Inspecting your Gear
Most jumpers realize the importance of having their reserve parachutes repacked every 120 days in accordance with F.A.A. regulations. We know that this is not just a reserve repack but is also an inspection of our reserve canopy and also our harness and container assembly. Most parachute riggers will gladly accept your complete rig and inspect the main canopy and its components as well as inspect and repack the reserve (and will rightfully charge extra for this service). However, some of us do not give our main canopy to our rigger and more importantly some of us make so many jumps between reserve repacks that even a thorough inspection every 120 days might not be often enough to find potential problems with our gear. It is for these reasons that we should know the procedures for checking the parts of our gear that get the most wear.
The following is a list of items on your main canopy assembly that you should inspect occasionally. This inspection should never be a substitute for a periodic inspection by a rigger but should supplement your rigger's inspection in between reserve repacks. If you find a problem with your gear, your rigger will be glad to advise you on what to do.
A special note for those of you who usually have someone else pack your main parachute: Unless you have made some arrangement with your packer to do this inspection while they pack and unless they know what to look for, you are giving up this opportunity to check your gear each time they pack for you!
Your pilot chute is one of the most critical items on our list of things to check on our gear, after all, the pilot chute is the thing that starts the deployment sequence at pull time. The pilot chute is also one of the most likely things for us to abuse. How many of us have left it dragging when walking in from the landing area?
First check the handle attachment at the top of the pilot chute. After a number of jumps the stitching can loosen and come out. If this happens and the handle comes off it will probably happen at the worst possible time. For those of you that have had your handle converted to a custom handle like a Hacky Sack, pay particular attention to the modification. Some of this stitching will be inside the pilot chute.
Check the seams of the pilot chute and the condition of the fabric. This is very important for those of you that have a large grommet in your deployment bag to allow it to slide over the pilot chute to collapse it. A very small tear or burn in the fabric may result in a large rip at 120 miles-per-hour. If your pilot chute blows up and you have a very tight container, there may not be enough drag to pull the pin.
Your pilot chute bridle has several important areas to check. The top of your bridle may be permanently sewn to your pilot chute or may have a loop sewn at the end. In either case you should check the stitching for security.
Further down the bridle is usually a section of Velcro to secure your bridle to your container and it should be in good condition. Your bridle needs to be firmly attached to your container so that there is less chance of snagging it on anything that could pull your pin and cause your container to be opened prematurely.
Next on the bridle is the pin that holds your container closed. The most important thing to check is the attachment of the pin to the bridle. This is the area that has the most stress, especially if your container is tight. Most manufacturers attach the pin with 3 bar-tack stitches which is very secure, but even bar-tack stitching can loosen. If your pin is attached by any other type of stitching it would be a good idea to have a rigger look at it as well.
Continue by looking at the closing pin itself. Some pins were manufactured with a plating that tends to chip off making it harder to pull through the closing loop and also causing excess wear to the loop. Stainless steel replacement pins are available and work much better.
On the other end of the bridle check the stitching on the loop where it attaches to the main canopy and check for wear at the point where it rubs against the grommet in the deployment bag.
For those of you that have collapsible pilot chutes there is one more area to look at. Check for wear on the line that runs inside the bridle and pulls down on the top of the pilot chute. Fortunately most of these designs are fail-safe, and will still deploy your canopy correctly although not collapse the pilot chute later.
If you have any problem at all with your bridle and it is a standard non-collapsible type, keep in mind that you can get a new and complete assembly from the manufacturer at a reasonable price. If you have the type of bridle that loops through the pilot chute attachment point it will also be very easy to replace.
Your deployment bag is a straightforward item on the list and seldom requires much work, but it does take some abuse from dragging and forcing a canopy in it when you pack. You need to check the seams and stitching for this stress including the loops that the rubber bands attach to.
Check that the grommets are securely in place and that they have no rough edges inside, particularly the one that the bridle passes through.
If your bag has Velcro, make sure it is in good condition.
Although your main canopy is made up of many parts, this is a short list of the items that need the most attention. A more complete inspection should be done by a rigger periodically.
First check the bridle attachment point at the top center of the canopy. This area gets a good deal of stress during deployment. Check the stitching and for stress around the attachment point.
Check the general condition of the fabric. There may be some tiny snags or pin holes but there should be no rips or seams that have pulled out.
Check the general condition of the suspension lines. A little roughness in the lines is not unusual but if any of the fibers in the line are broken have a rigger take a look.
Check the slider fabric and seams like you did for the canopy and then check the condition of the grommets. The grommets should be securely seated in the edges of the slider and they should have no rough edges inside.
Check the connector links to make sure the barrels have not turned and loosened. Slider stops are a good idea here because they not only protect the slider grommets, but they also prevent the barrels of the links from turning.
The risers are the final area of your main canopy assembly to be inspected. Check the security of the large harness type stitching at both the top loop and at the rings. Make sure the grommets near the rings are securely seated and have no rough edges inside.
Make sure the Velcro on the toggles and on the risers is in good enough condition to secure the toggles onto the risers.
The risers should occasionally be released from the harness to check the operation of the release system. The webbing should be flexed enough to take the stiffness out of riser and the release cable should be checked for cleanliness and ease of operation. The manufacturers of harness and container systems devote whole sections of the owner's manual to describing the operation and maintenance of the 3-ring release. Read the manual and understand how it works.
Your rigger will inspect your harness and container assembly when repacking the reserve, but several items should be inspected more often.
The Velcro that the bridle is attached to should be in good condition as well as the pilot chute pouch. Be sure that the pouch contains the pilot chute well enough that it cannot come out accidentally but still allow it to be comfortably extracted.
Lastly and very important is the closing loop. It should be the right length for the size canopy packed into the container and should not be worn so much that it could break from the pressure and cause a premature opening.
This inspection list has included the items that are most likely to show wear and need further attention from a rigger. Although it seems like there are a lot of things to look for, just remember that almost everything on this list is something that you look at every time you pack. Simply taking the time to look closely and knowing what to look for will go a long way toward keeping your gear safe and in good condition.
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