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Ditching and Sea Survival

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Ditching and Sea Survival

Old 6th Nov 2016, 21:59
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Ditching and Sea Survival

I decided to write this post because it is a specialist area of mine and I feel I have something to contribute to the GA community. I’ve also posted on this subject a couple of times and maybe caused thread drift where it wasn’t wanted…so now in future I can just link to this if it comes up.

To perhaps capture your interest, I’ve just posted in another thread (TCT’s if you are interested) words to the effect of:

“adhoc/random ultra low-level flying over the open ocean (that is, out of sight of land) in a light aircraft is a monumentally stupid thing to do”

I stand by those words, and I will tell you why below.

But first, my qualification to talk on this subject.

In 1985 I trained, and was successfully assessed, as an RAF Combat Survival Instructor. The course was at RAF Mountbatten (Plymouth – now shut) and the sea element involved being thrown, projected and launched into the English Channel in mid-winter, in rough seas, day and night in most of the RAF’s various types of survival equipment. Plus, we were subjected to some funky swimming pools drills (at Culdrose) like navigating out from underneath a water-logged parachute…blindfolded (you follow a seam to the middle and out the other side). From then until 2003, I supervised sea drills for the Nimrod force, both in the pool and in the Moray Firth, and carried our survival checks for all aircrew as part of their 18 month checks.

I am often taken by surprise at the general level of naivety in the GA community when it comes to flying over water…and also by some the very poorly researched articles I have read.

This article seems better than most and I commend it to you – it is a very instructive read and some of the points I make are covered in it.

Gremline Flight Safety Digest: Ditching. There will only be one chance to get it right.

I have no comment on flying & ditching procedures…my job starts when you are in the water.

However, like almost every article I ever read on this subject it simply does not convey the shock you going to be subject to when you hit very cold water at very high speed in a very hostile and completely overwhelming environment. Almost every time I read these articles, I find myself thinking, yeah, you’ve never done it mate. And I stress…this is one of the good articles!

The article states research shows 88% of GA pilots survive a ditching but 50% die in the sea awaiting recue. That seems perfectly in line with my expectations, but please, please bear in mind one huge point...and I mean HUGE!!!

The 44% (50% of 88%) that get to see their loved ones again do so because they are rescued.

That means someone, somewhere spotted them go down…in other words, EITHER they got out a MAYDAY (which was received) OR they were spotted going off the RADAR.

Neither of those things are going to happen if (as is the TCT case in point) if you are way out over the oggin and flying at 25 feet!
If you read the article it implies this exact point.

Let’s take the worst case scenario. You are at very low level, wearing a standard flying suit and a working flotation device. You survive the ditching with no injuries, get in the sea and start bobbing around.

How long have you got?

Answer, around the UK, average temp around 14 deg C in normal clothing (that is everything that is not a proper immersion suit) you’ll be dead in an one to two hours in calm seas, but much quicker if it’s rough because you will drown as soon as you lose consciousness. By the way, your hands will be completely useless after 5-10 minutes. A bit quicker in the winter; a bit slower in the summer, but it does not make much difference. Times vary according to you physiology (you skinny types will go quicker than us fatboys). Mental and physical conditioning can also help you endure the cold for much longer…I’m sure all you GA pilots are regularly conducting cold water survival training, aren’t you?

So you are going to die aren’t you. Because there isn’t anybody looking for you.

If you bring a working modern PLB or EPIRB into the equation, you solve the alerting/location problem, but frankly the odds are still stacked against you…mostly the chopper will arrive in time to winch up a floating stiff. If you really want to get the odds on your side, you need an on-board dinghy, that’ll get you out the oggin and protect you from the cold. Now all you have to worry about is not dehydrating from the sea-sickness. Ever sat in survival dinghy for two hours in sea state four reeking of vomit and rubber. I have…it really doesn’t take too long before you start thinking…”I think I’ll go back in the sea…it will be quicker”. And that was just in training.

