Skip to Content

safety : Gear and Equipment : Do Skydivers Care About Safety

Do Skydivers Care About Safety

Skydiving Article Image1
Image by Russell M. Webb

If I've learned one thing in my 35 years in the sport, it's that it is very difficult to get most skydivers interested in safety. Years ago, when it became obvious that my hand deploy pilot chute and 3-ring release made it possible to deploy a malfunction, and then breakaway from it, 500 feet faster than the existing internal pilot chutes and Capewell canopy releases allowed, a lot of jumpers simply started deploying their mains 500 feet lower. Utterly negating the increase in safety these systems offered.

Even today, most jumpers think that because all gear has a TSO tag on it, one piece of gear is as safe as another. Unfortunately, that is not true, and most jumpers will choose "fashion" over safety every time. Here are just a few examples of what I mean, starting in the '60's, right up to the present day.

The army found out that if you put 2 foot band of fine netting around the skirt of a round parachute, you eliminate the most common deployment malfunction, the partial inversion. The trick worked so well that airborne troop static line malfunctions went from 1 in 250 to 1 in 250,000. WOW! So, a company that made round sport reserves (there were no square reserves yet) came out with an "anti-inversion netted" reserve. NO ONE bought it. You know why, of course...It packed up 10% bigger. Jumpers past up a proven 1,000 times increase in safety for smaller pack volume.

Believe it or not, there is a similar, thought not nearly as drastic, choice jumpers are making when they buy a square reserve today. Let me explain. The first square canopies came without sliders, so they had to be built tough. This meant, among other things, that there was tape running spanwise (from right to left) between the line attachment points. With the advent of the slider and softer opening canopies, some companies began leaving the spanwise reinforcing tapes out of their square reserves. Why? Because they cost less to build, and (you guessed it) they packed smaller. This proved to be a wise choice, (at least in the marketing department) because although jumpers very often choose their mains for performance and durability, the almost always always choose their reserves base only on price and pack volume. While reserves without spandwise tapes are fine in most situations, as we have seen recently, they tend to fall apart when skydivers push the envelope. (ie. big people on tiny canopies, going head down at high altitudes.) Safety doesn't seem to be any larger a consideration than it was when they passed up anti-inversion netted round reserves in the '60's.

Standard size (large) 3-ring release systems have never given a solo jumper any problem. They ALWAYS release easily and NEVER break. However, mini 3-rings look neater, so that's all people will buy. No matter all the reports of hard or impossible breakaways or broken risers. Don't get me wrong, Properly made, and maintained, mini 3-ring release systems will handle anything even the newest ZP canopy with microlines can dish out. Unfortunately, because they are now being pushed right to their design limit, they must be made EXACTLY right. And a lot of manufacturers either can't or won't. On the other hand, a large 3-ring system has so much mechanical advantage, that even a poorly made system will still work just fine. But then fashion is much more important than safety, isn't it?

Spectra (or micro-line) is strong and tiny, so it reduces both pack volume and drag , which means you get a smaller rig and a faster canopy. Unfortunately, It has a couple of "design characteristics" (this is manufacturer talk for "problems") It is very slippery (less friction to slow the slider), and stretches less than stainless steel. This is why it hurt people and broke so many mini risers when it was first introduced. Now, I must say that the canopy manufacturers did a wonderful job handling these "characteristics" by designing new canopies that opened much slower than their predecessors. However, the fact still remains, that if you do have a rare fast opening on a microlined canopy, Spectra (or Vectran) will transmit that force to you (and your rig) much, much faster, resulting in an opening shock up to 300% higher than if you have Dacron lines. (It's sort of like doing a bungee jump with a stainless steel cable. At the bottom of your fall, your body applies the same force to the steel cable as it would to a rubber bungee cord, but because steel doesn't stretch, your legs tears off.)

So why would I have a fast opening? Well for one thing, you, or your packer might forget to "uncollapse" your collapsible slider. BAM! Or perhaps you're zipping along head down at 160 mph with a rig that wasn't designed for it, and you experience an accidental container opening. BAM again. The point is this: If you want to push the envelope, and get all the enjoyment this sport has to offer, and do it "safely", you need to make careful choices in the gear you jump. If you weigh 200 lbs. and do a lot of head down, perhaps you really shouldn't be using a reserve without spanwise reinforcement, mini 3-rings, or a canopy with micro lines.

No matter how much you weigh, you should educate yourself about gear, and then only jump gear that is designed for how you jump. So many fatalities occur because of decisions jumpers make BEFORE even getting in the airplane. Don't join that group. Be smarter than that. Fashion, at least in skydiving, can get you killed.

