How to ditch your aircraft

Do you fly over water? Have you put lots of thought in to what would happen if your engine failed?

If not, then you should! ASAP.

Rick Bulger shares his wisdom about ditching an aircraft.

Thanks to Rick for joining us for our Pilot Information Evening, and making us think a whole lot more about the practicalities behind aircraft ditching.
This blog summarises Rick's talk, and he's very kindly let us have and share his slides.

Before flight

  • Spend some time thinking about where your route will take you and what terrain you'll see. Think about all the emergency situations before you go.
  • Wear your life jacket. Know how to use it. Brief your passengers.
You are likely to survive the ditching. If you don't wear a life jacket, accidents statistics show that you will drown. If you wear your life jacket, you will survive.

  • Wear your seat belt. A 4 point harness is best, but if you've just got a lap and shoulder belt, do your lap belt up as tight as possible and the shoulder strap firm.
  • Brief your passengers. Exits - location and operation, how should you all egress, location of survival gear, life jacket use.

The emergency

  • Fuel starvation - ditch before the fuel runs out so you can control the crash
  • Fly the aircraft - instantly set best glide. Know the attitude to set immediately.
  • Radio - Mayday, pan, transponder. Best to let someone know as soon as possible.
  • Passenger briefing - it may well be that your passenger saves you. Brief them about not inflating the life jacket until outside the aircraft, keep hands and feet away from the controls. A good idea is to have them hold on to their seatbelts or door handles.
  • Configuration - Gear up, flaps down, powered approach if possible, crack the doors, master switch and fuel both on.

The ditching

  • Wind speed.
If the wind speed is less than 20 knots, ditch parallel to the swell.
If it's over your max crosswind or 20kts, then make a decision to ditch either in to the wind, parallel to the swell or a combination.
Above your crosswind limit you'll probably be better off ditching in to wind.

  • Swell
Land parallel to the primary swell (best)
Land parallel and on the back side of the swell (second best)
Land parallel on the front face of the swell (bad)
Land in to the swell face (worst)

If you have to ditch in to wind, try for just past a crest on the back side, but get in the water before the next face arrives.

  • Touchdown
Minimum rate of descent - 200fpm. The tail may touch first and you may skip. Try to keep the nose up without stalling.
Prepare yourself for spray, noise and major deceleration and a nose down resting position.

If you flip, you will be disorientated. Grab the door or the dash to help orientate yourself. Think about how you're going to undo your seatbelt as you'll fall, hit your head and most likely land in water. Cushion your fall with your arm.

The egress

  • Crack or jettison the doors. They could jam, and trying to hack your way out with an axe is really difficult. If you have an axe. If you can find the axe.
  • The aircraft will float for a minute or two at least, tell your passenger to stay near the aircraft. Help each other out.

The survival

  • Inflate life jacket
  • Hook up with your passengers. Bigger targets are easier to find.
  • Read the CAA Survival booklet before you go.

What to do from here?

  • Buy a life jacket, wear it when your fly and know how to use it
  • Talk over with your instructor what to do in case of ditching. Make a plan and go over it before flight.
  • Take up swimming
  • Think about sea swell, wind speed and direction and what it looks like each time you go flying.
~ Bronnie

Please note that there is a lot of information out there about this topic and some of it is conflicting and controversial. As pilots, it is up to us to determine the best approach for each situation, so read this information and others to come up with your own measured plan.


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