So if you want to fly over the water and survive a ditching, consider the following basic points:

1. Fly at an altitude where you can be tracked and where you can get out with a mayday if the big fan stops.
2. Wear (not carry, but WEAR), a certified, correctly serviced, flotation device over the water legs. Check the device for obvious signs of wear and tear.
3. Be aware of the water temp you are flying over. If you fly over near freezing water (5 deg C or lower) and you ditch in it you will die – unless you have specialist survival equipment AND ARE TRAINED IN ITS USE!)
4. If you are flying outside radar cover, or any significant distance from the coast, you should consider a locator beacon and an on-board dinghy. Once you are in these realms, you need to have discussed a plan and reviewed the operating instructions of all your kit.
For example, chuck you cabin dinghy into the oggin unattached and it will float away way faster than you can swim. Attach it to the aircraft and it will sink with it, or have arse ripped out of it. It needs to be attached to YOU! You get my drift, no pun intended.

Please read the article linked, it is full of good stuff.

So in my professional opinion if someone brags (is there any other word?) of flying 25 feet above breeding whales in a biplane, on national radio I think they are doing an enormous disservice to the cause of flight safety.

By the way, you know what flies above whales at 25 feet…seagulls, hundreds of the **** ers.

All comments, discussion and corrections more than welcome. No ego’s here…this stuff matters.

PS If you fly over water without a flotation device, then your impending death, will in Darwinian terms, be to the long term benefit of the human race.

Last edited by The Old Fat One; 6th Nov 2016 at 22:10.
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Old 6th Nov 2016, 23:12
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Interesting to read and very informative "slap in the face". I think everyone in a coastal airfield/aeroclub should read it.

Thanks for sharing.
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Old 7th Nov 2016, 00:34
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Thank you TOFO, I entirely agree with your post! These themes should be required reading for pilots. I am a civil trainer (fire department) in the fresh water (lake), including ice, aspect of ditching survival. Once a person has taken a cold water immersion course, and/or underwater egress course, your view to low altitude wheel plane flying over water, (including the silly folks who like to waterski their planes) will change.

The flying boat was not in service this afternoon for the hour long search I flew over our local lake for a suspected boat fire, so I took my C 150. Out over the middle of the lake, I did not descend out of shore gliding distance until our Fireboat was very nearby to support me. I was wearing the lifejacket required to be carried aboard. It's near the season where I wear a full dry immersion suit for this flying.

Four times in my life, an engine failure has put me back on earth - it happens. If' you're 25' off the water, you can't even turn more than 45 degrees, you're ditching a few hundred yards ahead. It is remarkably dumb to not give yourself some thinking and responsible acting time between silence and splash.

This topic has lots of merit in it's own right, and pilots who do not properly prepare with training, nor appropriate emergency equipment are at its basis. Well prepared pilots still hope to not ditch, but they plan to.

Honestly, if pilots out there doubt the seriousness and suddeness of this severe risk, take a spare set of clothes, a manually inflatable lifejacket, and a friend you really trust, and jump into cold ocean with your street/flying clothes on. Make sure your friend is ready to rescue you, you may need it.
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Old 7th Nov 2016, 02:19
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Having been an active RNLI Lifeboat man in Jersey, Channel Islands and on the south coast of the UK I *have* been trained well, and I *have* been alone in the water with nothing more than a lifejacket (ok and drysuit/wollybear) and I *have* been winched up to Rescue Helicopter, and I have been out at sea on Christmas day - and *in* the sea on rescues on new years night... and completing the MNTB Sea Survival course (um, 3 times now)...

I have also been out at sea, 2 weeks away from land on a cargo ship at 18 years of age...

...and would I want to jump in the sea for a real emergency, with my flying clothes on - HELL NO!

Its hard enough, cold enough, stressful enough, when its for exercise only!

I fly often from Jersey to france, did most of my PPL over water in the islands, but have not yet done UK to Jersey... thats out of sight for too long for me.

