It consistently surprises me how much of my time is spent ensuring that basic safety and awareness in skydiving is fully understood both with my students and with other skydivers on the DZ. This is usually no fault of the individual; they were either not taught at AFF level, or they’ve got complacent after years of “being ok” in the sport.
I personally feel it is my and every other instructor’s duty to take the time to explain a few pointers that each and every skydiver should be looking out for before they jump out of a plane. It should be the responsibility of the skydiver not only to look out for their own safety, but also the safety of skydivers around them.
Here are 10 simple points that should be addressed before and during EACH SKYDIVE. Most of them are common knowledge but in my book, all are important and not to be overlooked.
1. Check your gear thoroughly. Starting with the AAD.
So many people turn it on in the morning and then forget about it on later gear checks. On a busy drop zone that maybe has students and rental gear, it is not uncommon for instructors to show students how to turn an AAD on and off. If you were having a debrief or at lunch when your rig was lying around, be sure it is still turned on before doing you normal gear checks and putting the rig on you back.
2. Check the conditions WITH YOUR OWN EYES.
Jump limits are there for a guideline and used for safety but they definitely do not mean, “the conditions are safe for you.” Be wise and look at ALL of the indicators you have on the ground not just the windsock and local forecast. The cloud type, speed and direction are great indicators for you to assess the wind conditions before each jump, as are any birds in flight. Take the time to watch the canopies from the previous load too. If you sometimes have issues with your canopy flight in different conditions, it may be worth waiting for the second load of the day so you can watch other canopies land before making the decision to jump.
3. Check the conditions WITH YOUR OWN EARS.
Ask theskydivers who were on the last load and perhaps even ground control. Find out the conditions at altitude. What direction and speed is the jump run? From this information you can gage the SOP, how much separation to leave between groups and be confident of a safe tracking direction before deployment.
4. Make a plan for your canopy flight
Use this information to your advantage by making a plan of your skydive. Based on the conditions I know, where should I be exiting? What is my landing pattern going to be? Which areas, if any, will be affected by turbulence? Where are my outs if I need them? Are the conditions within my personal equipment and experience limits?
5. Have your dive plan ready before the boarding area, and stick to it.
Whatever skydive you plan on doing make sure everyone knows the plan before the boarding area. Once there, take the time to ask the other groups what their plan is so you can make an informed decision about exit order BEFORE BOARDING THE AIRCRAFT.
As much as I don't like to see lonely jumpers at the boarding area, be very careful about a solo jumper asking at the boarding area to join your group if you have not jumped with them before. It might be a nice thing to do to let them join you but things go wrong without proper planning and however amazing they might say they are, it usually is not the case. There is always a chance for another jump where they can join and have fun with a proper brief beforehand.
6. Count and assess the other skydivers on the load
Use the time to altitude wisely by gaining information about the traffic you will experience once under canopy. This gets easier as your experience level and awareness increases, however you should start to think about this from very early on in your skydiving career. It makes your canopy flight a lot safer and a whole less stressful.
How many people are jumping out of the plane? Once your canopy is open, counting the canopies and knowing where everyone is (or at least the groups jumping close to you) will help to prevent collisions in the air and also a crowded landing pattern.
What is their experience level? By asking yourself this, you can have an idea of your plan to ensure you don’t arrive at the landing pattern with a lot of other canopies. For example, if the group after you has very small canopies in comparison to yours, it will most likely will be better for you to fly on brakes for a bit and let them land first.
7. Check your gear in the plane.
Take the time to have a look at others too. Why not? You have the time on the way up and pilot chutes and drogues can get dislodged, chest straps and leg straps can be forgotten in a rush. Pins should be checked by another if there is a knock or bump that could dislodge them but usually a visual check of all straps, handles and touching your closing flap carefully to ensure it is place is enough to be sure. I have a fixed altitude of 8000ft to do a quick equipment check so I never forget and usually a main pin flap before exiting.
8. Look before you jump!!!!
You are a skydiver - you are responsible for your own life and the others around you. Do not trust the “jump” light as pilots make errors too and it can cost lives. Make sure you have good separation between groups following the rules of the drop zone. Use the time after the last group jump to get your head out of the aircraft and check the spot.....every time!
Do NOT jump if you are unsure and don’t be tempted to listen to the “big bullies” behind you shouting for you to get out, their mothers probably didn't love them anyway :) It is your decision to jump or not, no one else’s.
9. Turn off the jump run
Flying underneath falling skydivers is never a good idea. Directly after opening, turn your canopy so you are flying perpendicular to the jump run until you see them open.
Using the rear risers to turn your canopy is the fastest way to change direction after deployment. Get into the habit of finding your rear risers quickly because turning your canopy to fly in a safe direction will mean you can rapidly avoid potential canopy collision after deployment.
After turning 90 degrees from the jump run, keep your eyes open for the next group of canopies. Once you are happy you are at a safe distance carry on your flight plan as normal.
10. Create your own space for your landing pattern.
I see so many skydivers spiraling down erratically causing no end of problems for themselves and other jumpers. Why waste the altitude and valuable time in the air? If you watch the canopy flight of the experienced canopy pilots at your DZ, most of their flight is conservative with very few spirals. They make sure they are in safe airspace and the right place for a safe landing whether it is a high performance one or not. Slowing your decent rate down for the initial part of your flight will give you a lot more time to review the traffic and landing pattern. You have paid for the skydive so you might as well get the most out of it.
If you learn how to fly your canopy on different braked configurations, the whole traffic situation becomes a lot safe and easier for everybody. If you are not jumping a small high performance canopy, creating vertical separation between canopies is A LOT easier to do by staying up, rather than trying to spiral down. Think about waiting for other canopies and creating your own space for your landing.
Whether you’re on your AFF or a pro swooper, remember to check off these 10 things for EVERY skydive you do: 1) Check your gear; 2) Check the conditions with your eyes; 3) Check the conditions with your ears; 4) Make a plan; 5) Stick to your plan; 6) Count and assess other skydivers on the load; 7) Check your gear in the plane; 8) Look before you jump; 9) Turn off jump run and 10) Create your own space for landing.
The more confident you are flying your canopy the easier all these things become. Learn about the gear you are jumping, make sure you’re aware of all the safety procedures at your DZ, get current on your canopy and get good coaching from recognized instructors and courses. Knowledge, awareness and confidence are key to survival under canopy.
Here’s to Flying Safer.
- Matt Fogarty