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-   -   Ditching and Sea Survival (https://www.pprune.org/private-flying/586666-ditching-sea-survival.html)

burylad 29th Aug 2017 01:58

Wanna live
Open cockpit gyro to Isle of Man.
Fladen flotation suit
Life vest
Transit over water speaking to Scottish Info & eyeballing boat stepping stones 👍🏻. Preparation includes appreciation of water temp; survivability etc as no space for dinghy so immersion inevitable & accepted.
Favourable weather conditions, a horizon & visual on the destination 28 miles away a must/decision point.
This year, added a hand-held marine VHF set to Channel 16 for 2nd pilot & I wore a wetsuit from previous life windsurfing !
Minor inconvenience donning kit in the big scheme of things for a 1hr trip, half over water. RAF/SAR training from over 30 years ago also still relevant if not fresh. Would still like to test myself & kit in immersion scenario to learn more. Any facility/course at GA disposal ?
I wanna live to see the bike racing & my family.

cumulusrider 29th Aug 2017 16:27

Last year some friends of mine were flying across the channel in a 2 seater glider. For safety they were wearing lifejackets, then parachutes and finally the seat belts. Half way across the channel the rear pilot had the lifejacket inflate underneath the straps and parachute harness. Luckily it did not interfere with the stick so they were able to land safely.

The Old Fat One 23rd Jan 2019 12:29

In the light of unfolding events I hope nobody minds if I bump this. The opening post is my main contribution, there is some healthy discussion and debate following it. All of which is good. The aim is "awareness"...before, not after, you get lunged into a cold, dark, and very cruel sea.

Ebbie 2003 23rd Jan 2019 17:28

I do 99% of my flying in a PA28 over the ocean - the 1% being the few minutes on approach and on departure.

Of course I have the life jackets, the four man raft and the GPS PLB.

My ocean is the Atlantic and the Eastern Caribbean sea - so warm water in the main.

That said, I have no great expectations of surviving a water landing even if I manage to exit, get my raft out (I have it on the px sear behind P1, not strapped, figuring I will have time to reach back put in on P2 and lap strap it) and my PLB operating - even with warm water I think the exposure will finish me off before help arrives. I would expect to be in the water, grest to have the raft but since I usually fly alone I doubt I would be able to get in it, the PBL would operate but could I hold it upright for hours (or even minutes) then down here there are no rescue helicopters - even if the PLB worked it could take four or five hours for them to come get me on a good day, statistically probability is it would be dark by then.

So pretty much every time I land I'm happy.

On Friday I will be doing Barbados, Martinique, Bequia - back to Barbados Sat or Sun; usual lot of water but good weather expected.

sharpend 23rd Jan 2019 19:56

Having read most of this, I have to agree. Firstly let me introduce myself; I am an old but not bold pilot with over 10,000 hours, mostly single seat.. There are no old, bold pilots. I have 'survived' many survival courses, incl sea, & winter; all run by the RAF Sea Survival School. They were pros!. I presently fly a single engine puddle-jump aeroplane. Unlike my other past single engine aeroplanes it does not have a bang seat, dingy or ballistic parachute. If I ditch, I will be struggling. I do not fly over water out of sight of land. Skye Demon will show me my gliding range over water and I try to stay within that boundary. If I cross the Channel it is at the narrowest point and as high as ATC allow, I carry a LSJ over water, but no dinghy (weight reasons). I carry a PLB and a mini survival pack, but no shark repellant :).

Many pilots are bold. They will not grow old bones. As the man says, you only get one chance of sea survival. My advice if you have to cross lots of water, have two engines, fly high, have a PLB, LSJ and a dingy. Do not fly in icing, even if you have an aeroplane with a de-icing system.

Romeo Tango 23rd Jan 2019 20:38

I have flown the Atlantic 5 times and and many other oceans seas and lakes in a SEP with and without GPS. I have been doing it for 40 years. It is a very good risk if one takes a few basic precautions like having enough fuel. I have never got wet.
I expect to make old bones.

