The Silent Killer

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In the fast and fun world of skydiving, where adrenaline rushes and heart-pounding moments are common, there exists a silent but deadly threat that often goes unnoticed until it’s too late…


Complacency arises when skydivers become overly comfortable or accustomed to the risks associated with the sport. This false sense of security can lead individuals to lower their guard, neglect safety protocols, and/or underestimate hazards – and the consequences can be catastrophic.

Complacent skydivers are almost never aware they are being complacent

Parachutes malfunction more frequently if jumpers fail to regularly check and maintain the condition of lines, pilot chute and other essentials – a sign of complacency
Image by Dennis Sattler

The Insidious Nature of Complacency

This isn’t the first article about complacency, and it won’t be the last. So why refer to complacency as a silent threat, when it’s already well known within the sport that complacency kills? Unlike other risks that are visible and immediate, complacency sneaks in silently, masked behind a facade of familiarity and confidence. Complacency doesn’t manifest overnight; it builds up slowly over time as skydivers become more confident in their skills and more comfortable around risk. This gradual onset makes it difficult for individuals to identify when they are becoming complacent until it’s too late. Complacent skydivers are almost never aware they are being complacent. 

Understanding the dangers and traits of complacency is crucial for being able to identify complacency when – not if – it presents itself in you or your community. 

Only a complacent skydiver would pack a rig with such a worn closing loop – this could break at any time, with potentially hideous consequences

Three Ways Complacency Creeps In

  1. Routine behaviors
  2. False sense of security and overconfidence
  3. Normalization of risk.

Let’s look at each of these in more detail…

1 – Routine behaviors

Routine behaviors refer to the habitual actions and procedures that skydivers engage in before, during, and after each jump. While routines are essential for maintaining consistency and efficiency, they can also become a breeding ground for complacency if mindlessly performed without concentration. Let’s look at a few areas where these routine behaviors occur.

Preflight equipment checks: Before each jump, a thorough gear check should be performed. This ritual is a crucial step to ensure our gear is safe and ready to jump – but it can become routine to the point that skydivers just ‘go through the motions’ without fully engaging their attention or focus. Complacent skydivers might rush these checks, or perform them half-heartedly assuming everything is in order without conducting a thorough check. Some may even forgo gear checks entirely. (Read more on common issues with gear checks)

Emergency procedures: Reviewing and rehearsing our responses to emergencies such as malfunctions is an imperative part of preparing for each jump. However, this can often be overlooked by complacent skydivers who may assume– incorrectly – that such scenarios are unlikely to occur or may underestimate the urgency of knowing how to respond quickly and correctly. They may also assume that the initial training and learning that occurred when they were students or novices, without frequent refreshing, will suffice in an emergency situation.

Canopy handling: Once we deploy, it can be tempting to just head back to the dropzone so we can quickly land and do it all again on the next load. But are we engaging in our due diligence for every component of canopy flight? Do you do a thorough canopy control check on every single jump? Are you continually scanning your airspace for other jumpers? Are you making necessary adjustments to create separation above pattern altitudes, and while flying the pattern? Are you checking the wind strength and direction?

Are you taking gear checks seriously or just going through the motions?
Image by Rob Lloyd

2 – False sense of security and overconfidence

As individuals gain experience in skydiving, they may develop overconfidence in their skills and abilities. This can lead to underestimating risks and neglecting proper safety precautions that leave them vulnerable to accidents. Complacent skydivers may exhibit an unjustified sense of invincibility, dismissing warning signs, and believing accidents or mishaps won’t happen to them. This mindset is more common than you might think. For example, it’s quite typical to hear skydivers discuss a recent incident and say things like, “Well, that person did <ABC dumb thing>, they should have done <XYZ smart thing>.” They believe, “I wouldn’t do that dumb thing, so that won’t happen to me.” This illusion of superior judgment can lead to a false sense of security. 

It is important to remember that devising the ideal response to an incident is much easier in hindsight, especially in a relaxed environment on the ground, when there’s no stress. Plus you have likely already seen/discussed one incorrect response you can rule out, otherwise you likely wouldn’t even be talking about it. (This doesn’t only apply to skydiving – have you seen the movie “Sully?”)

