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safety : Canopy Control : When Should You Upsize Your Canopy

When Should You Upsize Your Canopy

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At the end of the day, skydiving is a dangerous sport. Iíve lost many friends and even family membersĖ under properly functioning parachutes. We canít regulate stupid behavior, but we can at least spread good information so more people can make wise decision.

So why would someone consider upsizing?

10. Cannot land consistently standing up. If youíre having troubles standing up consistently or even in the same area in all weather conditions, then you need to upsize and take a canopy course to understand the concepts basic flight characteristics.

9. Not current. You can be uncurrent after a winter vacation without skydiving, coming off an injury or just life getting in the way. According to USPA, you are uncurrent if:

  • A-license holders who have not jumped within 60 days
  • B-license holders who have not made a freefall skydive within the preceding 90 days C- and D-license holders who have not made a freefall skydive within the preceding six months
  • DZ policy: Every DZ has their own policy for uncurrent skydivers. Be sure to check in with them before coming out to the DZ to see what you may have to do. Also check the USPA Skydiverís Information Manual for more info.

8. Jumping at a Higher Elevation. At higher elevations the canopy is going to perform faster and act more responsive because of the air being less dense. So landings will feel faster and turns will feel more aggressive. If youíre traveling to places like Colorado or Utah, you may want to pack a larger canopy.

7. Gained Weight/Wearing Weight. Well, what can I say? Sometimes during the winter, itís easy to pack on some pounds and that invariably negotiates your wingloading. Also, if you havenít jumped all winter and youíve accumulated a new wingloading, you may want to consider getting current on a bigger canopy.

Next, if youíre a small girl, or decide to get on a 4-way team, you may be wearing weights. This added weight will definitely make your canopy fly differently than expected. So before making a decision on what canopy to buy or whether or not to downsize, consider the use of weights to make the best wingloading decision for your experience.

6. Reserve Size. Generally, your main and reserve should be about the same size. If you were quick to downsize or couldnít find the right sized container, but have a larger reserve, with little experience under a bigger canopy, may be a good reason to upsize your main. (Having the same sized canopies also reduces other problems should 2 canopies out occur.)

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5. Types of Jumps. Doing big ways? Wingsuiting? Demos? Some jumps may warrant a bigger parachute. When I do world record jumps, I usually opt for my bigger canopy so Iím not fighting my way through traffic and have a larger range of floating. Wingsuiting can cause line twists or other malfunctions and jumping a more docile canopy can help you negotiate them better. On demos, having a lower wingloading will give you more range to negotiate smaller landing areas or areas surrounded by obstacles Ė as long as you understand the flight dyamics of your wing.

4. Age/Health/Agility. Take an inventory of your overall health. How are your knees? Wrists? Ankles? Eyesight? Depth perception? Reaction Time? These may be considerations to upsize.

3. Attitude/Experience. Someoneís overall experience and attitude about the safety of themselves and others is a vital component in skydiving safety. Disregard for your own experience and/or safety is an obvious sign to upsize.

2. Because You Downsized and You Shouldnít Have. Having inconsistent landings? Not standing up your landings? Stabbing out your flare? Landing by touching down on your knees first then popping up to your feet thinking it was an awesome swoop? Spiraling in traffic cause itís freakiní fun on a small canopy when not necessary? Scared of line twists? Having a hard time kicking out of line twists? Not paying attention to others in the sky? Land downwind for fun? Donít follow a landing pattern? What the hell is a landing pattern? Donít understand the flight characteristics of your wing? Pretty much donít follow the rules?

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1. Finally, if you cannot answer yes to all of these questions, you need to upsize:

  • Can you land your main crosswind?
  • Are you comfortable landing crosswind?
  • Can you land your main downwind?
  • Are you comfortable landing downwind?
  • If you had to land out and the only option was a tight area surrounded by obstacles, do you know you could land your canopy accurately?
  • Do you feel that you completely understand the flight characteristics of your wing?
  • Do you understand what happens to the flare, landing pattern, stall characteristics and overall flight characteristics when you downsize?
  • Have you used your rear risers & do you know why and when youíd need to use them?
  • Have you used your front risers & do you know why and when youíd need to use them?
  • Have you performed braked turns? Braked turns for landing?
  • Can you land within 10 meters of a target center at least 5 times in a row?
  • Did you take a canopy course beyond the B-license requirements?

