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Your First Reserve Ride - Go Time

By nettenetteon - Read 14536 times

Dave Rhea gives his Skyhook a workout over northern Arizona

Photo Credit: Dave Rhea

You’re as ready as you’ll ever be. Right?
You know what a malfunctioning main looks like. You know the sequence*. You’ve done your homework (like we reviewed last time). Before you pull that handle, though, make sure you know the rest of the story: how to make that reserve ride as un-traumatic an experience as possible.

1. Do not overthink it

If you believe that your main is unlandable, you are going to have a reserve ride. Lots of skydivers have landed under reserves, realizing later that the problem was solvable.

Lots of skydivers have also gone in while striving to sort out malfunctions that did not get solved.

Pick your poison.

2. Do not worry about stability

This is the very least of your problems, as you are on the world’s most intractable timer. Worry ONLY about altitude.

3. Pull the cutaway handle until no lower than 1,000 feet

If your pull is sufficiently low (shame on you for that, by the way--gotta say it) and you have an unlandable main, you’ll be testing your reserve’s opening characteristics in the most potentially lethal way. Take note: the USPA not-so-recently raised the minimum deployment altitude even for eminently experienced D-licensed jumpers. Initiating a reserve ride below 1,000 feet isn’t always deadly, but it has an unnerving tendency to be. Don’t take the chance.

4. Hold on to your handles

...or, y’know, do your best. If you manage it, you’ll save a bit of money, and you’ll save face when you land.

5. Make sure it’s out

Arch and look over your shoulder for the reserve pilot chute. Reserves deploy fast, so this head position may rattle your neck – but if the pilot chute is somehow caught in your burble, this should either shake it loose or make it clear to you that you need to do some burble intervention, stat.

6. Keep an eye on your free-floating main

However: do not try to chase it and grab it in the air. (People have died doing that, bigshot.) Don’t “chase the bag” if it means you’ll land in a dangerous LZ. Use landmarks to get a bead on where the gear is headed, then take a deep breath, leave it to the fates, and prioritize your mortal coil.

7. Remember: Your Cutaway, Your Business

When you land a reserve, you’re going to be the talk of the DZ (for about five minutes, usually). During that five minutes – longer, if the loads are turning slowly – you’ll probably be approached by a gamut of big talkers and would-be mentors, questioning your malfunction and eager to discuss your decision to cut away.

My advice: speak to your trusted mentors and co-jumpers about it in private, and tell the rest to go suck an egg. When you suddenly need to get proactive about saving your life in the sky, make no mistake: you are absolutely alone. In the entire world, there exists only you and two handles. Your cutaway is your business. You were there. They were not.

Review your own footage to determine the nature of the malfunction and review alternative methods of correction, if applicable.

8. Buy a bottle of posh booze for the rigger who packed the reserve you rode, and keep the reserve pin for posterity.

It’s tradition.

* Arch, look down at your handles, grasp the handles, pull cutaway, pull reserve.


About The Author

Annette O'Neil is a copywriter, travel journalist and commercial producer who sometimes pretends to live in Salt Lake City. When she's not messing around with her prodigious nylon collection, she's hurtling through the canyons on her Ninja, flopping around on a yoga mat or baking vegan cupcakes.


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Not too bad but a lot of drop zones (including some very large ones) don’t teach the cutaway method you mention so it might be a bit too specific.
A lot of drop zones use a 2-hands on each handle cutaway sequence for a number of reasons. This type of cutaway utilizes the sequence of “Arch, Look red (identify cutaway handle), grab red, look silver (identify reserve ripcord), pull red, grab silver, pull silver”. The cutaway handle is thrown away prior to pulling the reserve ripcord.
This sequence has a number of advantages over the one-hand on each handle technique.
It allows the jumper more pull force for a hard cutaway and also allows the second hand to sweep the cables clear of the housings to ensure both risers release. It also frees your hands in the event that the canopy is not completely released. Think about clearing a stuck riser cover or a line entanglement after you have cutaway and you have already started to pull the reserve ripcord. You need to ensure you have completely released the canopy before pulling the reserve. With a one-hand on each handle sequence muscle memory will sometimes cause a reserve pull.
Also, as seen by a number of Instructors over the years, in the stress of a cutaway, a number of students have managed to pull the handles in the wrong order. A 2-hand cutaway makes this much more unlikely and if a MARD or RSL is used the reserve is usually open as fast as a manual pull.
Lastly, no matter which sequence you currently use don’t change it unless there is a very specific reason for doing so. You will lose the long term muscle memory you have worked so hard to get and could cause confusion in a high stress situation. Jumpers discovered back when we transitioned from regular use of modified military equipment to modern sport gear that muscle memory could sometimes cause problems if the jumper was not specifically trained in the techniques the different equipment required.
Be careful out there gang! A cutaway should not just be a mindless pull of 2 handles. It should be a combination of thought with the urgency of trained muscle memory.

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While keeping your handles are nice, it's not what you should be worrying about.

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Another great article by Annette!!! Best part - my cutaway, my business. Keep up the great work!!!!

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Awesome notes, @jimjumper-- Thanks for speaking up! xx

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Where the hell is that dude skydiving? Over a mountain???

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Great article. In defense of using one hand on each handle, many jumpers have died from not finding the reserve handle after cutting away. I teach and use the method you endorse.

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Action and thought are mutually exclusive and cannot be performed at the same time. The whole point of rehearsing emergency procedures is so you don't have to think when it comes time to deploy your reserve.
You intuitively recognize the type of malfunction you are experiencing and respond appropriately. Thinking costs time, time you may not have.

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Great words!!

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