It’s crucial to recognize that when you’re faced with an emergency, you don’t have the luxury of time and already-ruled-out answers, so things can look quite different. Your best defense against being an incident statistic isn’t how well you can pick apart situations after the fact; it’s actively learning from those incidents and training your brain to react correctly to the myriad of various scenarios we can find ourselves in.

Making jumps in conditions beyond your skill level is a sign of complacency
Image by Spencer Bailey

3 – Normalization of risk

Skydivers often love to embrace challenges and push boundaries – just look at how the sport has evolved and continues to evolve! But this can lead to risk-taking being normalized, leading skydivers to downplay the inherent dangers that are present. When the inherent perilous nature of skydiving no longer fazes a skydiver and complacency creeps in, the skydiver may start to take unnecessary risks such as performing advanced maneuvers without proper training, or making jumps in conditions beyond their skill level. 

The presence of any or a combination of these factors can leave individuals vulnerable to accidents. The first line of defense against complacency is to be aware of how it can manifest within our behaviors and mindset when jumping, and to have checks and balances in place within ourselves to safeguard us against complacency.

if left unchecked, these behaviors can quickly snowball into an ingrained complacency mindset, significantly increasing the risk of incidents

Respecting and checking your altitude shows a lack of complacency
Image by Gustavo Cabana Imaging

Three Ways To Guard Against Complacency

  1. Self-reflection
  2. Continuous training
  3. Mindfulness practice

1 – Self-reflection

Regularly take time to reflect on your mindset, behaviors, and attitudes towards skydiving. Be honest with yourself about any overconfidence, complacency in routine behaviors, or lapses in attention to safety. Complacency exists on a scale – it’s not as simple as either being complacent or not. If you notice a complacent action in your own behavior, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are entirely complacent, but it serves as a warning sign to proceed with caution.

Identifying and addressing these instances contributes to becoming a safer skydiver in the long run. However, if left unchecked, these behaviors can quickly snowball into an ingrained complacency mindset, significantly increasing the risk of incidents.

It’s important to reflect on small errors such as forgetting to close your visor, to prevent this lackadaisical behavior spilling over into more dangerous territory
Image by Denis Zhuravkov

2 – Continuous training

Regularly refreshing your skills and knowledge helps combat complacency by reinforcing safety practices and maintaining awareness of potential risks. Refresh and rehearse your emergency procedures, canopy flight drills, hazardous landing protocols, and aircraft safety drills. Further your education and understanding of your canopy, and your chosen discipline(s). Seek out education and guidance from experienced jumpers and experts. 

Never stop learning!

Keep educating yourself, book canopy courses, skills camps, progression weeks
Image, by Flight-1, shows F-1 instructor Phil Webley running a canopy course

3 – Mindfulness practice

Incorporate mindfulness into your routines to cultivate present-moment awareness and attention to detail. Stay grounded in the here-and-now, rather than allowing your mind to wander or become preoccupied with distractions. For example, rather than giving your gear a quick glance over to see if anything stands out as glaringly wrong – slow down your gear checks, thoroughly check each individual component with care and attention, ensuring it is serviceable and ready to safely jump. 

Got distracted halfway through? Start over!

This incorrectly routed 3-ring passed many gear checks before it was discovered – evidence of the need for more thorough, mindful gear checks

Conclusion: Stay Humble and Stay Safe

Stay vigilant, and if you notice any complacent behaviors present in your actions, take accountability. See it as a warning sign to slow down and refocus on safety. Complacency poses a silent yet insidious threat to skydivers and the community, gradually undermining safety often without jumpers being aware.

By recognizing the signs of complacency and adopting proactive measures to combat it, skydivers can enjoy the sport longer in safer skies. Above all, remember to stay humble and respect the inherent risks in the sport, as even the most seasoned skydivers are not immune to accidents. 

Stay humble, stay safe, enjoy the sport longer
Image: Christy West by Thad Parker
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Meet: Rosy Booker

Rosy is the lead AFF Instructor and Safety & Training Advisor at Skydive Spaceland San Marcos, and a Coach and AFF-I Evaluator with The Ratings Center. She has also taught AFF in Australia and New Zealand, and was a Military Free Fall jumper and Static Line Instructor in the Australian Army. Rosy is committed to elevating safety standards and fostering skill development through education and training. 

Rosy is proudly sponsored by LB Altimeters and Cookie.

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