Adventure Flying Guide – Safety

Adventure Flying Guide – Safety

This is probably the most important section of the guide. By staying safe on an adventure, you enjoy yourself, you set a good example that will encourage others to follow in your footsteps, and you are a good representative for General Aviation! So many countries have stringent restrictions on GA, and jump at any further opportunity to limit our freedoms. By presenting a safe, professional appearance we help safeguard our right to fly.

There are many other websites that address general flight safety in much more detail than I could do, so this guide concentrates on those aspects more peculiar to adventure flying.

Be comfortable in the airplane

When you set out on a true adventure flight, you’re going to have a lot to think about. New territory, unfamiliar charts and procedures, weather, bureaucracy and more. The last thing you need is to be using large amounts of your mental capacity just to fly the airplane. Before you leave on your flight, make sure that you’re truly comfortable flying the aircraft and fully familiar and current on all the procedures.

Complete section

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Safety training

Specialist safety training is available for many aspects of adventure flying; and is well worth carrying out if you’re heading into these situations. The two main types of training worth carrying out, in addition to the standard recurrent pilot training that we should all be taking as required, are wilderness survival techniques and ditching/maritime survival techniques; these between them cover the most likely survival situations that we as adventure pilots might find ourselves in. My aim, in the kind of training I select, is to be able to survive an initial forced landing and then make it through a time period of up to 2 or 3 days, enough time for rescue to find me.

Wilderness survival training is quite widely available throughout the USA and Western Europe and, most likely, most other places that GA pilots tend to base themselves (you can use a search engine to see what’s available in your local area and, if nothing is nearby, fly to one!) I took my most recent course near Auckland, New Zealand with a company called SOS Survival Training.

This course was extremely well put-together, starting off by covering the essentials of first aid, shelter, heat, water, and food before moving onto skills such as knife usage, knot tying, and signaling for rescue. It concentrated on the skills needed to last until rescue, rather than long-term wilderness living, which is ideal for a pilot doing these kind of adventures; if you’ve followed some common-sense precautions then it shouldn’t be more than a few hours before someone knows you’re missing and raises the alarm, and with modern aids such as PLBs and satellite trackers then the search should be able to focus on a fairly tight area.

My kind of flying involves a great deal of over-water flight. Ditching and maritime survival training is some of the most worthwhile training that I have carried out. Common in the offshore industry, this training uses a simulator to try and recreate the experience of ditching an aircraft, and gives you practice in extricating yourself from the cockpit.

On a typical two day course, such as the one I took before the flight around the world, each day starts off with some classroom work before moving on the practical aspects. Day one was spent in the pool, working in the simulator which they set up to emulate my own cockpit, and practicing different kinds of ditching and how to escape. We then practiced deploying life jackets and life rafts, righting an inverted raft, entering the raft, and so on. Usefully, the training center I went to used the same brands of survival gear that I had purchased, so if I ever need to use it for real, there’ll be a lot of familiarity there.

On the second day, we took a boat out into the open ocean and practiced using signalling equipment such as distress flares, then jumped into the water to practice deploying and entering a raft under more realistic conditions. Overall, the course really changed my thinking about how I’d act in a ditching.

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Safety equipment

Naturally, the safety equipment to be carried will depend greatly upon the nature of the trip you plan to undertake. The two main categories that I choose from are wilderness survival equipment, for flight over remote areas, and over-water survival equipment. The exact items that I carry are always tweaked to be appropriate for the specific flight; some of the wilderness survival items for the Arctic are of course quite different to those which are useful for a flight in Africa, but many of the basics remain the same.

Some equipment is doubled up between the two categories; if I’m planning a trip that will require both wilderness and over-water equipment, I’ll of course only take one of the doubled-up items.

Medical equipment

  • First aid kit (Surviveware small first aid kit)
  • Blood-clotting powder (Celox)
  • Trauma bandages/dressings
  • Emergency splint such as SAM splint
  • Insect repellent
  • Mosquito head-net
  • Mosquito net
  • Painkillers (Tylenol or similar)
  • Sun-screen

Add photo: medical equipment

Wilderness survival equipment

When I’m flying in remote areas, I’m often camping at the overnight stops. A lot of camping gear doubles as survival gear if needed.

  • Mountain Hardwear Lightwedge 3 Tent
  • Mountain Hardwear mummy sleeping bag (appropriate to expected temperatures)
  • 2 x high power flashlights
  • ACR ResQLink personal locator beacon
  • Garmin InReach Explorer+ satellite locator/messenger
  • 8′ x 10′ lightweight tarpaulin
  • 1 roll duct tape
  • 100′ para-cord
  • 14″ camping hatchet
  • ESEE 6P-B fixed blade survival knife
  • SOG folding escape knife including seat-belt cutter
  • Leatherman Surge multi-tool
  • Waterproof/windproof matches
  • Fire-starting tinder
  • See/Rescue 25′ personal signal streamer
  • Signal mirror
  • Signal whistle
  • Emergency water/food as appropriate

If you are legally allowed, carrying a suitable firearm for hunting/wildlife protection can be a good idea in remote areas such as Alaska and northern Canada. Just make sure you check out and abide by all the regulations and restrictions for the areas you’ll be flying through.

Add photo: wilderness equipment

Over-water survival equipment

  • Offshore life raft. Winslow Ultralight Offshore 4-person raft.

My choice of life raft was governed by the most severe kind of over-water flying that I like to carry out. If your only water crossings are to be fine-weather trips to the Bahamas, or similar, then a lighter weight and less capable life-raft is likely to be adequate, and would also be easier to get out of the aircraft in an emergency. However, for crossing oceans such as the Atlantic and Pacific, and flying in places such as the Arctic, a full featured raft such as the Winslow is essential; key features include a proper self-erecting, close-able canopy, double tubes and insulated floor, sea anchor, ballast pockets, and boarding ladder.

  • Survival suit. Gill dinghy-sailing dry suit.
  • Emergency air. HEED3 escape air bottle.
  • Life-jacket. Switlik X-Back Molle Air Crew Vest with side pockets.
  • Ditching bag. 20 liter Ocean Lion dry-bag.

My choice of life-jacket was driven by comfort for long periods of wearing, and even more by capacity for survival equipment to be carried on the jacket itself. The only equipment that you can be assured of having in a ditching is the equipment that is carried on your person. I’ve therefore planned the equipment for the life-jacket to include all the most essential items to call for rescue, survive until rescue comes, and signal rescue once it arrives.

Add photo: overall water survival

I carry the following equipment in and on my vest, which all fits very well without impeding movement.

  • Personal Locator Beacon. ACR ResQLink 406MHz PLB.
  • Satellite Locator/messenger. Garmin InReach Explorer+.
  • SOG folding escape knife including seat-belt cutter.
  • Signal whistle
  • See/Rescue 25′ personal rescue streamer
  • Sea dye
  • Hand-held air-band radio; iCom A25 Sport
  • Hand-held marine radio; iCom M25
  • Sunscreen and lip balm
  • Floppy hat for shelter from the sun
  • 125ml water packets and boiled sweets for water/energy
  • Sea-sickness pills
  • Tylenol
  • Sunglasses
  • High intensity flashlight for signalling
  • Chemical light stick
  • Swimming goggles.
  • Wet-suit gloves and wet-suit hood in cold-water areas.

When exiting the aircraft in a ditching, my top priority is to get myself (together with the equipment on my body) safely out. My next priority is to get the life-raft out. The final priority is the ditching bag, which contains the more “nice-to-have” items.

My ditching bag for long over-water crossings contains the following:

  • Signal flares; handheld and parachute
  • 2 liters water
  • Electrolyte drinks
  • High energy ration blocks
  • Sea sickness pills
  • Spare batteries/battery pack and cable for charging InReach and radios
  • Chemical light sticks
  • First aid kit
  • Small facial tissue packs
  • Signal mirror
  • 2 x emergency blankets
Offshore ditching bag with contents

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Wildlife awareness


In many remote areas, the elements are not the only thing that you need to be prepared for. Wildlife can be a real threat in some locations. For example, when flying in areas such as Alaska and Canada, one has to be prepared to deal with bears; not only in a survival situation, but also just when camping out.

Be bear-aware

Bears have a very sensitive nose, and can sniff out food from far away, and through the walls of vehicles. A bear coming to investigate your camp site can be a scary experience (I nearly died of fright when a wild animal came into my site one night, and that turned out to be only a raccoon, so I imagine a bear would be a little worse). Food storage procedures are key!

Bear-proof storage boxes and bear spray

Nothing aromatic that a bear might be interested in should be left in the aircraft, as they can rip an airplane open with ease. All food should be stored either suspended in a tree, out of reach of a climbing bear and quite far from camp, or secured in bear-proof containers similarly far from the airplane and camp. In really remote locations, if local regulations allow it, taking a rifle might be useful for wildlife protection (only ever as a last resort) and hunting in a survival situation. Bear spray is mandatory, as well!

If carrying bear spray, give some thoughts to how it will be stored in the aircraft. Bear spray is designed to stop a grizzly in its tracks, so if you have an inadvertent discharge in the cockpit it’s liable to spoil your day. If you have a way to store the spray outside of the cockpit, that’s ideal; if not, try and ensure you have some kind of “secondary containment”; you could, for example, carry it sealed within one of the bear boxes. Another option, suggested by an experienced Canadian pilot, is to carry it in a cooler which has been sealed shut with duct tape.


While they are not as immediately threatening as bears, you’re far more likely to encounter insects on your travels, and they’re far more likely to make themselves a nuisance and cause you problems. Of the various types you’ll run into, mosquitoes are by far the most likely to present issues, and they are incredibly widely spread; all the way from the Arctic circle to the tropics.

In higher latitudes, mosquitoes don’t tend to carry diseases (although this seems to be changing as more persistent warmer weather works its way towards the poles), but they can swarm in clouds thick enough to blot out the sun, and bite in sufficient numbers to cause you real misery. Moving towards the tropics, the danger moves more towards diseases such as malaria and worse.

Apart from taking anti-malarials, mosquito defence in all regions is pretty similar. Ensure you pack appropriate, long sleeved clothing, and wear it as much as practical; particularly around water, and around dusk, when mosquitoes are most prevalent. Use a strong, DEET-based insect repellent (but be aware that this can damage many man-made fibers, tent materials etc), and consider a mosquito head-net and ways to protect your hands from bites as well. Try to minimise the ingress of insects into the aircraft!

As well as presenting a threat to your person, insects can cause issues to the aircraft. Ensure you always use a pitot cover, and if possible static port covers as well. Insects don’t confine themselves to the pitot-static system however, so always perform thorough pre-flights. In Laos, we discovered that insects had blocked the fuel sump underneath the engine!

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