A properly sized and adjusted harness-and-container is essential to your safety both in freefall and under canopy. It’s likely that many jumpers who are reading this right now are in real danger of coming out of their harnesses during their next skydives and don’t even realize it. There are two basic reasons a harness-and-container system fits a skydiver poorly:
• The harness is not sized correctly for the person jumping it.
• The harness is the correct size, but the jumper did not adjust it properly.
In most cases, a jumper is using an improperly sized harness because they bought a used parachute system made for someone with a completely different body type. Mike Gruwell, owner of the Chuting Star skydiving equipment store, works with many jumpers buying used parachute systems. He says, “Understanding that each sport harness is custom built to a set of body measurements is critical when considering a used container. It doesn’t matter how good the deal is on the used container if it doesn’t fit you.”
The proper fit of a harness involves more than just the length of the main lift webs. Purchasers need to consider the width of the yoke and the length of the lower lateral straps. Gruwell says, “While most harnesses can be resized, there is a limit to adjusting the size of the harness based on the original build of the container yoke. So, if your plan is to have the harness resized, find out from the manufacturer if the harness can be resized to your measurements. You’ll need to provide the serial number of the rig and your measurements to the manufacturer to see if the harness can be modified to fit you properly.”
Gruwell recommends doing some research, saying, “By contacting the manufacturer with the rig’s serial number, you can find out the body measurements of the original owner. It doesn’t have to be a perfect match, but usually plus or minus two inches on height, plus or minus 15 pounds in weight and plus or minus two inches on other measurements should work, depending on the combination. Manufacturers customize each harness to correctly fit a specific body type, and your body type might be very different even if you seem to be close to the same height and weight as the previous owner, so be sure to arrange to try the rig on to check for a correct fit as a requirement before the sale is completed.”
Gruwell continues, “In general, once the rig is on with the chest strap and leg straps tightened down, you want the main lift webs to come fairly straight down your body to your hips. If the main lift webs are slanting to your backside too much, your cutaway and reserve handles will end up under your armpits, making them difficult to reach. The leg straps should tighten down to the point of being slightly uncomfortable to walk in, and the padding should meet or have just a small gap of unpadded leg strap against the leg. Too much gap can make it uncomfortable during the deployment and while descending under canopy. If they reach the limit of tightening without being tight around the thigh, the rig will not stay on your torso properly. In extreme examples, this can lead to not being able to reach the main deployment handle or even falling out of the rig. If possible, suspend yourself in the rig as if you’re under canopy by hanging from a training device. Or have some strong friends lift you by the main risers to see if the harness will shift much.”
Just as important as choosing a rig with a correctly sized harness is properly adjusting the leg straps and chest strap. An improperly adjusted harness is particularly noticeable—and surprisingly common—on sit-flying jumpers. When the leg straps are adjusted improperly they allow the lower laterals to move backward and the leg straps to slide down toward the knees, causing the container to pull far away from the jumper’s back and the emergency handles to move into the armpit area. In this situation, a premature deployment could easily eject a jumper from the harness. Adjusting the leg straps properly can help jumpers avoid this situation. A jumper can also attach a bungee cord between the leg straps to help them stay in place while sit-flying.
Gruwell gives this advice about adjusting the harness: “The harness on a rig is designed to be worn tight so the rig doesn’t shift around while you skydive, on opening, during a malfunction or under canopy. Jumping a custom rig doesn’t mean you can then wear the straps however you want. If there is a common error in how a rig is worn by a new jumper, it’s that the leg straps aren’t tightened down all the way. The rig should be slightly uncomfortable to walk around in when tightened down correctly. While some rigs are more comfortable than others when tightened down, the critical thing on the leg straps is that they are tightened down without slack to move around.”
If you plan to buy a new-to-you used harness and container, do your research to make sure the harness size is correct or can be corrected. Then, don’t forget to correctly adjust the leg straps and chest strap. It takes just a second to ensure everything is right. Check with a parachute rigger—or better yet, the manufacturer—to make sure the rig suits you. There is more to it than you think, and it could literally save your life.
Jim Crouch | D-16979
USPA Director of Safety & Training