When do pilots need to wear seat belts and shoulder harnesses? Do PICs always have to brief passengers?
The seat belt rules are pretty straight forward and leave little room for interpretation. The bottom line is always wear your seat belt!
When are pilots requiremented to wear seat belts and shoulder harnesses?
Pilots need to wear their lap belt all the time when seated at the controls.
Obviously you can take it off if you need to get up and use the bathroom or stretch. Once you get back from the bathroom and sit back down at the controls, you need to put your seat belt on.
There aren’t any exceptions to this rule according to 14 CFR 91.105.
Where you have a little fudge room is on the shoulder harnesses. You don’t have to wear them in these situations:
- While en-route
- If it interferes with pilot duties
- If they aren’t installed
So that’s what the regulations say, but what do pilots do in real life?
Well, when I flew the King Air I made it part of my cruise checklist to take off the shoulder harness. It’s more comfortable to remove it on long flights. Now that I fly the 737, I take off teh shoulder harness off at about 1000 feet. It’s very easy to click it off.
Conversely, when I flew the King Air I put my shoulder harness on when I did the descent checklist. In the 737, I put it on when we pass through 18,000 feet on the descent.
Depending on the aircraft, it will depend on when to take the shoulder harness off and put it on. Regardless of when you choose, tie it to a checklist and always do it the same way every time.
I also put the shoulder harness on during any turbulence. Many pilots have smashed their heads on the ceiling from unexpected turbulence.
The last thing you want to fool around with in turbulence is a shoulder harness! Put it on early and keep it on until you’re sure you’re safe.
Putting your shoulder harness on before descending usually takes care of the turbulence issue. A lot of turbulence shows up during the descent below FL180.
If the entire flight is turbulent, or I am flying at lower altitudes (below FL180), I keep the shoulder harness on. Likewise if it gets really bad, I ratchet down the seat belt so I won’t go anywhere.
You only have to experience bad turbulence once before you make this a habit.
Do pilots have to wear seat belts while taxiing?
Another regulation, 14 CFR 91.107 covers surface movement. If you read 14 CFR 91.105 it says nothing about taxiing, only takeoff, landing and en-route.
The CFR is pretty straightforward: everyone in the aircraft needs to be in their seat with their seat belts fastened for taxiing, takeoff and landing.
You knew this already, though, because you have flown on a commercial airplane.
There are some exceptions for children and parachuting operations I won’t go into. Feel free to look it up yourself here: 14 CFR 91.107 (a) (3).
The regulation also says the “pilot in command” has some additional requirements. They define the “pilot in command” as the person responsible for the flight and not the person at the controls. The PIC can delegate this responsiblity, they just need to make sure it got done.
The PIC must do the following:
- Ensure each person on board is briefed on how to fasten and unfasten their seat belts and shoulder harnesses (if installed)
- Ensure each person on board is notified when they need to fasten their seat belts
The second one is interesting because it says nothing about making sure everyone has their seat belt on, it just says they need to be “notified.” If you can, make sure your passengers have actually put their belts on. This can be difficult in some airplanes.
To keep it simple I recommend you do the following:
- Always brief your passengers on how to use the seat belt even if they have used it before. Their knowledge doesn’t absolve you of your responsibility to brief them.
- Always keep your seat belt fastened when you’re at the controls (except the shoulder harness while en-route.)
- Add the shoulder harness wear/removal to a checklist so you don’t forget it for takeoff and landing. (I.e. I put it on when we descend back through 18,000 feet)
- Wear your shoulder harness during turbulence or if you expect turbulence.
- Seriously encourage your passengers to wear their belts all the time and do this before you start your taxi and before you land.
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