Here is the link to the long running thread on PPRuNe about this:

http://www.pprune.org/private-flying...ll-you-go.html
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Old 7th Nov 2016, 06:36
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This one should be a sticky.
Thank you for sharing, great advice.
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Old 7th Nov 2016, 08:07
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Some useful info here also.
How to Suck an Egg
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Old 7th Nov 2016, 09:47
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English Channel

Originally Posted by The Old Fat One View Post

But first, my qualification to talk on this subject.

In 1985 I trained, and was successfully assessed, as an RAF Combat Survival Instructor. The course was at RAF Mountbatten (Plymouth – now shut) and the sea element involved being thrown, projected and launched into the English Channel in mid-winter, in rough seas, day and night in most of the RAF’s various types of survival equipment. Plus, we were subjected to some funky swimming pools drills (at Culdrose) like navigating out from underneath a water-logged parachute…blindfolded (you follow a seam to the middle and out the other side). From then until 2003, I supervised sea drills for the Nimrod force, both in the pool and in the Moray Firth, and carried our survival checks for all aircrew as part of their 18 month checks.


So in my professional opinion if someone brags (is there any other word?) of flying 25 feet above breeding whales in a biplane, on national radio I think they are doing an enormous disservice to the cause of flight safety.

By the way, you know what flies above whales at 25 feet…seagulls, hundreds of the **** ers.

All comments, discussion and corrections more than welcome. No ego’s here…this stuff matters.

PS If you fly over water without a flotation device, then your impending death, will in Darwinian terms, be to the long term benefit of the human race.
My Sea Survival Training Certificate is dated 26th June 1974 at Mount Batten.
Although before your time, thank you.

Not exactly Mid Winter, but being thrown into the choppy waters of the Channel was quite unique.

From personal experience, the information you have provided will be of great value to others in the future.

Last edited by cyclic35; 7th Nov 2016 at 09:56. Reason: Date Change
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Old 7th Nov 2016, 09:53
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the information you have provided will be of great value in the future..
Agreed.

.....does not convey the shock you going to be subject to when you hit very cold water at very high speed in a very hostile and completely overwhelming environment.
Agreed. Surviving/containing/controlling the intial technical problem and getting to the surface in one piece is one thing, once you hit the water you are into a whole different ballgame and on possibly on a very tight time line.

( Mountbatten course early 80, unexpected practical exam the following winter....)
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Old 7th Nov 2016, 11:10
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Ten years as a crash & rescue person for Brenda's Grey Funnel shipping company, I don't like the bloody sea anymore.
Thread drift a bit.
As for GA, How many carry a survival kit over Scotland?
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Old 7th Nov 2016, 11:30
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I fly often from Jersey to france, did most of my PPL over water in the islands, but have not yet done UK to Jersey... thats out of sight for too long for me.
When I went to Jersey a few months back, my departure clearance back to London was " not above 1,200' on track MP ".
To which I responded " Negative, unable to fly direct MP at 1,200' or below "
The tower responded " Roger. Expect higher before coasting out "
After takeoff runway 26, I took a right hand turn to remain within gliding range of the coast and followed it till Fremont TV Mast where I finally got a gap in ATC to request higher before coasting out, and started taking up a holding pattern just west of the mast. I was holding for approximately 5minutes before ATC finally gave me the clearance to 5,000' initially, then up to FL100. They seemed a little flabbergasted by my lack of willingness to continue at a lower altitude.

We were all of course wearing life jackets, and had a life raft as well as PLB but why take the risk!?

