An in-depth look at the IMSAFE checklist

Just like you take the time to preflight the plane, you need to take the time to prefly yourself. That is why the IMSAFE checklist exists. Let’s take a closer look at each item on it and not only what they are but why they are there and what you can do to make sure that you are always at your best to make sure that you are good to go flying.

Cockpit image with david clark headset on yoke
Photo by World Travel Adventures on StockSnap


The I in our I’M Safe Checklist is Illness. Start off with asking yourself “Do I feel like I have any symptoms?” This can be something as simple as a sore throat or a bit of sneezing you did earlier that wasn’t related to allergies. Maybe a cough started early in the morning.

A simple illness that doesn’t seem like much in the ground can be detrimental in the air. Illnesses can produce distracting symptoms that can lead to memory impairment, poor judgment, slower reactions, or other unsafe actions.

Not only that but if you have ever flown with some sinus issue it can be very, very painful on the nose, ears and throat. This is something that you should also tell your passengers as it can lead to a very uncomfortable ascent and descent.

You might be thinking well it’s a small cold, I can treat it with some medication. Well that is the next item on our checklist


The M is for Medication, which can make you drowsy, or it can make you impaired in other ways. There are medications that have the warning on the labels that say you shouldn’t drive or operate machinery. This applies to planes as well.

However there are medications that you may be taking that would also prohibit you from flying a plane, these may be both prescription and over the counter medication. If you are an AOPA member they have a database that you can search to see if a medication that you are taking would prevent you from flying. It can be found here. If not you can contact an Aviation Medical Examiner you can find one at the FAA Designee Locator Site.

The Regulations prohibit pilots from performing duties while using medication that affects you in any way that will any way be contrary to a safe flight. Which means you can get penalized for flying under medication.

So if in doubt don’t fly.


Sign with stress and relax for I'm safe checklist aviation

The next letter in our I’m Safe Checklist is S. Stress. Now you need to be honest with yourself here as everyone is able to handle different amounts of stress. And everyone handles stress differently.

I had a student one time that would get very, very quiet when stressed. They would stop communicating with me, the tower, everyone. He didn’t realize that he was doing it until I pointed it out one day. That would be an issue if it happened if he was alone. Luckily he was able to work on it and found a way to fix it.

We all know that we have to leave our family, money, job, etc problems on the ground when flying but it’s not always easy. And sometimes when flying on a long trip you might find yourself thinking about them and the stress starts to creep in.

I would suggest you find a way to relax before flying, play some fun music you can dance to if you need to release energy before your flight. Or some mellow music if you need to calm down. You can do this on your drive to the airport or on your phone while waiting to take off.

Depending on the weather you can take a quick walk around the tarmac. Find what works for you and leave your stress on the ground. Then you can enjoy the flight for the joy and wonder that it is.


Pink panther drinking too much.

The many pilot jokes about drunk pilots. There’s some truth to them but don’t let those jokes be about you.

Let’s start with the regulations FAR 91.17 says that no crew member should perform their duty within 8 hours after consumption, while under the influence of alcohol, or while having an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater in a blood or breath specimen.

This is another one of those use your judgement scenarios. If you go drinking all night and supposed to fly fist thing in the morning, chances are that 8 hours is not enough for all the influences of the alcohol to have left your body. Most people recommend 12 or even 24 hours.

It’s better to cancel your flight if you think that you might not be fully recovered than to risk being unsafe.


Photo by Engin Akyurt

The F in our checklist is for Fatigue is more than tired. It can also be strong emotional pressure, mental strain, strenuous muscular effort, heavy mental workload, emotional pressure. All this can take a toll on the coordination and alertness needed to perform safely as a pilot. Sometimes we are so used to the feeling of fatigue that we may not notice it until we start making careless mistakes.

There are two types of fatigue. Acute fatigue and chronic fatigue. Acute fatigue is when you have been tired for a short term period of time. Like maybe you have been up late and not sleeping well. Acute fatigue can be felt after long periods of physical and mental strain. Acute fatigue can be treated by resting and sleeping as well as proper nutrition and exercise.

Chronic fatigue is long-term fatigue where you aren’t getting enough rest for multiple days. Where your acute fatigue hasn’t had time to recover. Chronic fatigue can lead to illnesses and can lead to hospitalization if not handled soon.

If you have ever driven tired, you know how hard it is. You don’t want to try and fly a plane while tired. Your best option is to get some sleep and then fly. Don’t risk your life.


Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

The final letter E. In our I’M SAFE Checklist is for Emotions. Some say it’s for Eating and that can be it too but the AIM says it’s for Emotion and that is what we will go with as well.

Emotions can affect your alertness, not only that but some emotions anger, depression, anxiety but even overly happy and excited can make you take unnecessary risks. Or do think that you wouldn’t do in a normal situation.

Just like with stress, if you have some ways of dealing with your emotions, before getting in the plane go ahead and do that , but if you need to take the day to get over something hard like a loss of a job, financial catastrophe or a death then take the time you need before getting in a plane.

Well there you have it. A more in depth look at the I’M SAFE aviation checklist. If there is something you want to know more about, feel free to send me an message or drop it in the comments below. I would love to hear what you think about this and any other topic.

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