Some people say that landing on water should be considered as a last resort because it is dangerous. But why exactly is it dangerous to land an airplane in the water? Wouldn't it be safer since theoretically, water would reduce the impact?

Note: I am referring to all planes (small and large).

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 10:38

3 Answers 3


For one you can not "land on water" you can ditch an aircraft in a body of water but you would be hard pressed to call it a landing. You can however, "land in a grass field" or "land on a runway nearby" or "land on a highway" all of which are substantially more controllable then trying to stall a few feet above the ocean.

The result of catching an edge which can dig into the water is the same or worse than belly landing on grass. As others have mentioned at those speeds water is not so forgiving. but historically it tends to end poorly. While the miracle on the Hudson ended well Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 did not have the same luck. You can see the outcome of contacting asymmetrically is pretty devastating.

The secondary concern is that even in a successful ditching still puts you in a sinking airplane with potentially injured people making rescue all that much harder.

Although Aviation Saftey Magazine paints an interesting counter point.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The Ethiopian Airlines case is not really a fair example. I dare say it would be difficult to do a controlled landing on a runway while trying to fight off a hijacker. As for landing on a grass field or highway, flat fields are hard to find in many parts of the country, while highways often have vehicles on them. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 3:49
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Missed the opportunity to joke about "can't land on water because you need to land on land... And you can't 'water' on water". Good answer, though =) $\endgroup$
    – Mefitico
    Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 13:14
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Also it seems lot of people survived from that crash .. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 22:37

Because in most cases landing in the water is no different from landing on concrete. In fact, it could be much worse.

I'm not going to talk about the technicalities and physics behind it, but there are loads of reasons why you shouldn't land a plane in the water.

For example, the waves are a big threat.. Pilots usually try to land parallel to the waves, so the aircraft isn't pushed around and endangered. In the scenario that there are waves directly moving towards the aircraft, it's like running into a wall that's moving towards you.

And the most worst case scenario comes to the aircraft breaking apart. If an aircraft breaks apart upon landing, it greatly endangers the passengers and crew as the aircraft will begin to flood with water and sink.

All in all, when landing in the water, there are a lot of extra variables that pilots must deal with the execute a safe landing. So if you were given a choice of either landing on water or land, try landing on land first. Landing on water is always a last resort.


A simple answer is because you're less likely to drown on land. Open sea normally has waves of at least a meter, so any landing will be a controlled crash with structural damage. Part of the fuselage may be full of water very quickly, and there will be limited time to evacuate everyone, including the injured.

Once you're in a life-raft, exposure and hypothermia can kill in a few hours, and dehydration in a few days - and it can take that long for help to arrive. 10-20mph is common for ships, even a fast warship might only do 30mph, and you could be hundreds of miles from help. And that's assuming that the location beacons work, and bad weather doesn't prevent rescuers from spotting you.


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