• Apparently leather is buoyant.
  • The material composition shouldn't exceed the technology of the 1700s.
  • Please use the image below for a rough size comparison of the person and the dragon.
  • The dragon either suddenly disappears at a height or crashes in to the water in a way that is survivable and that the saddle comes free (you may choose one or both).
  • This person must end up being able to sleep hard for at least ten hours floating in a calm ocean covered by their cloak protecting them from exposure to the sun.
  • The person may be semi-conscious just long enough to get a safe position on the saddle.
  • The ocean conditions should be considered as ideal as possible.
  • If appropriate the saddle may be large enough to even fully keep the person from even touching the water.
  • This story device must make reasonable scientific sense, if dragons were real this must be truly believable.

Dragon Human Size Comparison

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Saddles aren't simply leather - mostly, anyway, as there are different styles and construction methods. A typical saddle will be built on a "saddle tree" which is traditionally wood, but these days may be various synthetics. There may be padding or empty space that's lighter than leather, but then there's various amounts of metal rigging, stirrups, and so on. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Sep 25 '20 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ I’m interested in what the story is... $\endgroup$ – Destructive Wolf Sep 26 '20 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ @DarePelletier I can't release the name of the story until I've dealt with a domain-squatter (as a capitalist I absolutely can't stand cronies). However my web business (JAB Creations web platform) will be funding a live-action film trilogy. I've already rewritten some of the initial chapters. A very...*very* rough idea is imagine SS1 Goku standing between the million orcs and Minas Tirith. Absolutely no kung-fu and really - really refined. ...and don't worry about losing the Elder Scrolls, something better will be coming down the pipeline eventually. ;-) $\endgroup$ – John Sep 26 '20 at 23:58

Use Appa's Howdah.

As Nosajimiki mentioned, your rider would more likely use a Howdah rather than a saddle. The only problem being that a Howdah is a bit too pretentious for your protagonist.

There exist Howdahs (I think they qualify as Howdahs) like that used by Ang in Avatar: The Last Air Bender on his flying bison Appa that are very simple, modest and that could easily allow your protagonist to sleep peacefully on the calm seas.

These are the only pictures I could find that show it clearly:

enter image description here enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ I really like this one: not pretentious and large enough to seat at least two. Obviously it would need to be kept in place (there are no ropes in those pictures) though that is a given. The dragon may not like the saddle/howdah at first so it may have to be decorated first. "Not with...you know, bodies?" "No, I don't think that is his style." "Great, so what is his style?" "I'm thinking, expensive...". $\endgroup$ – John Sep 26 '20 at 23:50

Your harness is not a saddle

The thing about horse saddles is that they are designed to help keep a rider comfortable and on top of an animal while functioning as a sort of seat with your legs going off to either side of the horse's back ... but this dragon's body is far too large get your legs around, meaning you can't just sit on it with a normal saddle. You'd need a solution that lets you stay on without wrapping your legs around the dragon's body. The closest analogue for what riding a dragon would be like in the real world is not a horse, but an elephant.

It is really hard to stay sitting on a charging elephant without being able to get your legs around it; so, many civilizations that utilised them in war relied on various sorts of Howdah that they could sit or stand in. Your dragon design has a much wider back than even an elephant; so, on a creature this size, Howdahs more or less go from recommended to required. Howdahs came in many, many different shapes and sizes, but many of them were large wooden structures that either resembled sleighs or towers. Tower shaped ones would certainly be more boat like, but far less likely for a dragon since aerodynamics and stability will play a bigger factor here than with elephants. Either way though, you are looking at a significant wooden structure with more than enough size and buoyancy to float on if the need arises.

enter image description hereenter image description here

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Re not being able to wrap your legs around: 1) That depends on the size of the dragon, doesn't it? 2) You don't actually wrap your legs around a horse, either. You have some contact with your lower legs, but normally different degrees of pressure are used as signals to the horse. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Sep 25 '20 at 17:02
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf The size of the dragon is made clear by the OP's illustration. His version of dragons appear to have necks that are about 25-30m in circumference. My point was not that you are holding on that way so much as that your legs have somewhere to go. That is not to say Howdahs are the only solution to riding on the back of such a large animal, but saddles distinctly are not a solution. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Sep 25 '20 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, I re-read my statement, and I see how you got there. I've reworded it. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Sep 25 '20 at 18:34
  • $\begingroup$ I'm thinking catamaran would be perfect "saddle" and boat (posted as separate answer). $\endgroup$ – Alexei Levenkov Sep 25 '20 at 20:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @John Howdahs come in many, many different shapes and sizes as I said, some are actually quite humble like this one: previews.123rf.com/images/kedsirin/kedsirin1605/… $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Sep 26 '20 at 20:21

The saddle has saddlebags

To circumvent any difficulties with buoyancy or surface, why not just add saddlebags. It makes sense for such travel to have the option to store a lot of stuff for both the driver, passengers and the dragon. The saddlebags are sealed against water for air travel. Some are likely empty or close to empty, making for great buoyancy. Some might just have shed their load during the crash. Added with the saddle, you can also easily explain that there is enough surface to pass out on pretty comfortably.