When I first started skydiving, I was young and pretty much invincible. I was on the fast track to get on a small canopy and go fast! And itís all fun, until you get hurt or you watch someone die. Iíd seen a lot of crazy things (especially people ďgetting awayĒ with bad decisions) in my 20-year career, but in 2003, I witnessed my fatherís fatal canopy collision. Then without your permission, things change.

Itís amazing how death will completely transform your perspective on safety, especially when the sport is your livelihood.

We spend more time under canopy than we do in freefall, so this is a moment to check in and evaluate how much canopy education have you gotten? My dad used to tell me, ďtake stock into your destiny.Ē So, take that Flight 1 course youíve always wanted to, finish your B-license canopy training, ask questions, and just know, there ainít no shame to upsize that thang!

How at risk are you?

Below is a canopy risk calculator that was created by the USPA, which can give you an idea of just how big of a safety risk you're at with your current canopy and experience level

Useful Resources

Barry Williams on Canopy Safety (Skydive Elsinore 2013 Safety Day) [Video]

Barry Williams on Canopy & DZ Safety (Skydive Elsinore 2012 Safety Day) [Video]

Performance Design's "Survival Skills for Canopy Control"

Contributors: Melissa Lowe, Barry Williams and Jason Moledzki

About Melissa Lowe:

Melissa Lowe (formally Melissa Nelson) is a 3rd generation skydiver logging 10,500+ jumps. She's an 11-time world record holder as well as an AFF-Instructor and Load Organizer. Melissa is also a Private Pilot and published author. She currently lives in Utah and blogs at

By Melissa Lowe, Barry Williams and Jason Moledzki on 2014-02-25 | Last Modified on 2017-01-30

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.  | Votes: 11 | Comments: 14 | Views: 72025


voilsb  2014-02-25

Interesting calculator. I haven't jumped in 9 months. It says I'm "average risk" under my Storm 150 @1.4, but "high risk" under my Silhouette 210 at 1:1. I'm still going to jump the 210 for my recurrency.

cptchaos  2014-02-25

just a point I'm wandering about. in point 8 the article mentions that Canopies respond faster at altitude due to denser Air at Altitude. I am only an intermediate Skydiver, but my understanding is that air is less dense at altitude, not more. This is why canopies fall faster and are thusly more responsive. am I wrong?

naystcb  2014-02-25

Uh, it says air is denser at higher elevations??? I thought air was thinner at higher elevations.

Meso  2014-02-25
5 out of 5 stars

More than likely a typo by the author, I will correct the article so that the phrasing correctly relates to the point being made.

Marcossifu  2014-02-25
5 out of 5 stars

awesome !!! very very good article !!!

JeffCa  2014-02-26

The calculator sucks. I have 135 jumps, I'm loaded at <1.0 on a Pilot 188, don't do anything stupid for landing and am pretty good with accuracy (instructors are noticing). It called me high risk. What should I do, fly a Navigator 240? Maybe get back on the Pilot when I get to 600 jumps?

diehard01  2014-02-26

Yes, I scored in the high risk category even though I am a canopy coach and a competitive swooper. Something tells me they may need to rethink their calculations and come up with a better solution.

randyb  2014-02-27

The article Performance Design's "Survival Skills for Canopy Control" states to use front risers in a headwind getting back from a long spot, it this just a bad edit or am I missing something. I was taught rear risers to keep the canopy flying flatter.

JeffCa  2014-02-27

Randy, Brian Germain's book had the same, and I thought it must be an error in editing, but it turns out that it's not. Somebody more qualified than myself should explain why and in what situations it's useful.

randyb  2014-02-27

It must be that you are increasing penetration speed with front risers...makes sense I guess if the wind is preventing you from going forward across the ground.

headoverheels  2014-03-01

No valid choice for me for hop-n-pops above 5000 feet. Never done one for my last two canopies.

kentom1  2015-12-02

I like the article, it is insightful and helpful. The author has obviously done her homework. I'm not sure about the calculator though.

Ugtbfsm  2016-03-14

I told it that I've been jumping the military 370 with multiple lessons and have performed all maneuvers with accuracy and am well above 1.7 wing load......still high risk 0_o hmmmm

Waldschrat  2016-03-22

High Risk
You scored 44

:( since i take 70 ponds all people are shitty to me.

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