Three-ring systems look pretty tough. They’re made of thick, heavy metal, after all – what could possibly go wrong? Bad news: lots.
The rings are husky little guys, that’s true. However, they depend on the webbing behind them–and the cutaway cables that fasten them in the ready position–in order for them to work. It behooves you to know when and how to maintain the system.
How Sloppily Maintained 3-Ring Systems Can Cause a Bad Day
Nylon webbing, the material used to make skydiving (and BASE, for that matter) risers, stiffens over time to conform to the position in which it’s usually stored.
Sometimes, they “set” so firmly in that position that the risers can’t flex the backing nylon–and can’t detach from the harness when the jumper engages the cutaway system, especially during a low-drag malfunction (such as a streamer).
This, of course, is a very bad thing.
You’ve probably gotten used to looking at the little snowmen of your three-rings during your preflight gear checks. Great! How often do you look behind them? The loop that connects the cutaway cable to the three-ring system can get dangerously abraded over time. You should peek at it every time you pack.
The Deep Tracks
To keep your three-rings in proper working order, the three-rings need to be manually disassembled, the cables checked and the webbing treated to a little massage.
For skydivers, this is the stuff of riggers. According to Federal Aviation Regulation Part 65-111, skydivers “must be under the supervision of a rigger when performing any maintenance on a parachute system.”
Don’t let your rigger have all the fun, though. Having a hand in the process has the significant benefit of familiarizing you with the operation of the system and increasing your confidence that it’ll be there when you need it. The best advice is to go through these steps every three months, whether or not you’ve been jumping the rig.
- Check your user’s manual for specific instructions. You can always find this on the manufacturer’s website.
- Pull the cutaway handle. Set the cutaway and connected cables on a clean surface. (Do not pull the reserve handle – unless you need a repack, of course.)
- Inspect the Velcro on the cutaway handle and the seating on the harness. You may need to use a stuff brush to “fluff” the Velcro and clean off any adherence-preventing dirt, especially if you jump at a dusty drop zone.
- Check the ends of each cutaway cable to be sure they haven’t developed any kinks or rough edges.
- Run a microfiber cloth over each cable. While you do, check for smoothness.
- Disassemble the risers.
- Carefully check each riser for signs of wear. Look especially carefully at the white loop that “locks” the cutaway cable to the three-ring system. (You should be checking this loop each time you pack the rig, but this process gives you a better, closer look.)
- Twist and flex the webbing of each riser near the ring system. You can safely be vigorous. You’ll likely feel the problem-causing stiffness as you do this.
- Reassemble the system. Refer to your user’s manual to ensure you’ve done it correctly.
Before your next jump, have an experienced jumper or a rigger confirm that the system is correctly reassembled.
- Enjoy a little more gear confidence, dear reader. You’ve earned it.