As has been said before its up to the pilot. I think it's a good risk, maybe you don't. We are both right.

sharpend 23rd Jan 2019 22:17

Originally Posted by Romeo Tango (Post 10368735)
I have flown the Atlantic 5 times and and many other oceans seas and lakes in a SEP with and without GPS. I have been doing it for 40 years. It is a very good risk if one takes a few basic precautions like having enough fuel. I have never got wet.
I expect to make old bones.

As has been said before its up to the pilot. I think it's a good risk, maybe you don't. We are both right.

Absolutely. It is all about risk assessment. The chances of an engine failure are slim indeed. And the aeroplane does not know you are over water. But a smart pilot uses his smart brains to avoid having to use his smart skill. As the man said, fly at 50 feet over the ships or whales, wearing a t-shirt and shorts (yes some do!) is adding to the risk. I am probably ultra careful, not because I am a coward but I seek to minimise the risks, but at the same time enjoy my flying. This year, we are yet again touring the Highlands & Islands in our puddle-jumper. We will cross short stretches of water, but the increased risk is offset by the fun. Interestingly though, most experienced pilots are risk adverse.

sharpend 23rd Jan 2019 22:25

Originally Posted by FlyingOfficerKite (Post 9872725)

What are the chances of an engine failure over the sea? Well I've never had an engine failure of any kind in over 40 years of flying.

However, the outcome if you do is likely to be death. You don't expect to die when you go out in your car if the engine fails. If the engine fails over land during daytime VFR you are trained to react and carry out a forced landing.

I've never had any training in ditching, either as a PPL or as a commercial pilot, other than swimming and getting into a dinghy in a warm, calm swimming pool. Not really the preparation you would need to survive a ditching in a choppy, cold sea just after the trauma of surviving a crash and possible injury and shock.

I have had engine failures in single engine aeroplanes. I have had an engine stop over water in a Bulldog, but got it going again. I actually think one of the main problems ditching (as apposed to force landing on land) in an aeroplane with a fixed undercarriage is that the aircraft is likely to tip upside down. That will certainly be a problem, especially in an aeroplane with a bubble canopy. Most pilots will never have done the RN 'dunker' so may quite well drown. The chances of the engine stopping are slim; you pays your money and you takes your chances.

Pilot DAR 24th Jan 2019 04:39

As single engined airplanes become more advanced, they temp us away from realizing that even with their comfort and advanced technology, the safety of the flight is still dependent upon a few single point failures not occurring, and lots of preparedness if such a failure occurs in the most favourable circumstances.

I have landed in the water deliberately thousands of times, and it's been just fine - the plane was designed to do it. I have landed in the water once as a passenger when the landing did not go as planned, and the result was a life threatening dunking, surrounded by bits of sinking airplane, from which I'd been ejected underwater moments earlier - so I speak from some experience. I was wearing a life jacket, which I managed to partly inflate, and the water weather, and light conditions were as favourable as possible. The site of the crash was a two minute boat ride from shore, so the rescue was as prompt as imaginable. I survived - just.

I have taken the underwater egress course, I have been an ice water rescue trainer for more than 20 years (lots of immersion suit and cold water practice), I was properly equipped and prepared to have a collision with the water that day, and the airplane first contacted the water is a decent landing attitude and speed - and it was only just survivable.

If you ditch a fixed gear landplane, you're most likely going to end up upside down in the water - not good, but survivable if everything else goes well for you. If you ditch a retractable low wing, floatplane, or flying boat in fairly calm water, with skill, you might find yourself floating upright. In more than two foot waves, you'll either be upside down, or break up the plane. If you are ditching a plane whose flying characteristics have been degraded (airframe ice can do that), your chances of a survivable ditching have gone way down.

If your contact with the water is not a well controlled ditching (like landing on runway smoothly), you're going to have a very sudden stop, and likely break up the plane (my stop was 14G+, and I ripped the seatbelts out of the airplane as I was ejected). It is not possible to properly judge a flare for ditching over glassy water or at night. If power off, you only had one chance to guess it right, 'cause you cannot stretch your flare like a soft field landing. A power off glassy water landing will be destructive.

