraft cannot reach.

It’s also important to consider the level of expertise inside the cockpit, given the challenging weather conditions inherent to the job. Ceravolo, a former naval aviator and Top Gun instructor, says he trains his pilots to U.S. Navy protocols, teaching them “to fly in all conditions since it can be a very dynamic environment.”

As for clients, they’ve proved creative when it comes to optimizing floatplane potential: Ceravolo is working on a plan to drop off a passenger 50 miles upwind of the boat—so he can kiteboard back. “In these remote locations,” he says, “there are a lot of options.”

Other stateside floatplane firms include Fly the Whale, which services the U.S. Northeast, and has a seasonal presence in South Florida. The company will launch a service between San Juan, Puerto Rico and St. Croix, USVI, that will begin in March. Kenmore Air has regular scheduled flights on both conventional aircraft and seaplanes between Seattle and the San Juan Islands, while servicing British Columbia’s Inside Passage and trips to Victoria, Vancouver. Northwest Seaplanes flies from Seattle to Friday Harbor and different parts of British Columbia.

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