Before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, instructors would need to conduct currency training for only a handful of jumpers each year: Perhaps a novice jumper did not meet the jump-frequency requirements of their A or B license, or a jumper or two needed spring retraining at the end of a long winter. Now, following worldwide drop zone closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of skydivers all at once no longer meet the currency requirements of their licenses. The volume of jumpers who need currency training is unprecedented.
Oftentimes, jumpers breeze through currency training—thinking of going back to skydiving as “just like riding a bike”—and don’t spend much time preparing for the jump. And every year, jumpers hurt themselves at the beginning of the season and right after long layoffs from the sport. But even though jumpers clearly need safety refreshers after taking a break from the sport, there’s a startling lack of standardization of currency training at DZs around the world, and many instructors don’t take currency training very seriously. Fortunately, the skydiving industry now has an opportunity to look at currency training in detail. Perhaps this situation will create a paradigm shift in the industry, one that will improve how instructors think of and conduct currency training.
One of the reasons USPA developed Safety Day was to minimize the number of injuries that occur from jumpers being rusty after seasonal layoffs. However, simply attending a few Safety Day seminars is not equivalent to true currency training. Instructors should structure currency training carefully, using proven techniques and academic strategies to help the skydiver get back to their level of competency. The uncurrent skydiver’s experience level will dictate what kind of jump they will make following their ground training. Most commonly, an uncurrent but licensed jumper will perform the A-license check dive (found in section 3-2 of the USPA Skydiver’s Information Manual). Those who are still students will either repeat their last jump, repeat a jump earlier in their progression or start all over again, depending on how uncurrent they are and how far they had progressed before the layoff.
The foundation of any currency jump is the information found in Category A of SIM Section 4, which contains the training outline for the first-jump course. Category B can also serve as a basic outline for general review. Although the SIM provides starting points, an instructor must put together a full retraining curriculum, which should include an introduction, ground training, academic review, dive plan, rehearsals, jump and debrief. It’s important to hold these sessions in a suitable learning environment with all the applicable tools—syllabus, SIM, multimedia items, training harness, parachute system, etc.—available and ready for use.
Before starting the currency training itself, the instructor must determine how long the jumper’s layoff was and why it occurred. At this time, most jumpers will need the training due to layoffs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but if there were concurrent reasons such as an injury, it will affect how the instructor proceeds. If, for example, a jumper had been struggling with canopy control prior to a layoff caused by a landing injury, an instructor will want to address this in the retraining.
The ground course for returning skydivers should be comprehensive and include aircraft procedures (loading, seatbelts, key altitudes for aircraft emergencies, lights or buttons, opening the door) equipment (gear checks, maintenance, canopy selection, wing loading, packing), exits (spotting and calculating freefall and canopy drift, exiting procedures and exit order), freefall (body position, recovery from unusual attitudes, turns, reading the altimeter), tracking and deployment, malfunctions, canopy control and landing (the pattern, collision avoidance, turbulence, off landings, emergency landings, parachute landing falls). The review should include lifesaving protocols (pull priorities, altimeter checks and landing priorities) and responses to malfunctions, including decision altitudes. The ground course is also when the instructor should introduce the dive plan, which should include the canopy portion of the skydive, as well as the freefall. The canopy-control portion should be specific to the drop zone. The jumper should practice the dive plan, both while vertical and while horizontal, until they perform it perfectly.
The ground training should also serve as a review of the Integrated Student Program (SIM Section 4), Basic Safety Requirements (SIM Section 2), the general skydiving information in SIM Section 5 and the Federal Aviation Regulations found in SIM Section 9. To confirm the jumper’s understanding of the material, the instructor may want to administer a written test (such as one of the license tests) or an oral examination taken from the ISP categories quizzes.
All this training leads to the skydive itself. Prior to boarding the plane, the instructor should rehearse the entire skydive (including practice handle touches) with the jumper. They should discuss breakoff and tracking, the spot, the landing pattern, exit order, weather and risk management. The instructor should also consider assigning the jumper a higher-than-normal deployment altitude.
Once the jump is complete, the instructional rating holder should conduct a thorough debrief. If the jump was acceptable, the instructor should sign the jumper’s logbook and inform the Safety and Training Advisor or DZ manager that the jumper has met the requirements. If the jumper did not meet the currency requirements, the instructor should inform the S&TA and discuss a plan to get the jumper to a safe level of proficiency.
It’s important, as we all return to the air, to not treat a currency jump as just another skydive. Approach it as a comprehensive training program that gets the skydiver focused, situationally aware, informed and prepared to skydive safely with their skydiving family. The process will protect not only the skydiver, but everyone who shares the sky with them.
About the Author
North Central Regional Director Michael Wadkins, D-18691, is the chair of the USPA Safety & Training Committee. He is a Coach Examiner and an AFF, Tandem, Static-Line and IAD Instructor Examiner and owns Xcelskydiving instructor rating school.