If I'm renting an airplane to fly myself and some friends over water beyond gliding distance, but within 50 nautical miles from the nearest shore, am I legally required to have any flotation devices whatsoever?

According to 91.205 if you are flying for hire over water you must have life preservers for each passenger. However, does renting an airplane for recreational use trigger this requirement? In other words does renting and aircraft from an FBO qualify as operation for hire for purposes of section 91.205?

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    $\begingroup$ I did multiple text searches in the CFRs and can't find any other sections that refer to over water requirements. A related question, (not sure if I should ask it separately) is whether renting an aircraft from an FBO constitutes a flight for hire. If I rent a Cessna 172 and fly myself over water, is that considered an aircraft being operated for hire since it is being rented? $\endgroup$ – Devil07 Jul 23 '17 at 15:35

Apparently, the answer is never.

After several days of searching, I was unable to find anything in the FARs that requires the pilot of a small aircraft that is NOT being flown "for-hire", to have flotation devices on board, for a flight over water, regardless of the distance from shore.

Section 91.205 requires flotation devices, but only for flights "for hire" over water. So this section doesn't apply to this question.

Then, there is section 91.509(12) which requires flotation and other survival gear for flights 50 nm, or 30 min out from shore, but this entire section is under Subpart F - Large and Turbine-Powered Muti-engine Airplanes and Factional Ownership Program Aircraft. So this entire section doesn't apply to this question either.

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    $\begingroup$ Common sense says: unless ou are flying exclusively over a desert you do need safety floation gear. In addition: even if you are a great swimmer you can find dificult to keep afloat after a hard landing broken some of your limbs $\endgroup$ – jean Jul 28 '17 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not saying its smart, just saying it isn't illegal when its done in a small aircraft that is not being flown "for-hire." $\endgroup$ – Devil07 Aug 11 '17 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ @jean The question is when is it legally required, which this answers perfectly. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Aug 11 '17 at 17:39

FAR 91.205 contains minimum equipment requirements, and flotation devices are only required during "for-hire" operations. That doesn't necessarily override common sense, though...

  • $\begingroup$ 91.509, you're right, is for large (>12,500GW), turbine, and fractional ownership aircraft, so it depends on what type of plane is being rented, so not necessarily only "for hire" operations. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jul 23 '17 at 2:13
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    $\begingroup$ True enough, but I don't think the question is coming from a professional pilot... $\endgroup$ – sjdunham Jul 23 '17 at 2:33
  • $\begingroup$ @ronbeyer I just noticed that I missed the fact that 91.509 is for large aircraft (subpart F - large and turbine powered multiengine airplanes). I missed that. Now, I'm back to where I started, I can't find anything that says a small plane needs to have flotation devices if the flight is not for hire. $\endgroup$ – Devil07 Jul 23 '17 at 4:01
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    $\begingroup$ Correct. "Not for hire" = no required flotation devices. "Common sense" = "bring flotation devices if you're not happy swimming to shore." Give the Coast Guard a sporting chance... $\endgroup$ – sjdunham Jul 23 '17 at 18:58

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