Luck comes to the prepared
For the best chances of early rescue in a ditching situation, should a pilot stick with a 121.5 MHz ELT or spring for the 406 MHz model? The question is moot. In a ditching, the impact shouldn’t be enough to trigger the emergency signal; and even if it does go off, it won’t be long before it’s sitting at the bottom of the ocean or lake. Instead, we recommend carrying a personal locator beacon, which can be carried on one’s person and is activated manually.
Make a distress call and establish a last-seen point before you touch down, but don’t bank on calling 911 from offshore—better to keep the phone number of the Coast Guard or harbor patrol, to reach the people who will be responding. We also recommend carrying a marine VHF radio to contact the Coast Guard (and any nearby boats) directly on Channel 16. If no one knows you’re there, it could be a long wait in cold water. Even with a flight plan, the search won’t begin until 30 minutes after the flight plan expires—and then it is by radio and telephone.
Search-and-rescue forces may not be activated until three hours after your estimated time of arrival, and the search area may be quite broad. Your odds improve if you’ve been in communication with ATC, an AFSS, or anyone else along the way, and if you’ve made a Mayday call, particularly with an accurate location.
Here is a selection of gear we've introduced during our safety courses and workshops (Click product image for more information).