If you ditch into cold water, your useful life is terribly shortened before hypothermia incapacitates you. If you have wisely worn an immersion suit, your chances are much better - if you got out of the plane, and were not injured.

If you have not practiced exiting the plane, you'll drown as you go down with it. If it's daylight, you might see your way to an exit and operate it. If it's night, you won't succeed in feeling your way out, unless the door is right beside you, and operating it is instinctive for you. Have you ever been in a GA plane which was upside down? It is very disorienting, let alone being in the water. I have had to swim into an inverted floating Cessna 185 floatplane during recovery, I had to keep skimming back out to orient myself, 'cause nothing was where it should have been!

If you end up in the water, the chances are slim that anyone will help you at all in the first many minutes. If you were not wearing your lifejacket/immersion suit when you began your exit, you don't have it, and drowning or hypothermia death are very likely - particularly if you are injured. If you're in the water at night, no one will see you in time, unless you're floating safely in a raft or immersion suit - with a working light. If you're in water warm enough to not suffer hypothermia, some sea creature is probably eyeing you for dinner.

Extended over water flights in singles must be well prepared to mitigate the dangers. Pilot very well prepared as above, and self briefed. Passengers entirely aware of the risks and their duties in their own survival, and WEARING their life jacket. If an immersion suit is appropriate, only suitably trained persons (in underwater egress and immersion suit use) should be aboard at all. If you're contemplating a night flight over water in a single, you, and any other occupant of the plane must understand that no matter how well you'e prepared and briefed, the chances of surviving a water crash are about zero. You're carrying a life raft, great thinking! Hands up for pilots who have practiced and succeeded in getting into an inflated raft solo - it is nowhere near as easy as you imagine - you just keep ending up with an overturned raft over your head! Egress training!

I know that water is a fluid, but I assure everyone that when you hit it at 60 MPH, it behaves as a solid. Those one foot waves will damage a Cessna 100 sized floatplane if the landing is not excellent. If the waves are two feet plus, they will destroy a Cessna 100 sized floatplane (I've helped clean up the wrecks).

Pilots might approach an over water flight in a Tiger Moth with justified nervousness. They might be more relaxed in an advanced single with all the gadgets. The only possible two aspect of the advanced single which could improve safety would be it's retractable, so a more successful ditching in calm water and good visibility is possible, and its speed reduces your exposure time for a ditching. Otherwise, you'r chances are probably the same or a bit better in the Moth - it'll ditch at a slower speed, be easy to get out of, and will probably float displaying lots of highly visible yellow for longer! So, if you would not fly the flight over water in the Tiger Moth, probably don't fly it in any other single either!

Surviving the crash is only the first step, if drowning, becoming hypothermic, and not being found are also risks. If you choose the over water flight, think about what you're going to do, the risks, and your plan for each. If you're thinking to take a passenger (or magnitudes worse, several), as a pilot of honour, you must determine their solo capability for survival, equip them properly, and brief them before and during the flight. If you can't know for certain how you and they will survive a ditching, you and they will not. I did not plan to be ejected into the water during a crash, but I did plan for the risk of entering the water unexpectedly. I, and the pilot I was training wore our lifejackets, and survived. In both our cases, injury very certainly prevented our self rescue - floating waiting for help was the very most we could manage - help came quickly.

The Old Fat One 24th Jan 2019 06:59

As has been said before its up to the pilot. I think it's a good risk, maybe you don't. We are both right.
Correct and I agree. However, one thing alters the equation completely. And that is when the pilot has taken responsibility for the life of another - especially in any form of commercial arrangement. Now it becomes a matter of compliance with all regulations, and in moments of ambiguity, a professional judgement with the welfare of the passenger(s) paramount.

Pilot DAR - excellent post.