  • $\begingroup$ The rider doesn't need saddlebags however that does not negate having a use for them. A supplemental answer though a good one. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 26 '20 at 4:20

A non-rigid saddle and tropical water, you'll be fine.

Technically a human themselves is buoyant in calm water. (Human is 985 kg/m3, Salt water is 1020 kg/m3). The exposure or exhaustion usually tires you out, then a wave gets you. And then your corpse floats.

A horse saddle can weigh up to 20kg, and this dragon is a lot bigger than a horse. We could estimate this as being around 40kg in weight (the extra weight will be strapping, which is the lightest part. Which is why I'm not estimating like 200kg for this)

Leather is about 860 kg per cubic meter. That 40kg leather is going to occupy 0.046 m^3. That should give an upforce sufficient to lift 7kg in salt water. That's enough to keep your head above water while you sleep.

The saddle needs to lose its shape. If it keeps a "saddle" shape it'll flip. If it opens up, you'll be floating like Rose at the end of Titanic.

I'd say a more important part of survival is the water temperature. 21 degree water can give hypothermia. So, you better hope your dragon ditching occurs in the tropics.

  • $\begingroup$ There aren't any tropics in the story (that we the reader know of) however there are ocean currents that can compensate. I imagine the saddle may even be large enough to not even have the person's limbs dangling off the sides. The density measurements help, I greatly appreciate math to validate ideas! $\endgroup$ – John Sep 25 '20 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ Why would the saddle be twice as bit? You only need to sit securely. A bigger saddle won't matter, unless you make a saddle for multiple riders, because the dragon is big enough. $\endgroup$ – Trioxidane Sep 25 '20 at 11:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane You'd need enough material to secure the saddle around whatever part of the neck it's mounted on and that would be a lot of material. The design of the dragon itself could be taken in to consideration to make that happen if need-be. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 25 '20 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane The weight of the entire saddle assembly, including straps around the dragons body, will be heavier than a horse saddle. The strapping needs to go a long way around. You can't just plop a saddle on a dragons back without any strapping and pray the dragon stays within acceleration limits. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 25 '20 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ I agree and this is a benefit because if the correct material is used and it's lighter than water it'll make this scenario much more realistic and thus believable. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 26 '20 at 23:53

The main issue is not the buoyancy, since as you state leather is buoyant, but rather the shape.

In order to ensure that the person can stay on the saddle while it is floating on the water, the shape has to be stable under the forces due to buoyancy and the person being on it.

Imagine the difference between having a plank and having a pole floating on water. The plank, due to its shape, will take a greater deal to flip over, while the pole just requires a slightly movement to roll around.

The shape of a dragon saddle might somehow resemble an enlarged version of a horse saddle, something roughly shaped as an upside down U with open ends. In that case I suspect it would be highly unstable, unless it has some bags on the side which, full of air, can ensure some stabilization.

  • $\begingroup$ I roughly read that as, "the saddle will need to be flipped to avoid water pooling" as that would obviously not allow someone to sleep for ten hours. I imagine the design of the saddle must coincidentally favor the rider in this unusual scenario so there must be some justification during it's in-story design. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 25 '20 at 10:23

As mentioned in other answers the dragon is way too big for "saddle". If flying over water is a main use-case of dragons - basically strap Inflatable boat made of leather and you can survive pretty long time. Real inflatables are not be period appropriate but leather wrapped kayak-on-frame with saddle/water bags filled with air would be very believable. Also, on a dragon of the size shown in the picture, you can just put decently sized regular ocean-going boat.

To makes something that incidentally floating (which is likely what you are going for) - since the dragon back is large, you need some sort of chair attached to it. Instead of strapping chair directly to the dragon use largish wooden frame and attach big air-filled leather bags on corners or large packs of reed (or any soft floating material) to have soft contact spots with the dragon's skin. This way you essentially have catamaran which gives you insane stability - with several gallons of water one could easily survive weeks on it, even in not so nice sea.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is an escape scene, a big part that I left out. The dragon is more of a pet and dragons don't usually like humans, not enough meat for all that trouble - so they certainly aren't used for travel, even less regular travel. That being said a good attempt; I often leave out such details because often people focus on those instead of the actual problem. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 26 '20 at 4:17

Kill the dragon and mount its body to stay afloat

I'd imagine that dragons, like birds, have hollow bones and other features (feathers that trap air, large lungs to breathe fire) that make them considerably lighter than most ground animals. Therefore, its body is probably even more buoyant than the saddle and makes for a good raft.

  • $\begingroup$ "I can't find a spot to park to go shirt-shopping so let's use my grenade launcher to blow up my car." isn't an answer. If the rider has a saddle made for a massive dragon which allows this person to mount and ride them I have no idea how you came to this conclusion. The dragon ceases to be physically present for unrelated reasons when the character loses consciousness floating in the ocean. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 26 '20 at 9:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.