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Ten Tips to Stay Alive

Survival skills to keep you skydiving safely – probably

by Lesley Gale
by Lesley Gale
There are old skydivers and bold skydivers but no old, bold skydivers

I probably count as ‘old’ after 35 years in the sport, and I’ve learned not to be too bold. I broke my ankle within months of starting, through an incident caused by ignorance about my gear and reluctance to admit I didn’t know something in case I looked stupid.

I looked pretty stupid when I broke my ankle! ;-)

So, a big learning experience… I became a lot wiser and haven’t injured myself since. But, I’ve seen a lot of shit happen. Learning from the experiences of others can be less painful than going through the lessons yourself. I’ve summarized the most important survival skills I’ve learned, for the newer, bolder jumper to help you skydive safely while you’re getting older…

Ten Survival Tips

  1. Know your gear
  2. Check and maintain your gear
  3. Jump an AAD and a MARD
  4. Get to know each load
  5. Take your canopy progression slowly
  6. Invest in canopy skills
  7. Don’t fuck around with a malfunction
  8. Be vigilant under canopy
  9. Make smart decisions
  10. Educate yourself
The more you know about your gear, the safer you are — by Studio One
The more you know about your gear, the safer you are — by Studio One

1. Know your gear

Understanding your gear and how it works is crucial. The more you learn, the more confidence you will have, and you will make better decisions under pressure. Do you know, for example, how your MARD/RSL works and how it should be hooked up, the color of your reserve canopy and reserve pilot chute or how to change your main canopy?

2. Check and maintain your gear

Scrutinize your rig regularly and attend to issues before they become nightmares. Worn Velcro, loose BOCs, ineffective pilot chute, lines that need replacing – all small things that can lead to big problems. Breaking one small link in a chain can avert a fatality, and it could be as simple as a worn closing loop.

Do a gear check every jump.

Skyhook RSL in use; main canopy pulls free bag off reserve — by Lesley Gale
Skyhook RSL in use; main canopy pulls free bag off reserve — by Lesley Gale

3. Jump an AAD and a MARD

For the regular sport skydiver, there seems to be no viable argument for not wearing a MARD [MARD = Main Assisted Reserve Deployment – Skyhook, the Trap, the Mojo and similar]. The same is true of AADs. The only argument that is made against AADs and/or RSLs is, ‘don’t rely on a device to save your life’. Absolutely! But there is a big difference between relying on something or equipping yourself with the best back-up devices. There are a lot of dead skydivers who would probably still be here if they had used an AAD or RSL/MARD.

As far as whether an experienced jumper should use a Skyhook and/or an RSL, I absolutely think the benefits far outweigh the risks – Dan BC

4. Get to know each load

Check out the others on your load so you can count the canopies and understand where everyone is in the pattern. Be aware of exit separation, and the groups either side of you. Look out the door before you go.

You can have a lot of fun flying relatively conservative canopies — by Niklas Daniel
You can have a lot of fun flying relatively conservative canopies — by Niklas Daniel

5. Take your canopy progression slowly

In this world we are constantly fed the idea of desiring the latest, coolest, highest performing version of whatever we are interested in. In skydiving that’s not always such a great idea. Buy a canopy that is right for your experience and skills right now. Get familiar with the full range of your canopy, and acquire excellent piloting skills before considering a change.

You have your whole life to kill yourself in this sport so there is no need to be in a hurry – Matt Gerdes

6. Invest in canopy skills

Invest in canopy skills by going on a series of courses. People pay huge amounts of money for tunnel and freefall coaching but many do not invest in canopy skills. Fact – you are more likely to die under canopy than in freefall. Fact – being a better pilot can help prevent that.

If you don't have momentem twisting out when it goes to the horizon the odds aren't good — by Zach Lewis
If you don't have momentem twisting out when it goes to the horizon the odds aren't good — by Zach Lewis

7. Don’t fuck around with a malfunction

Decide on your personal decision height and hard deck altitudes and be ready to honor them when the time comes. Practice your emergency procedures so they are second nature. The biggest single cause of US fatalities in 2017 was poor EPs (source, USPA fatality summary). Sometimes check your handles under canopy – they will be in a different place compared to freefall.

Don’t hesitate to use your reserve if you have a malfunction. If you have to think about whether your canopy’s good, it’s clearly NOT GOOD! There is no benefit to gain, and a lot to lose, by fucking around trying to ‘fix’ the malfunction. For what? Get onto a good reserve canopy nice and high so you can figure out your landing options.

If you look up at your canopy and you’re not getting any love, cut it away! – Dan BC

8. Be vigilant under canopy

Find the other canopies on the load immediately when open and enter the pattern. Don’t turn without looking around, spiral, or fuck around taking off your booties (buy some shoe goo instead). Stay aware of the other canopies. Imagine it’s the Dodgems at the fair and everyone is out to get you – it’s your job to avoid trouble way before it happens. Fly a comprehensive, 3-point predictable pattern. Choose the landing area with the least traffic. Time your flight in the pattern so you land alone. Canopy collisions in the landing area are the one of the most frequent causes of death, and they can be avoided if you land alone.

by Nick Davison
by Nick Davison

9. Make smart decisions

Be a grown-up skydiver who thinks for yourself. Avoid the complacency trap. Understand, choose and manage the risks you take. Make your own decisions whether to jump, based on the conditions, the type of jump, and how you feel. Dog tired after a red-eye? Maybe save it for another day. Blocked sinuses? Don’t bother. New DZ with tricky landing area? Try a hop’n’pop.

Be alert. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. If you see someone flying unpredictably, for example, give them a wide berth. If a visiting jumper looks puzzled at the emplaning point, ask if you can help. If people land in opposite directions on the landing area, choose to land somewhere else.

10. Educate yourself

There is a wealth of information available on all aspects of the sport. Search out the information you need and desire. Read incident reports and imagine how you would/could have responded, so you are more prepared if something happens to you. Take responsibility for your own learning. Book canopy courses, progression weeks, good coaching. When you jump out of an aircraft, you are entirely responsible for saving your own life, so it makes sense to be best prepared.

If you have a complex emergency at 2,500 feet your useful life expectancy is 10 seconds – Bryan Burke

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