Camargue 24th Jan 2019 10:02

I remember the quote from my cfi on the air squadron, a very experienced hunter pilot telling us in line with Sharpend has said, 'there are old pilots and there are bold pilots. There are no old, bold pilots'
As for planning to fly over large bodies of water with a fixed undercarriage sep, he said the very 1st thing is to do make sure your affairs are in order.
I know engine failures are vrare but i see people taking family or friends to alderney or scilly in a PA28 etc. and to me thats madness. High probabily of the plane flipping over and i'd bet my house the child/adult in the rear left had seat is not getting out alive, if any one does.
And for me its the 3-4 minutes after its all gone quiet up front knowing that you are probably about to kill everyone on board.

But each to their own as long as they (and their family) are aware of the risks.

wiggy 24th Jan 2019 10:05

Originally Posted by The Old Fat One (Post 10369034)
Pilot DAR - excellent post.


Most especially DAR’s comment that:

Surviving the crash is only the first step,
Having in a former life done sea survival courses and the subsequent 6 monthly refreshers, and then having had the misfortune to put the training into practice in U.K. coastal waters one December evening I’d also like to second pilot DARs post. I can’t comment on the difficulty of egressing a light aircraft post ditching, but I would offer the opinion that if you are not wearing adequate protective clothing, (properly fitted and maintained) when you enter the water, and are not completely familiar with drills and procedures (by virtue of regular hands on training, not just reading the books and videos) then you are really really up against it. Even with the correct training getting into a single seat life raft can be a non trivial event, especially in the dark with a decent sea running....

Never under estimate how hostile the sea is, even coastal waters, even those around the U.K...

Romeo Tango 24th Jan 2019 12:24

I agree with all the above and I do carry and wear the kit. BUT the most useful thing you can carry is fuel. The traditional way to die in a small aircraft over the north Atlantic is to arrive somewhere, discover the weather is bad, not have fuel to go anywhere else and kill yourself trying an approach. You may say things about alternates but there are not alternates in many places (though the situation is much better now around Greenland etc).

If you need to worry about ditching a fixed undercarriage aircraft you have probably cocked it up already. I would expend more effort trying to avoid ditching in the first place.
eg better comms, real time weather, engine maintenance, better knowledge and MORE FUEL

Ebbie 2003 24th Jan 2019 15:41

My longest legs over water in my PA28 have been Barbados to Antigua and St. Croix to Barbados (passed over Mustique on the way) - not that the distance is really the issue.

Here a, I believe and Arrow, went down watched from the tower about 20 years ago - not one survived, the airplane was never found - in the past year or so a twin (Commander I believe) from Union to Argyle crashed just off Bequia - nothing ever found (pilot and one px) - that by the way is a twelve, yes twelve minute flight.

The conditions here are probably ideal from December to May for a water landing but the survival rate here is not good - off the US though I believe it is 80%, all those lovely SAR helicopters, boats and whizzy whiz radars - ours from Barbados pick us up about 60/70 miles out on a good day - although the French ones on Martinique cover all the way past Barbados.

On Saturday I will be going to Martinique then Bequia - if the weather is good and there is nothing odd with the airplane:)

Dan Winterland 24th Jan 2019 16:53

Speaking as an ex-CSRO, I would say most private pilots have little or no appreciation of sea survival issues. Getting out of the aircraft and into a dinghy is something seldom planned and very rarely practiced. I would suggest survival chances are quite slim, especially when the water is cold and the procedure un-practiced.

Having said that, I do like to relate the experience of a colleague of mine who used to ferry aircraft for a living before deciding flying airliners was safer. He was ferrying a light twin across the Pacific when an engine failed about 600 likes out of Hawaii. Being heavy with ferry tanks, the aircraft slowly descended as they limped back to safety, finally ending up in 'ground effect' hopping over waves. Eventually they got it wrong and clipped a wave which sent the aircraft nose down into the sea about 350 miles away from land. The impact was very violent and my mate broke his nose on the coaming, but luckily remined conscious. He and the other pilot clambered over the ferry tanks out of the rear door, taking the dinghy with them. Once inflated, the tailplane of the sinking aircraft split it in two. My mate had taken a second out of date dinghy along and he dived into the sinking airframe to retrieve it. He managed to get it out and once inflated, only one chamber held pressure. They had the 'grab bag' which had an early 406mhz beacon. Subsequently, a B737 was diverted to find them and actually found them - a passenger spotted the dinghy after the Captain had made a PA asking everyone to look out for them. A Coastguard C130 later dropped them a new dingy and supplies and about 24 hours after ditching, they were picked up by a helicopter dispatched from a Coast Guard cutter.

