I’d like to add a couple of points to Jeff Schweitzer’s great article on ditching (“One If By Land, Two If By Water?” June 2012). It’s not just a single-engine issue, and water can actually be a preferable place for an emergency, since there’s little likelihood of fire or hard objects.
One subject not covered in the article was passengers. You need to have a thorough over-water briefing, even if it scares your pax a little. If you go in, you’ll not only need all the help you can get, but you don’t want to have to be dealing with pax who are totally unprepared. I tell mine they are responsible for getting the door open, putting the overboard bag in it so it doesn’t slam shut and getting out with the raft. That way, all I have to do is focus on the water landing. I explain the probable orientation of the airplane in the water (nose down), make them practice opening the doors and explain noise and water issues.
I’ve read that one of the most serious problems in a ditching is actually getting into the life raft. If you are prepared, getting out of the plane and inflating the raft should not be a problem unless you are one of those who likes to keep it stowed way in the back cabin and doesn’t wear a life vest. Now you are in the water and the raft is inflated on top of the water. And you may be injured. The better rafts have ladders, but even these are not stable platforms. You should inflate the raft and practice getting into it at least once.
They say people usually get out with what they’ve got on, so wear the vest. You probably won’t have time to go searching for it, and putting on one in the water with your clothes on and possibly suffering an injury can be a major problem. When you’re practicing with the raft, wear clothes and have your life vest on and inflated. If your raft isn’t one of the larger ones with a nice big, solid ladder, you might find it difficult to get in with your vest inflated. Small planes usually carry the most minimal rafts, and if it doesn’t have much of a ladder, you may be faced with pulling yourself up into it, wet and slick. In some situations, you may be better off, once you’ve got a hand on the raft, taking the vest off or deflating it to get up and over. Practice getting in, and remember, open water is not going to be as flat as your pool.
Finally, with respect to getting rescued, a personal locator beacon is absolutely the way to go. But not everyone will get one at $400, and not everyone will keep the batteries up. A signal mirror is good, but you have to know how to use it, and be able to.
The one thing no overwater flight should be without is a long bright ribbon. They are dirt cheap and once deployed, can be easily seen by aircraft. In my “overboard bag,” I carry everything you can think of, including a pair of cheap glasses so I can assemble the handheld radio batteries and actually use it!
As usual, your staff report, “Going Around,” in the June 2012 issue was excellent and made clear what to do and what not to do when confronted with the need to perform a missed approach. But there is a dangerous aspect of going around, particularly in IMC, that you failed to mention.
When adding power and accelerating during a go-around, especially in more powerful aircraft, the otolith organs in the inner ear send signals to the brain that create the somatogravic illusion of pitching up abruptly. If in VMC, this shouldn’t be a problem but VFR pilots could benefit from knowledge