Some jumpers disconnect their reserve static lines—including the type of RSL known as a MARD (main-assisted reserve deployment device, often called by one of the brand names, SkyHook)—in certain circumstances or when taking part in certain disciplines. Both types work in similar ways—when a jumper cuts away, the RSL lanyard pulls the reserve pin immediately—but the MARD uses the cut-away main canopy as the pilot chute and tends to extract the reserve more quickly than a standard RSL. Whether you’ve made disconnecting the RSL or MARD a part of your routine on certain jumps or whether you’re just thinking about adding it to your routine, there are a number of scenarios you should consider:
Tandem Canopies in High Winds
Tandem instructors frequently disconnect their RSLs/MARDs when landing in high winds (especially if there is not a “catcher” on the ground to help them collapse the canopy after touching down) for fear of being dragged. This is a legitimate concern, but so are low-altitude collisions with another canopy or a tandem student pulling the cutaway handle, times at which an RSL/MARD could very well be a lifesaver. Tandem instructors should consider whether the risks of being dragged in high winds offset the risks of a low-altitude cutaway. Consider that if you land on your bum in high winds without a catcher, you can pull a toggle in, and if that doesn’t work, you can still disconnect your RSL/MARD and cut away. In the other scenario, a low collision or accidental cutaway, you cannot re-attach it.
Water training is a survival skill every skydiver should have, even if your drop zone is nowhere near water. You never know when you will visit a beach drop zone or attend a boogie that is near a lake or river. During water training, you learn to disconnect the RSL/MARD in case the main canopy needs to be cut away after splashing down. You should do this under canopy once you know you’ll land in water, but if you forget and you’re in the water already, you should disconnect the RSL/MARD prior to cutting away so that your reserve parachute doesn’t deploy and entangle with or drag you. Additionally, a packed reserve will float for 45 minutes or more, so it’s best to keep it that way.
Canopy Formation—Contact and Non-Contact
In traditional canopy formation skydiving, participants generally disconnect their RSL/MARDs because canopy entanglements are fairly common, and they want to be able to get clear after cutting away before the reserve deploys. Although the risk of entanglement also exists on non-contact, high-performance canopy formation jumps, an entanglement in this scenario can be so violent and the altitude loss so rapid that participants may want an immediate activation of the reserve after cutting away. These jumpers can also find themselves in a lot of traffic at lower altitudes, which argues for using an RSL/MARD because of the increased likelihood of a low-altitude collision and cutaway. Certainly, the pros and cons of either choice are debatable, so participants need to balance the risks of using an RSL/MARD during a high-performance canopy formation with the chances that it will be a lifesaver. Jumpers should decide which outcome they feel is more likely, honestly assess whether they have enough awareness to react appropriately in various situations and train their procedures, whether that’s disconnecting before jumping or disconnecting during a particular scenario.
Entanglement with Equipment
Even in this new era of snag-minimizing camera helmets and equipment, jumpers find themselves without the cleanest of setups (or just get unlucky) and have an entanglement between the pilot-chute bridle or main-canopy lines and the equipment. For this reason, it’s wise to think through and practice the procedures for releasing equipment such as a camera helmet in the event of an entanglement, so the first time you do it is not in the air. After the equipment release, if altitude allows, jumpers should disconnect the RSL/MARD, cut away, clear their airspace and deploy the reserve. Also consider a similar scenario: your pilot chute or bridle entangling with another skydiver. Again, if altitude allows, disconnect the RSL/MARD, cut away, clear airspace and deploy the reserve.
Skydiving is an ever-growing sport that requires our members to grow with it, and the RSL/MARD is a proven (and improving) life-saving device. Even jumpers with tiny, high-performance canopies have found that MARDs will deploy their reserves blazingly quickly and on heading, even after cutting away from a violently spinning malfunction. And even if their reserves have issues when they open, at least they have a little extra altitude in which to resolve it.
So, before disconnecting your RSL or MARD, strongly consider all the scenarios and probabilities. Whether you’re an experienced or inexperienced skydiver, do the research, learn the facts, read the incident reports and speak openly about the situations you’ve encountered to better inform yourself so that you make the best decision about whether and when to disconnect your RSL/MARD in any given situation.
Timothy Parrant | USPA D-34622
Tandem Instructor and Alter Ego Canopy Instructor