Know Your Load

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The best way to deal with a canopy collision is to avoid it. This starts with an awareness of who you’re sharing the sky with and what they are doing…

Don’t just focus on your own group, be aware of the other groups’ intentions
Photo: George Katsoulis

Danger zones

The two most likely times for canopy collisions are towards the beginning and end of the canopy ride. On or around deployment is a potential high risk time. The approach to the landing area is the danger zone, when a collision is most likely and you do not have the luxury of time.

Curt Bartholomew once said the thing he likes least about this sport is that you have to trust people you don’t know not to kill you. Too true. The best defence against this is to get to know those people. This is really important in these post lockdown times. Overall awareness and currency is potentially at an all-time low, so it pays to be extra careful and monitor those around you.

you have to trust people you don’t know not to kill you

Curt Bartholomew
Counting off the canopies means you know where everyone is – no surprises!
Photo by Willy Boeykens

Who is on the load and what are their intentions?

Being aware of the jumpers on your load is the best protection you can have against the risks they add. Suss the load out at the emplaning point. Frequently this is left to the jumpmaster but this is the first step you can take to protect yourself, and others.

  • How many groups are there?
  • How many skydivers (ie, canopies)?
  • What are they doing? (belly, freefly, wingsuit etc)
  • What height are they opening?
  • Who will be upwind/downwind of you on deployment?
  • Will there be two passes or one?
  • For angle/wingsuit group(s), what is their intended flight path?
  • How many camera flyers are there and what’s their deployment altitude?

These questions help you build up a picture of the intended sequence of events up to and including deployments.

It can be wise to have a short dialogue with the group/individual following you out, asking them to leave the appropriate gap (e.g. 8 seconds) for everyone’s safety. This small act could save your life.

Freeflyers visualise too
Sharing the plane means we’ll share the sky too – communicate with the others
Photo by Wendy Smith

Who is most likely to kill you?

Look around and figure out who’s most likely to kill you (in your opinion). The nervous-looking guy on his post-AFF jumps? The belly 2-way that’s following your group? The last angle flyer to join the load? The mature lady with the frap hat and antiquated gear? The solo free flyer? Give this individual a red flag and pay him/her special attention, checking out their intended plan for the dive, and watching vigilantly for your problem child in the air.

There is a great quote by Nicolas Lott, “Every time I hear people sorting out exit order in the loading area, I get the chills when I hear the words ‘solo freefly’. I’ve had multiple close calls from other skydivers drifting above or below me in freefall. I’ve had a jumper leave before me, backslide beneath me and past me, and open on the other side where the next group would have been. These circumstances have had fatal outcomes in the past and we need to do all we can to prevent them.”

Example: Near canopy collision video

A skydiver tracked up the jump run and almost collides with another jumper

Identify everyone on the load

Pick out the other people in your group when tracking; an alarming number of collisions happen between jumpers on the same skydive, even 4-way. On opening, eyeball the group before and after you, then the other flyers. Tick them off on your mental checklist of the load. If you can see everyone you won’t have any unpleasant surprises. If a group or individual is missing, keep your eyes peeled in the relevant direction till you spot them.

As you head to the landing area, maintain your awareness of the other people’s positions. Accentuate your separation. Be aware of the traffic pattern, especially those on either side of you. Knowing where everyone is, is your protection. The majority of collisions happen between people on the same airplane so a simple checklist can be the most important safety precaution there is. If someone has disappeared out of the corner of your eye be aware they will reappear and anticipate the likely area.

Canopy collision video

Canopy Collision above Eloy landing area, caught on video. Fortunately not serious but shows how easily these things can happen…

Land alone

Land alone. Timing your approach so that you stage landings with vertical separation will avoid collision potential. Choosing an area well away from everyone makes a collision almost impossible. We’ve all heard the saying ‘better to walk further than not be able to walk’ – but how many of us follow it – or do we just talk the talk and then land on the grass in front of the clubhouse, with everyone else?

It takes two people to have a collision, it only takes one to avoid it.

Have fun. Be safe. Know your load.

Seeing all the jumpers in the pattern helps everyone land safely
Photo at Skydive Perris by Dennis Sattler

The 2 Ways to Die

This article intentionally focuses on one simple safety premise of knowing who is sharing the sky with you. There is more detailed advice about collision avoidance from Pete Allum here.

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Meet: Lesley Gale

Lesley has been in love with skydiving for 35 years. She is a multiple world and national record holder and a coach on 20 successful record events worldwide. She has over 100 competition medals spanning more than 25 years and has been on the British 8-way National team at World events. She started Skydive Mag to spread knowledge, information and passion about our amazing sport.
Lesley is delighted to be sponsored by Performance Designs, Sun Path, Cypres, Cookie, Symbiosis suits and Larsen & Brusgaard

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