~ Bill Booth

By Bill Booth on 2003-08-17 | Last Modified on 2015-09-08

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.  | Votes: 28 | Comments: 10 | Views: 73923


gunpaq  2014-03-13

"So, a company that made round sport reserves (there were no square reserves yet) came out with an "anti-inversion netted" reserve. NO ONE bought it. You know why, of course...It packed up 10% bigger. Jumpers past up a proven 1,000 times increase in safety for smaller pack volume."

Bill, I bought one and put it in my new WonderHog Sprint. Two deployments and still jumping after all these years. Great article.

efs4ever  2014-08-04

Nice photo. :)
It's a Webb.

BigBearCards  2014-08-10
5 out of 5 stars

Bill, Time for you to invent some kind of shock absorbing risers or something that will save our backs and save our lives!! So glad to see how many have read this. Now if they just heed the words! BLUE SKIES, my friend!! :o)

dorbie  2014-08-14

Well the clicky didn't work, here it is clean:

dorbie  2014-08-14

More like Apr 7, 2002. Here's the link for anyone who wants to read the discussion:


tonybrogdon  2014-08-19

Very well said Bill. I have seen up close a lot of what you are saying.
I was the first one to someone who was over weight using mini risers. One broke on opening and put him to such a violent spin he was unable to release the other riser. Upon pulling his reserve his pilot shoot wrapped around him in such a way his reserve was laying next to him as he landed on a pile of boards at 90 plus miles per hour.

Thanks again for sharing your wisdom. By the way do you still have the all leather mink lined Wonderhog you showed me at the USPA Board meeting in 1987?

ChrisD  2014-09-21

(Yes Mr. Booth still has the Mink rig, it sits in his front office for all to see. Something every skydiver could do is to take the pilgrimage to UPT, once in their lives, to pay homage to one of the greatest small business in this business.)

SAFETY Everyone's concern ? Or is this another subject that the USPA, (THAT'S US FOLKS,) has delegated to someone else?

As an organization we turn to the USPA to set an example. BUT how can we give any credence to an organization that doesn't require its S&TA's to posses a minimum of first aid or CPR knowledge or experience. The people who are charged with the responsibility to set an example, make informed recommendations, and provide a mediocrity of knowledge to assist in SAFETY at our member DZ's?

Leadership starts at the top. But in our organization safety is a concession to the dangers of this sport that the majority would rather not face. Thus no leadership. Until each and every one of us is willing to take a stand for our own safety this little issue will continue to fester. Until each and every one of us is willing to take some action by actually doing something, this little issue, again, will continue to fester.

It is not to much to ask that leadership take a CPR class or learn a little first aid. This is something that EVERY Police Officer, every Fireman, Paramedic, every school teacher, every Bus Driver, every Lifeguard, just about every person in public life is REQUIRED TO know. But and except our own S&TA's??????? Apparently there are never any incidents in skydiving, so this is the reason our approach to safety and first aid isn't necessary????? I find it unconscionable that the position of S&TA isn't required to posses any of this training. This is something that is long overdue and a very poor example of leadership. And the fact that this position starts off with the word safety, the epitome of hypocrisy.

(Yo know what? This is probably just another stupid idea, so lets just continue to F over injured skydivers and leave the liability issues to others,.....) It'l never happen to me anyways,....

aarco  2015-03-10

There are very few think tanks that build outside the product in planning and then reset to zero at the point of production. You told me once that working by the Ocean would always add that info and energy in your work witch makes you think up from one sport concept so that the effort in what you build is stronger and true as you focus back into the skydiving side of our planet. When I was jumping more in my past I saw many people run into fashion and then straight into the ground for less learning this sport and buying unsafe gear. When you wear safer gear you think safer and you fly safer. Doing more work with the military has sharpened this fact and seeing you write on it once more is a breath of fresh air.

michaelted57  2016-01-11

I LOVE to see this article. As someone who has been around for 36 years in the sport, I have seen so many silly and stupid decisions by people just as Bill describes.
I hate to point out that I started in this sports 36 years ago, and Bill was already a gear manufacturer, had already invented the hand-deployed pc and 3-ring release, and was making rigs that would accommodate square reserves. He says he's only been in the sport 35 years... Sorry Bill. Most of us know it's been longer than that!

377  2016-02-09

Great article Bill. Thanks for writing it.

Sad that in most cases the safer gear choice is the less "cool" one.

Smaller usually means less safe, with the notable exception of SLINKS.

I still see people skydiving without helmets. How is that ever a good idea?

Highly loaded reserves carry a huge risk if you are unconscious or unable to work the toggles. But you wont look cool with a bulky rig, so many jumpers choose postage stamp reserves.

The list is endless.

Our sport attracts risk takers. Always has. Guess it's no surprise that they push the edge on gear choices.

First jump 1968, still jumping
2 reserve rides: 1st 26 ft Navy Surplus Conical, 2nd PD 190R

More articles in this category: