Supposing I'm a regional carrier and my routes never pass over water bodies (sea or lakes which are over a certain size). Am I obliged to carry life jackets on my plane?

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    $\begingroup$ No, you aren't. Flotation devices (i.e. seat-bottom cushions) will do fine. Until they started flying over the Gulf of Mexico to get between Texas and Florida quicker, Southwest Airlines didn't have any lifevests -- just the seatbottom cushions. I don't have the reference for this offhand, so I'll leave this as a comment rather than an answer, but that's the short version. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Jan 28, 2016 at 5:41
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    $\begingroup$ Even if you don't fly over oceans, most routes fly over rivers. And if the pilot is forced to make an off-airport landing, landing in a river may be very attractive. $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Jan 28, 2016 at 6:59
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    $\begingroup$ Seat bottom cushions would only help on a soft landing $\endgroup$
    – Firee
    Jan 28, 2016 at 10:54
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    $\begingroup$ The answer might depend on which jurisdiction you are asking about. I guess you mean in airspace regulated by the US FAA rather than, say, EASA or other regulators? $\endgroup$ Jan 28, 2016 at 11:40
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    $\begingroup$ Interestingly enough: For US Airways 1549 (2009 Hudson diching), 70% of the passengers did not watch the safety briefing and more than 90% did not read the safety information card. Despite the fact that the flight was flying over the land and life vests were not mandatory, it was equipped for extended water operations. However only 33 passengers out of 150 got their life vest with them when leaving the cabin, and only 4 completed its donning, as visible on the famous image. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Jan 28, 2016 at 20:46

1 Answer 1


Assuming you are asking about civilian flights operated under FAA rules, part 91 rules (14 CFR §91.205(b)(12)) advise that approved and serviceable flotation devices are required to be carried for each occupant during flight where such flight takes place over water outside power-off gliding distance to shore. "Shore" has a specific definition.

If the aircraft is operated [for VFR flight during the day] for hire over water and beyond power-off gliding distance from shore, [it must carry] approved [and serviceable] flotation gear readily available to each occupant and, unless the aircraft is operating under part 121 of this subchapter, at least one pyrotechnic signaling device. As used in this section, “shore” means that area of the land adjacent to the water which is above the high water mark and excludes land areas which are intermittently under water.

These provisions are extended to VFR flight at night and IFR flight in 14 CFR §91.205(c) et seq.

Part 91 subpart F stipulates the requirements for large/turbine-powered multiengine operations (where such rules exclude flights for the purposes of common carriage). In summary, §91.509 requires approved flotation devices when operated more than 50 miles from the nearest shore, and liferafts, survival kits, etc for flights operated more than 30 minutes flying time or more than 100 nautical miles from the nearest shore.

Most "commercial" flights in large aircraft are further regulated in terms of equipment by sections under part 121, part 125, part 135, etc. with similar equipment requirements to those noted above (links take you directly to relevant sections of the code for extended overwater operations under each part).

If operating a commercial air tour compliant with part 136, and such tour is to take place over water beyond minimum gliding distance in a non-compliant aircraft except for the purposes of takeoff and landing, then the code in 14 CFR §136.9 is more strict: occupants must wear life jackets until at least the period when the flight ceases to be over water.

(a) Except as provided in paragraphs (b) or (c) of this section, the operator and pilot in command of commercial air tours over water beyond the shoreline must ensure that each occupant is wearing a life preserver from before takeoff until flight is no longer over water.

(b) The operator and pilot in command of a commercial air tour over water beyond the shoreline must ensure that a life preserver is readily available for its intended use and easily accessible to each occupant if:

(1) The aircraft is equipped with floats; or

(2) The airplane is within power-off gliding distance to the shoreline for the duration of the time that the flight is over water.

(3) The aircraft is a multi engine that can be operated with the critical engine inoperative at a weight that will allow it to climb, at least 50 feet a minute, at an altitude of 1,000 feet above the surface, as provided in the Airplane Flight Manual or the Rotorcraft Flight Manual, as appropriate.

(c) No life preserver is required if the overwater operation is necessary only for takeoff or landing.

In summary, for FAA aircraft operating solely over land, the regulations noted above and by Ralph J's comment proscribe that the required equipment to be carried is minimal.

Of course, what the letter of the law says, and what's a good idea to carry, may in some cases be different things -- I'm thinking here about good practice to carry additional life preserving equipment when operating a GA aircraft for an extended time over water.

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    $\begingroup$ My father regularly flies from Missouri to Northern Michigan (lower peninsula). He skirts the South Eastern portion of Lake Michigan. He carries life vests in his Piper, mainly because it helps maintain his relationship with my mother. :) $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Mar 14, 2016 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ @CGCampbell your father is a wise man. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Nov 11, 2016 at 18:33

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