Albeit to their credit however - they were very accommodating on our visit, and were all fantastically nice to us. From the fuel truck, to the people at the local flying club, to the people in the tower. But this does beg the question if this is normal practice in the islands to fly out of gliding range?
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Old 7th Nov 2016, 11:47
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Also - according to the manual of the particular PA28RT I fly - the crossing at FL100 between France and the UK leaves a gap of around 20 nautical miles during which I would be outside gliding range to shore, my estimates of the fact that I fly at 140kts and best glide at 90kts gives me over 8 nautical miles extra before having bled off the speed to 90kts (I've tested this and in reality is closer to 12nautical miles) which would mean that I would need to have the engine stop during a 12 nautical mile gap (or during around a 5 minutes period) to not be able to make it to land (assuming no wind). I would have over 15minutes of gliding time to attempt restart, and call Mayday, also time to find a nice big boat to land alongside wheels up and fingers crossed be picked up very promptly by a crew member who according to IRPCS would be keeping a look out (and maybe someone from ATC may have passed this on to the naval emergency frequency so as to keep crews alert to the call). Also fingers crossed they have some nice whisky or rum or bourbon for the nerves!!

So this might perhaps sway you to consider the crossing? Or perhaps just follow the French coast up to L2K and cross there?
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Old 7th Nov 2016, 14:07
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When I went to Jersey a few months back, my departure clearance back to London was " not above 1,200' on track MP ".
But this does beg the question if this is normal practice in the islands to fly out of gliding range?
Yes. That is pretty much the standard clearance you will get, and be expected to fly from Jersey to anywhere ... As soon as you clear Class D just before the French coast you can climb up higher ... or just demand a higher level like you did

ATC finally gave me the clearance to 5,000' initially, then up to FL100. They seemed a little flabbergasted by my lack of willingness to continue at a lower altitude.
If you were VFR then you could not be at FL100 anyway as class A starts at FL80

1. Why can’t I operate Special VFR above FL80 in Channel Island Airspace?
a. From 6th March 2014, Channel Island airspace went through a major re-classification process. The Channel Island Terminal Control Area (TMA) was established above FL80. This class A airspace precludes both VFR & Special VFR flight.
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Old 7th Nov 2016, 14:34
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navigating out from underneath a water-logged parachute…blindfolded (you follow a seam to the middle and out the other side)

Don't you have a 50% chance of getting straight to the outer edge?
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Old 7th Nov 2016, 14:52
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^^

You have a 100% chance of getting wrapped up in wet parachute, followed by a 100% chance of a slap from the instructor. It wasn't really a realistic drill, just part of the process of making you think calmly in the water, what ever you are facing.

I was jerked backwards off the stern of a RAF Marine Craft Vessel by a Gemini at 10-15 knots, the idea being to simulate landing under a chute in a strong wind conditions. I was rigged up in a Canberra harness, and the dispatcher had miss-routed it.

You had to adopt a stable position (on your back, legs splayed, chin on chest to create a breathing space under the bow wave coming over your head) and then count to 10. No 10 count, fail - do it again.

On the count of 10 I hit the QRF and promptly got dragged by a trapped arm at 15 knots face first through the oggin. To my pride, I got free without assistance and without stopping the drill - that's the benefit of quality training.

I like the discussion above...GA are a very mixed bag. Some are incredibly professional and some not so much. But then you all know that. It's more the latter this is aimed at.
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Old 7th Nov 2016, 15:39
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Not this argument again!
Life is for living - some risks are worth taking just for the hell of it.
Though I would agree one should not endanger others ..... or innocent whales.
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Old 7th Nov 2016, 15:54
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RT
Many hobby activities, from flying to cycling, are carried out for the enjoyment of doing it. If you partake of any hobby in order to take risks then this is a different kettle of fish.
GA flying is a hobby that carries a certain amount of risk as does any form of transport, it is my submission that if you wish to fly then you should make every effort to reduce the risk and enjoy the activity rather than "take risks just for the hell of it".
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Old 7th Nov 2016, 16:09
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There is always a risk/benefit in any action.
As I have said before on another thread, for me, the sight of Greenland coming over the horizon on a clear day is worth the marginal risk of flying the Atlantic in a light single.
It would be more "sensible" to go in a Jumbo .... but what's the fun in that?
I'm not asking you to come with me but IMHO I should not be criticized for taking a small calculated risk. (Yes I did wear an immersion suit etc)
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Old 8th Nov 2016, 02:18
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Not this argument again!
Life is for living - some risks are worth taking just for the hell of it.
Though I would agree one should not endanger others ...
Yup, again...

