In a sport that requires correctly functioning equipment for your survival, how much do you really know about your skydiving gear? Each year, fatal and non-fatal accidents stem from issues with skydiving equipment. The vast majority of these could have been avoided had the jumpers simply known more about their gear or performed basic gear checks to discover the problem before boarding or exiting the airplane.
The USPA Integrated Student Program includes information to help students learn more about their equipment before earning an A license. In addition to learning the basics of a gear check, each student learns more during an in-depth gear-inspection training session in category E (best taught by a parachute rigger but that any USPA coach or instructor can cover). However, this is just an introduction to the basics; repeated training sessions and practice doing equipment inspections is necessary for jumpers to retain the information.
Unfortunately, it is not unusual to see new A-license holders immediately employ a packer rather than pack for themselves. These new jumpers may even miss skydives because the packers are backed up and they have never packed for themselves! Every skydiver should have the skills and knowledge necessary to pack and inspect a main parachute, even if they choose to use a packer the majority of the time.
But knowing your gear is more than just the basics of packing the main parachute. You also need to know how it works and what trouble spots to look for. Main closing loops that are too long can cause premature container openings (because the long loop does not create enough tension on the main closing pin). Misrouting or failing to secure a chest strap or the leg straps can allow a jumper to fall out of their gear. Attaching the reserve-static-line clasp incorrectly will render it inoperable. These are all frequent errors that a jumper knowledgeable about gear can easily catch and correct.
Parachute riggers and manufacturers are great resources for information. A couple of training sessions with your rigger can help you to better understand your gear and learn about what you need to look for. A thorough understanding of how your gear works and what you need to look for when packing or inspecting your gear can help you find any issues before they factor into an accident. Keep your mind and eyes open and learn about your gear. It could literally save your life, or even someone else’s.
Jim Crouch | D-16979
USPA Director of Safety & Training