This is not a comprehensive treatise on logging time. I'm not actually aware of a comprehensive set of information, but probably the best source of information are the FAA's 14 CFR Part 61 FAQs published by the Regulatory Division. This document is focused on the regulations regarding airplanes.
The regulation that covers logging time is 14 CFR Part 61.51.
Remember, logging PIC is NOT the same as acting as PIC. There can be only one actual PIC, but there can be any number of people logging PIC time. In fact there can be, and often are, times in which the person acting as PIC cannot log the time as PIC. If you want to be the actual PIC you MUST meet ALL the requirements to ACT as PIC, including endorsements, currency etc.
This is just one person's opinion, albeit an opinion formed over years of watching people "discuss" how to log various forms of time. I don't work for the FAA and they don't consult with me on regulatory matters. You have to form YOUR opinion on how to log YOUR time, you can refer to this document all you want, but if you think I'm going to take responsibility for the contents, well, I guarantee this contents is fit for no purpose whatsoever, use at your own risk.
If you have any comments or feedback on this article please send me an e-mail at email@example.com.
Most time logging is pretty straight forward, if you're in a single engine plane then log single engine time, multi-engine plane, likewise. If you're in a simulator it's not flight time. There are, however, a couple of quirks, and you should make some decisions on how you're going to log time as early as possible in order to keep your logbook consistent.
Your logbook contains a place for you to attest to the accuracy of the entries, so obviously you want your logbook entries to be true. Beyond that, exactly what you log is to some extent up to you. Certain types of logbook time are required to show that you meet recency of experience requirements or meet the aeronautical experience requirements for a new certificate or rating. You can log other time, as long as it's accurate, even if it is not eligible to be used to meet an experience requirement. When people get into heated discussions about "logging", they're almost always talking about time to be used to meet a requirement. Don't let anybody tell you "you can't log this time" when what they really mean is "you can't use this time to meet some requirement". Some people use their logbook as a journal of their personal flying experiences, that's fine, just make sure you know what entries are being used to show you meet the requirements set out in the regulations. So your first decision needs to be, what kind of time am I going to log and how will I keep track of the time needed to meet experience requirements?
Some instructors like to fill out all the entries in your logbook when they provide dual instruction, some don't. Many times a student gets in the habit of letting their instructor write all the time in their logbook, but my advice is, don't. If your instructor needs to endorse, sign-off or otherwise make entries in your logbook that's fine, but YOU should enter your time etc. This is especially true once you're a Private pilot because there is still, how can I put this, confusion, on how some time should be logged. It's your logbook, you decide how it should be logged.
While you're a student pilot you will only log EITHER dual received OR PIC time. You can't log both on the same flight. You'll log PIC time when you are the SOLE occupant of the aircraft, and since you can't carry passengers if you're not the sole occupant at least one of the other occupants will be your instructor. When you log dual received time then your instructor will, at a minimum, need to sign your logbook. Most instructors will add information on the lesson(s) taught during the flight.
Your instructor should conduct pre and post flight briefings and technically that's ground instruction and could be logged as such but most people don't bother. However, if your instructor provides ground instruction that's not part of a pre or post flight my advice is to log it and have the instructor sign it.
You can ALWAYS log PIC time in an aircraft for which you are rated when you are the sole manipulator of the controls, regardless of the status of your medical and the flight conditions the flight is conducted in. This is true when you are receiving dual instruction and is true even if you are not qualified to act as PIC (although of course somebody needs to be qualified to act as PIC). Examples of where this may be useful:
Where does it not apply? This is mostly obvious.
If you're a Private pilot and think or suspect you might want to get a Commercial certificate at some point then you should spend some time looking at the aeronautical experience requirements for the commercial pilot. You need to track some additional types of time, time that usually isn't included in standard logbooks. For example you'll need to track your post-student "solo" time, which is time when you are the sole occupant (nobody else, pilot or no pilot) of the aircraft. You'll need to track night landings at controlled airports and a number of other things. You can use this commercial requirements checklist to see what types of time you need to track.
You might also want to check the requirements and categories of time you should report on the 8710 application for a certificate or rating. You only need to report the time required for the certificate or rating you're applying for, but even so, those requirements for instrument ratings etc. can be onerous to determine from the standard logbook.
You may want to invest in an electronic logbook which will cover the categories or can be customised to cover those categories. I used to use an Excel spreadsheet and pivot tables (it's pretty easy to build one for yourself) but I now use Aerolog Pro (http://polaris-microsystems.com).
Actual IMC is actual IMC, log it as such. Lot's of people have opinions about logging approaches in actual. One option that nobody can argue with is to only log approaches in actual in which you are in IMC until the MAP or DH (in which case you'll probably have to execute the missed approach). Many people will log an approach in actual if the field is reporting IFR conditions or they are in IMC anywhere after the FAF. There is no regulatory guidance on this issue, so make your own decision on how you'll log approaches in actual.
When flying as or with a safety pilot is one of the few times where 14 CFR Part 91 pilots will be conducting a flight that requires more than one crew member and falls under 61.51(e)(1)(iii). The pilot flying, typically of course the one under the hood, as the sole manipulator of the controls, logs PIC time as we've already discussed. If the safety pilot is ACTING as PIC by prior agreement then the safety pilot may ALSO log PIC time. Who is acting as PIC has ramifications for your insurance and any renter's agreement you may be party to, so you may want to review those issues before you aviate. Also remember the safety pilot is ACTING as the PIC and must be qualified in all respects. To ACT as PIC the safety pilot needs all the appropriate endorsements (complex, high performance etc.) and needs to meet the appropriate currency requirements.
If you don't log the safety pilot time as PIC then you can log it as SIC. In order to be SIC you must have the appropriate category and class ratings and be at least a Private Pilot (14 CFR 91.109). You do not need to be current, nor do you need any of the endorsements (complex, high performance etc.) that would be required for you to ACT as PIC. The SIC needs a current medical, the FAA Chief Counsel's opinion is that the safety pilot is a required crew member, and as such requires a current medical (14 CFR 61.3(c)). It's not very useful as SIC time, although it can be used to increase your total time. I always log something because in the same way that the pilot under the hood must record the name of the safety pilot I'd like a corresponding record of who I was the safety pilot for.
What about flying an actual IFR flight plan? The same rules apply, except that the person who ACTS as PIC regardless, of if they are the sole manipulator or the safety pilot, must be legal and current for IFR and their name must be on the flight plan. Notice that the actual conditions of flight don't matter, VMC or IMC, if one person is under the hood then the safety pilot is required and both pilots may log time.
However you choose to log the flight log the entire flight however you have decided. You are logging "flight time", which 14 CFR Part 1.1 defines as "pilot time that commences when an aircraft moves under it's own power for the purpose of flight". Some people will argue you can only log the time when the pilot flying is under the hood, but the regulations refer to the "conditions under which the flight is conducted" so you can log the entire flight as SIC or PIC (as you have chosen). People will quibble about taxing over to the pumps for fuel, you'll have to decide how you're going to deal with that at some point.
Student and Recreational pilots cannot act as safety pilots.
The basic definitions of cross-country time are found in 14 CFR Part 61.1 (b)(3). A cross-country flight is any flight that involves a landing at another airport and involves navigation. This may be relevant to you when you are looking to qualify under Part 135 pilot requirements, since there this basic definition of cross-country is used. However, there is a difference in this basic definition and the requirements for cross-country flight to count as the appropriate aeronautical experience for a certificate or rating.
Version 6 - July 31st 2002