I have air searched for three types of people in distress:

People reported as being in distress, who were not (there, or in distress). Most recently, evening before last.

People who's effort at emergency preparedness was inadequate, and they could not be found/rescued alive, and,

People who took a risk, and were prepared, I have found them.

If we search, there is risk, and expense. If you would like to take a risk, for only yourself, be my guest - but.... Do not file a flight plan, nor do anything to cause you to be reported missing, nor be witnessed actually going missing. You're on your own, and entitled to it.

Otherwise, society takes responsibility for itself collectively, like it or not. You have no right to cause or incur risk unprepared, when your doing so increases risk to SAR people. Every person in 25 years, for whom I have search, who was not wearing personal flotation, I have not found alive. Every person who was, I have - 100%.

I might splash one of my planes flying these searches, so I insure them, and myself. But I still wear a lifejacket, and if temperature dictates, thermal protection, 'cause it will be my mates coming looking for me, I would like to be found with the least of their risky effort.

If I had not already been convinced, I was when I took the underwater egress course. For those GA pilots, who conscientiously carry a yellow life jacket in the seat pocket, understand this:

After a lifetime as a swimmer, and 44 years in the cabin of light planes, inverted in the egress rig, 3 of 4 times, I could not locate the lifejacket in the pouch, on the firewall, between my feet. With effort, I got out every time, but only once with the life jacket in hand. And I'm an in water ice rescue instructor, I should be able to do this stuff!

I have swum in the cabins of inverted floatplanes for the purpose of recovering them. It is stunning how disorienting the cabin you know so well, being inverted, will be.

So;

some risks are worth taking just for the hell of it.
Yes, but you took training to fly the plane right? Your effort to reduce risk... You assure that the plane is airworthy before you fly it, right? To reduce risk... Why would you accept the great additional risk of being untrained and unequipped for overwater flight?

Sorry RT, 'not picking on you, but this topic is a passion for me.....
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Old 8th Nov 2016, 09:16
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Step turn.
Spot on!
RT
As for the "life is for living" krap. What exactly is the meaning of that sentence?
Of course it is, life isn't for dying, even I know that.
If you want to cross the North Sea inverted at 50ft, help yourself. But as the man says, don't file a flight plan, don't tell anyone, just go do it. Then you won't have put a crew on standby waiting to risk their lives to pull you out the drink.
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Old 8th Nov 2016, 10:28
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ST: Points taken.

As I said before there is a risk/benefit for every action. I certainly mitigate the risk as far as possible with constant wear life jacket, ELT on my person, dingy and sometimes immersion suit for long over water legs.

BUT the main thing is I fly a well maintained aircraft with a well maintained engine and I like to think that I am reasonably competent. So my main protection is that I am VERY unlikely to need your services and I would consider it a failure on my part if I ever did.

I should say that in your neck of the woods I was considered a bit wet for wearing the kit and your compatriots seemed to go on much more hairy trips day to day in Alaska/Canadian arctic. They certainly felt that life was for living. Good for them, the world would be a poorer place if that sort of activity was banned.

When I say that some risks are worth taking just for the hell of it I mean just that. SOME risks - the good risks, the carefully thought through risks. I don't think we should stop doing things just because there is a very remote chance of something bad happening.

I agree that there is the argument that it's unfair to ask you to risk your life fishing me out of some awkward situation that I have got myself into ..... but you don't have to do that job - could it be that you quite enjoy it? I also would understand if you felt that I wasn't worth the risk of rescuing (I reserve the right to change my mind on this at the time). I also argue that society has to have the SAR kit anyway to rescue the military and the odd errant scheduled flight and they need to practice .....
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