There is nothing to grab onto in the front, except the yoke, and it's not possible to bend over because, again, the yoke is in the way.


5 Answers 5


In light aircraft I was always taught to grab whatever is soft and cover your face/head with that. Mostly that applies to passengers only (as the pilot will likely be busy attempting to fly). There is no "brace position" analog in GA like there is in commercial, but if you are sitting in the back you can assume a similar position.


I must admit my experience with Cessnas are few and far apart (as well as temporally far), but the small planes I've flown in have had proper seatbelts with shoulder straps.

In such planes the brace position would be, after yanking the straps a little tighter, to sit as straight as possible. The seatbelts will keep you from hitting anything.

Quite frankly I'd not feel comfortable/safe flying in a small plane with only the lap belt...

  • 8
    $\begingroup$ I believe the lap belt is intended to help them identify your corpse rather than for protection $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Commented Sep 6, 2021 at 6:09
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Much in the same way the second engine in small twins is there to take you to the crash site. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Commented Sep 6, 2021 at 10:35
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    $\begingroup$ The first thing a new owner of a plane with only lap belts should do is install shoulder harnesses. $\endgroup$
    – acpilot
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 1:19
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    $\begingroup$ @acpilot - Shoulder harnesses are even better. They allow more of the corpse to be located. $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ CAIUS - a professionally flown, dual crewed turbojet is not the same as a GA piston flown by JoePilot. Feel free to post a question if you are really unclear on it. RICHARD - shoulder harnesses prevent you from breaking your skull on the panel. Studies show that people with broken skulls are less likely to survive a forced landing that people without broken skullls. $\endgroup$
    – acpilot
    Commented Sep 8, 2021 at 19:09

In the absence of a shoulder harness, the only thing you can do is lean forward and cross your arms on top of the panel, and rest your forehead on your arms (to the extent that you are tall enough to clear the yoke while doing it). It's better than sitting up and being propelled into the top of the panel. You're still going to get hurt, but not quite as bad.

This is why the adoption of shoulder harnesses was such an important safety improvement in light aircraft in the 70s. Shoulder harnesses reduced the head and chest injuries in crashes by a massive amount. They made many serious injury accidents walk-away accidents, and fatal accidents survivable.

Hopefully the plane you are flying in has a shoulder harness, and if you have half a brain, and/or your pilot is halfway competent, you are wearing it properly. Protected by the harness, the main thing is protecting your arms from flailing around by crossing them in front of you and hanging on, or possibly (what I would do) reaching down to your pants belt and hanging on to that for dear life to keep your arms from flying around (if you're just the passenger).

In any case, wearing a harness, you can expect to come through any crash that leaves the cabin intact with survivable injuries, like broken limbs.

When I bought my '68 Cardinal in the late 80s, it only had lap belts, and the first thing I did was install shoulder harnesses. I dreaded having to ride or fly airplanes that didn't have them.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't have an opinion (meaning I'm not disagreeing or agreeing), so I'm wondering if there is any reference for the claim ending the first paragraph: You're still going to get hurt, but not quite as bad. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 5:09
  • $\begingroup$ No I don't have a reference. When I learned to fly in the mid 70s there were lots of articles in the aviation press about shoulder harnesses, which were kind of a new thing just being introduced on production airplanes in the early 70s.Recommendation in the absence of a harness was to place your head where it was going to end up anyway, top of the panel, using your forearms as cushions, rather than letting it slam into it. It's a small mitigation to be sure. If you sit upright with just a lap belt, you are slamming face first into the panel, and you normally won't have any other padding handy. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the further details and clarification John. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 8, 2021 at 1:45
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    $\begingroup$ The logic in resting, say, ones head on something that it's gonna hit anyway is, that when the plane impacts ground it will not stop at once (with infinite deceleration), it will take fractions of seconds to come to a stop, and if your head is supported on the structure, the deceleration will be the same for the head and the structure. If you sit up straight with only lap belt, during impact your head will keep moving at the initial speed, and the plane will have time (those fractions of seconds) to decelerate before your head hits it. Therefore the impact will be much harder. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Commented Sep 8, 2021 at 9:29

As you mention bending, I assume you are in the case of a lap belt. There is not much to do, except using airliners techniques. They include not stretching arms and not crossing forearms.

Lap belts in aircraft are effective against turbulence, less in case of diagonal impact. Contrary to cars, there are no airbags to prevent head from hitting panels or walls.

As commented in other answers, switching to a harness, when possible, makes sense.

From UK CAA Care of Passengers in General Aviation Aircraft

Brace positions in GA aircraft

With a shoulder harness (left):

For passengers seated with a shoulder restraint, the straps should be adjusted tight or if fitted with an inertia reel, the mechanism should remove any slack in the belt. The brace position simply involves placing the chin down against the body.

Facing rearwards (center):

If facing rearwards with a headrest or bulkhead behind you, rest you head back against it. Arms and hands can be secured by placing the palms underneath the legs or crossing arms in front of the body. Feet should be flat on the floor. Do not tense the body for impact since a rigid body is more likely to be injured. Remove headsets before impact.

With a lap belt (right):

If only a lap belt is available, a more airline style brace position should be adopted, with head down towards the knees and hands placed one over the other (fingers not interlocked) on top of the head.

Additional instructions from ICAO for airlines (Doc 10086, Manual on Information and Instructions for Passenger Safety).


Brace position ICAO

Avoid crossed forearms and head tilted backward:

The passenger should avoid having the head tilted backward, that is, the neck should not be extended, but should be bent forward to reduce the risk of injury to the neck and/or larynx. The passenger should not rest their head on the crossed forearms, which risks fracturing both forearms.

Brace position ICAO - Don't do that

Avoid upright positions:

Passengers should avoid upright positions, as their head may hit the surface in front during the secondary impact. Passengers should avoid stretching out their arms or legs and pressing them against a surface in front of them.

Brace position ICAO - Don't do that

A harness is much more safe than a lap belt. For more information, see Are the current seat belts used in commercial airlines safe enough?. Lap belts exist because they are easier to use, and therefore might be safer than a harness not used correctly. Attendant seats have harnesses because attendants are trained to use them.


The C172N flight manual might be a good yardstick for what a brace position could be in the event of a forced landing. In the amplified procedures section of Section 3 Emergency Procedures, it states under forced landings:

Prepare for ditching by securing or jettisoning heavy objects locat- ed in the baggage area and collect folded coats for protection of occupants' face at touchdown.

Also item 8) under the ditching checklist states

(8) Face -- CUSHION at touchdown with folded coat.

A possible brace position for a passenger in such an airplane may be similar to a crossed arm position in a commercial aircraft, with a folded coat or pillow placed over your arms to protect the face.

For front seat passengers, arms could be rested on the tip of the glare shield prior to touchdown, though care would be required to prevent being struck in the sternum by the yoke in the event of a violent impact.


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