I have had the pleasure of twice flying to Alaska in a small aircraft.  The first trip was in a 1958 Cessna 172 and the second, in a 1978 Cessna 1982.  Because both trips started in the Southern US, they were as much about getting across the United States as they were about getting through Canada and into Alaska.  North Western Canada is simply breath taking.  However, crossing into Alaska was exhilarating.  We felt we had truly accomplished something that a small percentage of pilots have, flying from the lower 48 into the “Great Alaskan Wilderness”.  Wilderness it most certainly was.  Because of this, both Alaska and Canada have published survival equipment requirements for flying in their airspace.  These rules are not a simple slice of government meddling, but simply a mandated prudent measure every pilot should reflect upon, over any terrain, in any country.

Flying through Canada

Consider that survival equipment is a close cousin of aircraft insurance, yet is a topic that most pilots choose to ignore.  Think about it, would you fly without coverage for your beloved aircraft?  What protects you, the pilot or passenger, from damage in the event of a crash?  In almost every instance, no harm comes from turning your head to the need for survival equipment.  However, just like driving a car, occasionally a number of insignificant coincidental events happen at once, events that by themselves would not be prelude to an accident, but while occurring together, spell tragedy.  As a pilot, you have likely read about at least a handful of them.  Many of these “events” are mitigated when you fly through and around populated areas as help is not far away.  However, in Alaska and Northern Canada, help could be days to weeks away, depending on how easy you are to locate.

The Alaska Statutes dictate these items in AS 02.35.110, a section which deals directly with Emergency Rations and Equipment.  This information may be found in the Alaska Supplement which may be purchased online at http://naco.faa.gov . For most of us, the Alaska required survival equipment list includes things like rations for each occupant to sustain life for one week, an axe, first aid kit, a survival fishing kit, knife, fire starter, mosquito head nets (wait until you see the mosquitoes up there) and signaling devices.  There is no longer a requirement to carry a “survival” firearm.  As a side note, be sure to NOT carry a pistol into Canada on your trip.  The Canadian Authorities frown on this, as it is very illegal, and they will likely take stiff action against you if you do.  I, personally, do not even recommend carrying a long gun with you into Canada.  On both trips, either I or someone else was delayed by Canadian Customs because of this, even though all of the appropriate paperwork was filed per the Canadian Regulations.  However, this remains the decision of the PIC.

When flying into both Alaska and Canada you will likely be asked about your survival equipment.  It is simply best to adhere to these requirements so that you can scratch that meeting off your list of things to worry about.

The Canadian Authorities, likely due to the vast unpopulated expanse in Northern Canada, chose to take a much more thorough approach to survival equipment. The survival food requirement in Canada is not left to interpretation.  “Food having a caloric value of at least 10,000 calories per person…” Also required are: cooking utensils, matches, compass, axe, flexible saw, a stove and fuel (certain conditions apply), 30 feet of snare wire, fishing equipment, a gill net, mosquito nets, tent, sleeping bags (conditions apply), snow shoes (when expecting snow), signal mirror, pyrotechnic distress signals, knife, survival manual, and a conspicuity panel (Signal Panel).

You will note that many of these items are only relevant when flying in the winter time or above a certain latitude, written in the Canadian Requirements as, “north of the tree line”.

Alaska Glacier Fields

In regards to a review of required survival equipment, let’s talk about routine flights here in the “lower 48”.  What is the required survival equipment to fly to the beach at Galveston, Texas or the Smokey Mountains of Gatlinburg, Tennessee or to get that much talked about “$100 Hamburger”?  Of course, if you are flying over water under certain conditions there are requirements.  However, to fly over terra firma, nothing specifically related to survival equipment is required by Part 91, the rules most of us fly under.  However, I would be remiss to not suggest that even though the rules do not require it, the prudent pilot should at least carry minimal survival equipment; at least enough to take care of immediate needs prior to rescue arriving.  I know there will be those of you who say, “I have never needed it before, why now?”  My answer is simple.  We practice engine out procedures in the event of an engine out, don’t we?  Shouldn’t we think about what happens after your training gets you down alive? It would be a shame to waste all of that effort. For minimal expense, you can have the basic gear that could save your life.  The below items and more may be found atwww.bestglide.com or www.adventuresurvivalequipment.com.  They have a quality selection of survival kits and for those that wish to take a more minimalist approach, they sell individual survival equipment so that you may choose what you think you need.

In the event of an accident, your number one priority is treating wounds.  Have a trauma bandage or two.  Your chances of survival increase by preventing blood loss. Next, getting help to you is a priority. Signaling devices are must have items.  I recommend that you get some different types: survival whistle, signal panel, signal mirror and strobe light.

If the weather is bad or it is night time, help will likely not get to you quickly.  A source of heat could be the difference between survival and freezing to death.  Again, I recommend a couple of sources to include All Weather Matches, a flint fire starter and a survival blanket.  A heavy sleeping bag is always a plus.  I recommend that one carry a knife and some water in their aircraft.  One can live without food for some time, but water is a more immediate necessity.  When you are thirsty your outlook, strength and ability to think clearly degrade quickly. Last on my short list is a small, inexpensive survival manual.  Knowledge is just as important as survival equipment.  Of course, a combination of both will stack the deck in your favor.

Any flight requires training, preparation and skill.  As part of your preparation, it is only prudent that you plan for when things don’t..well..go as planned.  Whether you are flying over amazing scenery in Alaska and Canada, the swamps of South Louisiana or the Piney Woods of East Texas, survival equipment is an important part of your preflight planning.

This article was published in Cessna Owner Magazine and Piper Owner Magazine.  It is reprinted here with permission from the author.