Wingsuit Water Landings

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Water and wingsuits don’t mix …

Author Nikko Mamallo demonstrating a WS water landing
Photo by Zooey Souligny

Intentional or not, landing a parachute into a body of water is dangerous and jumping with a wingsuit can add significant risk. It’s important to act quickly and precisely as there may only be seconds to get free of your gear and get to safety.

Modern wingsuits are designed to scoop in air as they move through the air and they do this really well. Once submerged in water a wingsuit will scoop up and rapidly fill with water, which poses a serious hazard. Even without back fly inlets the water will rush in causing the suit to feel heavy and there will be very little air inside the suit to provide buoyancy.

Any wingsuit in the water will cause significant drag and will move very quickly and forcefully with the slightest of currents. The current can pull you away from rescue or even pull you under the water. It is extremely important to free yourself and to stay upstream of the wingsuit and all other gear in the event of a water landing.

Once submerged in water a wingsuit will scoop up and rapidly fill with water, which poses a serious hazard
Photo by Zooey Souligny

Pre Flight

If you know that you’re jumping in an area that has a potential water hazard, ask yourself some questions:

  • How current are you with jumping, your wingsuit, and your parachute?
  • Can you land comfortably in the LZ?
  • Are you familiar with your emergency equipment – RSL, cutaway, hook knife, and PFD?
  • Are you comfortable with the proximity to water or other hazards?
  • Have you scouted outs near the shore?
  • Do you have a ground crew and do they know what to do if there is a water landing?

If you’re unsure about any of these questions you may want to rethink your jump or find an alternate LZ with more favorable conditions.

Amber Forte, unintentional water landing, 2019

Personal Flotation Devices

If you’re planning a jump where there is a water hazard, you should definitely equip a Personal Flotation Device, or PFD. Using a PFD instead of a flotation aid can greatly extend the time you have to make it out of the water alive.

1, Using your skydiving rig as a flotation aid:

You can use your skydiving rig as a flotation aid in calm water for a short period of time if you have not used your reserve. Your rig will not help you if conditions get rough and this is especially true if your wingsuit is attached. Swimming with a rig that is dragging a wingsuit is difficult and can tire you out very quickly, making a dangerous situation much worse.

2, Putting a flotation aid on your BASE rig:

A BASE rig will not provide any additional buoyancy so you can add a flotation device on the rig to help keep you aloft long enough to get free of your gear. Amber Forte and Espen Fadnes have been using a CO2 inflatable flotation device called Kingii that attaches to their rig to achieve this. They discovered this wearable flotation aid and adapted it to mount to their rig after Amber had a water landing in Loen in 2019 and became aware of the real danger of landing in water. Through test jumps and in water tests they’ve found that this is a suitable and reliable device that can sit on their rigs every day, ready to be used if needed.

Amber Forte after a water landing – now she uses a PFD and knows it’s best to ditch the wingsuit if in water

Espen and I found a small device called Kingii, which holds up to 138kg in water and fixes neatly and discreetly onto the base rig harness. It is made to be used around your wrist, but we created a strap system which holds it nicely in place by the right hand collarbone. We also created an extra strap to make sure that it does not open prematurely, but is still quick and easy to release if needed. We have been jumping with this system now for roughly 30 jumps and do not notice it at all in freefall, it just sits there ready to save us if we need it. It makes me feel much more comfortable when jumping next to water, although I still do not “plan” to land there.

Amber Forte

Wearing a “Type III PFD” under your rig:

The most ideal situation is to wear a CO2 inflatable Type III PFD under your rig. This adds a little bulk and can slightly increase the difficulty of getting your arms out of the harness (if you use a vest-type PFD), but the advantage is you are wearing your PFD once you’re free of your gear, which greatly increases your chance of survival.

If you are traveling on an airline in the US there’s no need to try and find CO2 cartridges at your destination as TSA.GOV states “You may bring a life vest with up to two CO2 cartridges inside, plus two spare cartridges in your carry-on or checked bag.”

One type of CO2 inflatable PFD

Wingsuit Water Landing Procedures

Wingsuit Water Landing Procedures build on the USPA’s Water Landing Procedures in SIM Section 5-1 F and Water Landing Recommendations for Unintentional and Intentional Landings in Water in SIM Section 6-5, so be sure to read those if you haven’t already.

Getting as far out of your wingsuit as you can BEFORE you splash down is the single most important thing for a Wingsuit Water Landing. Squirrel recommends jumping in a wingsuit that can be zipped all the way down from neck to ankles, so the wingsuit is already off and trailing behind you as you enter the water. All Squirrel wingsuits do that, but not all wingsuits completely unzip like this.

If your wingsuit doesn’t zip all the way down or you are unable to unzip completely you may need to kick off your footwear so your legs can come out of the wingsuit after you splash down.

In a modern small surface area wingsuit, it can be extremely hard to pull yourself up out of the water. In a modern mid to large surface area suit the leg wing alone can hold several hundred pounds of water in it when it fills up. This means that being pulled out of the water onto a dock or a boat can be impossible, even with two very strong people lifting you up. You might be able to make it to shore on your own or with help, but you’re not going to rise above the surface of the water without ditching your wingsuit.

After you splash down and get your legs free, you just need to get your arms out of the main lift web and wingsuit sleeves. Doing this can be tricky so it’s a good idea to practice freeing your arms with full gear a few times while seated on the ground. You may want to add this to your practice Emergency Procedures as well.

If you used your reserve or you are jumping BASE gear, Squirrel has a really good article ‘Cut Here in Emergency’ in which they talk about what makes a good hook knife, when to use it, where/how to cut your gear, and their free replacement policy if you end up cutting your SQAD risers in an emergency situation. Definitely worth a read.

Water Landing Incident

Don’t think it can’t happen to you! Recently, Juan Mayer, a very experienced cameraflyer, accidentally landed in water with a wingsuit. Here are images taken from his video, and his description of the incident

Filming a group of wingsuiters flying over the fjords of Norway I ended up landing in the water. It was only a few meters from the coast, but due to the current generated by a river that entered the Fjord, it made me move further and further from the coast. Less than 1 minute after touching the water, the tail of the wingsuit was completely filled with water, which made me slowly start to sink. Feeling this, I cut away my main canopy… then I saw that there were 4 or 5 people filming me with their phones from the coast, so I ask any of them to please jump in to help me get to the coast or at least to stop me sinking. Luckily one of them jumped into the water and helped me to get out. 

Juan Mayer

Juan’s Water Landing

I know perfectly well that there are many things and procedures that I should have done to avoid ending up in this situation, but I share it mainly to raise awareness that landing on the water with a wingsuit is only a matter of a couple of minutes at most for us to start to sink. Without a doubt, in more than 20 years in this sport, it was the most extreme situation and close to being the last one that I have had to live through. 

Juan Mayer
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Meet: Nikko Mamallo

Nikko Mamallo
Jumping since 2013, 2700+ jumps, AFF-I, Squirrel Endorsed Wingsuit Coach

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