Jumping at an unfamiliar drop zone can be intimidating, especially to newer skydivers who may have jumped at only one place so far. Jumpers need to approach visiting a new location with caution and planning, whether it is just a weekend jumping out of a Cessna 182 or sharing the skies with hundreds of jumpers at a large boogie. And this caution applies to jumpers of all experience levels.
Many drop zones do a good job with new-jumper orientations and provide a solid briefing that covers all of the necessary information. However, some drop zones don’t do much, leaving it up to the individual to figure out where to land and other critical information.
In addition, during the past three years, USPA has required all of its Group Member drop zones to separate high-performance canopy traffic from those who are flying standard landing patterns. So even if you are an experienced jumper who has traveled extensively, you need to check for new rules and guidelines if you’re going to a DZ that you don’t often visit—maybe the landing area rules have changed.
When you visit a new drop zone, be sure to cover the following before manifesting for your first jump:
- Make sure your USPA membership is current.
- Complete a waiver (be sure to include accurate and up-to-date contact information).
- Make sure your reserve parachute is in date and your main canopy packed within the last 180 days.
- Turn on your automatic activation device (AAD) at the drop zone. If the landing area is in a different location, find out if there is an altitude difference that must be programmed into the AAD.
- Arrange to work with a coach or instructor if you are not current.
- If you are renting or borrowing equipment, get a complete equipment briefing from a rigger or instructor.
- Obtain the current wind conditions, jump run and spotting information.
- View an aerial diagram of the airport, landing area and surrounding land, including areas that you could use for an off-field landing. The diagram should indicate the locations of high-performance and standard landing areas—if you don’t see those areas marked, ask.
- Ask about any neighbor issues. Some drop zones have a nearby “Farmer McNasty” who is not friendly to jumpers landing on his property. It’s good to know ahead of time if there are any off-field areas that you should avoid.
- Make sure you find out if there is a rule that dictates a left- or right-hand canopy-traffic pattern.
- Ask about the aircraft exit order so you know where you should be in the loading process.
- Find out where jumpers load the aircraft: Do they load near the hangar, or do they have to catch a ride to the boarding area?
- Make sure you learn the manifesting rules. (For example, do you need to have a completely packed rig before manifesting? Do you need to be fully geared up at the five-minute call?)
- If the airplane is new to you, get a briefing about seatbelt location, weight and balance, and exit procedures.
Visiting new drop zones, jumping at boogies and experiencing new aircraft is all part of the fun of skydiving. By preparing thoroughly, you’ll be able to enjoy it all as safely as possible.
—Jim Crouch | D-16979
USPA Director of Safety & Training