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Sink or SWIM?!

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If you land in water, can you swim in gear and a weight belt?

Paul ‘Simba’ Marcellin decided to run a personal experiment to find out how easy – or hard – that might be…

Jumping over potential water hazards – sea, river and canals
Photo: Mikey Carpenter over Empuriabrava by Gustavo Cabana

Water landing and swimming experiment 

I have jumped over water many times and have always fancied myself to be able to manage the situation – for no other reason than assumed ability. 

Making a bunch of jumps over Empuriabrava, Spain where we were frequently jumping overhead potential water hazards got me thinking about whether my assumption is reasonable…

… or not?! 🤔

The interesting thing about Empuria is that, if you elected to land in water, you’d be likely to be fully occupied managing the canopy all the way to splashdown. This is because of the canal and road system that one would have to navigate to the safest possible landing; meaning there would be little time to take hands of toggles and manage peripheral equipment.

I always wear my lead belt below my jumpsuit, (for performance and safety reasons that I believe pretty strongly in),  never worrying too much because I’m confident that I could extract it from inside my suit and dump it well before a landing. 

However it struck me that in a place like Empuria – or in any place where for some reason I’ve had a low opening – that I might be so busy with navigating the canopy, that I may very well not have time to get a belt out and drop it. 

In addition, I think it is fair to consider that flying above the streets of Empuria there is something highly unethical about dropping a 5kg sack of lead. Really.

Therefore the intriguing question:

How well could I swim with all my gear on?


Preparation – main removed, AAD removed, reserve is packed, reserve pilot chute stored in main container, field packed after removing CYPRES

Ok, so my Cypres had been removed from my gear for its service cycle, the weather was spectacular and the pool had not been used since last season.

On top of that my Saturday plans had been cancelled at short notice so I had less to do than I thought.

All a good recipe for some decent safety experimentation I reckoned; so I decided to test.

Here’s the skinny…



Simba, ready for the experiment – main cut away, weight belt under jumpsuit, booties off
  • Jumper (me) – with 2 previous water landings and not a particularly good swimmer
  • summer clothing (shorts and tee-shirt)
  • FS jumpsuit
  • Socks and trainers
  • 4.5kg lead belt, inside of jumpsuit
  • Javelin rig with reserve packed in and the main detached (as I would expect to have cut away the main after landing in the water)
  • No helmet (I would consider this dropped before landing)
  • No altis or other peripheral equipment – I’m not that dedicated to this experiment! 
  • Calm and clear water


Basically, there are two possible ways I could land in the water:

  1. Booties off the toes, but otherwise loose (this is my normal way of landing)
  2. Booties on

For a while I considered a ‘Booties off the toes and rolled tight up the shins’ configuration as a third option, but I realised that this would take quite some time under canopy, and it would likely unroll down the leg within a few kicks in the water.

The test

Attempt to swim in each of the two configurations in my home pool.
Try to follow the standard procedures taught for water landing, ie:

  • Chest strap off
  • Leg straps loose after landing
  • Exit the harness and swim away

Then, see how far I could swim with my clothes and lead on.

I had no idea what would constitute success specifically, but I reckoned 4 or 5 lengths (about 50 – 60m) would give me some reason to be hopeful about the prospects for future survival.

It was surprisingly easy to swim in full gear, even with the weight belt


  • Floating and swimming with full kit – the harness / container including the lead belt – is generally much easier than I expected, although slow. There is no point trying to swim fast with so much drag
  • Swimming with the harness on with leg-straps tight and leg-straps loose is about the same experience
  • Getting out of the harness is not easy at all – and in fact takes a lot of energy and head below water, twisting and turning. All rather unsatisfactory and, I think, dangerous
  • And, surprisingly, it is much easier to swim with the harness on (with reserve packed in) than without it. The container acts as a pretty substantial buoyancy! [Note that in the event of landing in water after a reserve ride, the container would likely not act as a flotation device, since it is the reserve canopy holding air that provides the lift.]
  • Swimming with booties over the toes is more difficult because it produces less forward drive in the kick, ie, it is less effective
The gear floats (with reserve packed in) and is effective as buoyancy for quite some time

My conclusions

These are conclusions I drew for myself and not intended to be recommendations or an overruling of any Ops Manual or SIMS. But, having learnt now what I did in my personal swimming test, should I be heading for the drink [water landing] in future I will: 

  • Not worry about my lead before I land (and not change my preference of positioning it underneath my jumpsuit before take-off)
  • Ensure my booties are off my toes before I land
  • Upon landing cut away from main and move swiftly away. To me this is a priority before worrying about leg-straps, lead or anything else at all
  • Not try to exit my harness, but swim with it until it becomes a ‘liability’ – I guess this will take about 10 minutes at least in calm waters
  • If I am far from shore, I will then work my lead out from under my jumpsuit and ditch it. If I am close to shore, I may just stick with it and swim

All of the above assumes calm water. I think that if I knew I was on my way into turbulent water (say open ocean) then I’d work harder to ditch my lead before landing – which should be easier because less concern about accuracy, such as getting a canopy into a narrow canal – and thereafter I would do as stated above.

NB: This was a personal test only, with the findings shared for the information of other qualified skydivers, to assist their general knowledge about the sport. The conclusions related to my personal circumstances only, and are not intended to constitute advice for others. As grown-up skydivers, we are all responsible for making our own safety and equipment choices.

Further reading – safety articles

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Meet: Paul Marcellin

Simba aka Paul Marcellin - maternally Scottish, paternally French and by all other measures South African.
Primarily focussed on FS4 and FS8, represented SA in both on a number of occasions. AFF instructor with 6000 jumps.
Lucky participant on the WorldTeam 400-way and somewhat surprised to have become a LO. Faking it until they find out I don’t know what I’m doing :).

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