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Safety Check | Downsizing

by Jim Crouch

Safety Check | July 2018

“When can I downsize to a smaller main canopy?” This is probably the most commonly asked question at every drop zone around the world. It seems like everyone—from newly licensed jumpers to those with thousands of skydives—wants to jump a smaller parachute. The answer to the question is tricky and can mean the difference between an uneventful experience and a serious injury or even fatality.   

As jumpers gain experience, the culture at most drop zones drives them toward smaller parachutes. Just got your A license? You need a smaller parachute. Just made your 100th jump? You need a smaller parachute. And so it goes, as your peers push you to go smaller and smaller. Unfortunately, someone who does not really understand much about canopy flight or your skill level under your current parachute may be providing that advice. Your best bet for getting time-tested and wise advice is to read Skydiver’s Information Manual Section 6-10, which provides general guidelines for those who are interested in downsizing. 

First, nobody needs to downsize to a smaller parachute. Jumpers interested in pursuing high-performance canopy flight for competition or simply because they enjoy it may be willing to accept the additional risks that come with flying at a higher wing loading. But downsizing just because someone told you it is time to do so is not a good reason. Don’t fall into the trap of peer pressure dictating your canopy progression. The article “Five Things to Ask Yourself Before Downsizing” by Melissa Garcia and Ella Ran on behalf of canopy manufacturer Performance Designs in the September 2014 issue of Parachutist points out that many jumpers don’t seem to have a reason for downsizing. The authors state, “When someone who is thinking of downsizing approaches the PD staff, the first thing the staff member asks them is, ‘Why do you want to downsize?’ You’d be surprised at how many people don’t know how to answer this question.” 

If you are having difficulties flying and landing your current parachute, moving to a smaller one will probably amplify your current mistakes. It is common to hear a jumper who has inconsistent landings, poor accuracy or unruly landing patterns blame the parachute or wind conditions when the real cause is pilot error. Become the master of your current parachute before you move to a smaller size. Smooth, consistently soft, stand-up landings, predictable landing patterns and landing accurately in a variety of wind conditions are just a few of the skills you should master before moving to a smaller parachute or a different planform. On the Performance Design channel on YouTube, the short video “Shannon Pilcher on Downsizing” provides great advice. Pilcher, a founding member of the PD Factory Team, recommends that jumpers have complete control in a variety of conditions before considering a smaller or faster parachute. He says, “If I can’t fly [my parachute] in a whole series of various situations that I can be confronted with, then I have no business really downsizing or changing models to something sportier or faster.” 

If you truly want to move to a faster parachute, work toward that goal in a sensible manner. Speak with your Safety and Training Advisor and review Section 6-10 of the SIM for guidance. Seek the advice and training of skilled canopy coaches and create a plan that includes short-term and long-term goals to help you keep the training on track.   

Jim Crouch | D-16979
USPA Director of Safety & Training

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