He makes the point that they were extremely lucky to get recued. The second dinghy saved them. But they struggled to get into that dinghy, were tired and hypothermic when they eventually did, despite the Pacific off Hawaii being relatively warm. Both had survival training. This, and their preparation saved them, but on reflection he wished they had been wearing immersion suits. . When they got into the Coast Guard dinghy, they scoffed most of the rations in one go! This was also the first ever recue using a 406 beacon.

oggers 24th Jan 2019 17:17

Originally Posted by Romeo Tango (Post 10369322)
The traditional way to die in a small aircraft over the north Atlantic is to arrive somewhere, discover the weather is bad, not have fuel to go anywhere else and kill yourself trying an approach. You may say things about alternates but there are not alternates in many places (though the situation is much better now around Greenland etc).

That is a contradiction in itself. If there is no alternate available then by definition you do not have fuel to go anywhere else.

RatherBeFlying 24th Jan 2019 18:20

Grumman Tigers and Cheetahs Float
I know of two cases: one off Greenland where the abandoned aircraft was found floating days later; another in Louisiana where there's a water runway adjacent to a dry runway. The pilot landed at night on the wet runway and did not realize his mistake until he stepped off the wing:}

Pudnucker 24th Jan 2019 20:52

I regularly fly DCT from the SW to the Channel Islands. Iíve sailed all my life and flown for a good proportion of it. It beggars belief the risks pilots often take flying over the channel. Iíve sailed it at night often enough - it commands huge respect.

I own my own a/c and take the following precautions EVERY cross channel flight regardless of the wx conditions..

Firstly itís my plane. I know every nut bolt and rivet.. sheís properly serviced and I ensure a thorough extra walkround before the flight.

I ALWAYS ensure that Iíve told someone what Iím doing and what to do if I donít call them in x hours.

I wear:

Immersion suit (goretex and breathable)
lifejacket (manual inflate)
personal locator beacon

i then carry a life raft and grab bag, in it:

space blankets
marine flares (lots of em!)
sea dye and orange smoke
bottle of water
glow sticks
marine VHF radio
handhekd aviation radio
carkeys and wallet

total weight is negligible and cost is about £3k all up..

IMO the above, or at least most of it should be mandated for anything carrying a passenger (my view is the if the pilot is alone and he doesnít bother with this stuff, maybe he wanted to not be found). There is no excuse putting significant others, kids, friends etc in a situation where their safety isnít paramount.

Also I did the GASco Course at the RNLI. I learnt how my life raft worked (getting the canopy up was far from obvious and I wouldnít have been able to do it in a real emergency without having been shown first). We did the at night, rain, waves thing for an hour.. it was a huge eye opener!

Romeo Tango 24th Jan 2019 22:50

I think one should remember that all the knowledge, kit and training for ditching is very unlikely to be needed. After one has got a life jacket, dingy, PLB, CAA ditching leaflet and maybe an immersion suit, a pilot’s lifespan is more likely to be longer if he/she spends the time and effort on being a better pilot and avoiding ditching in the first place.

oggers 25th Jan 2019 09:37

Originally Posted by Romeo Tango (Post 10369931)
I think one should remember that all the knowledge, kit and training for ditching is very unlikely to be needed. After one has got a life jacket, dingy, PLB, CAA ditching leaflet and maybe an immersion suit, a pilotís lifespan is more likely to be longer if he/she spends the time and effort on being a better pilot and avoiding ditching in the first place.

You keep repeating that point but nobody has argued against it. It goes without saying that a pilot "spends the time and effort on avoiding ditching in the first place". The point about preparing to survive is that it will save your neck in the event that a ditching becomes unavoidable. It is nothing whatsoever to do with keeping an aircraft in the air.

This thread is "ditching and sea survival" not "flight planning".

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