Photo credit: Michael Huff
Are you ready to be alone in the sky with a malfunctioning parachute and two little handles?
Though there are skydivers with thousands of jumps who have never experienced the fun of a cutaway, don’t be fooled: it’s not a question of “if,” it’s a question of “when.” Don’t feel ready? You’re not alone – but there are a number of proven ways to boost your confidence (and, therefore, safety).
1. Stay Current
I know. It’s not your fault. Your home DZ is seasonal – or it’s far away – or it’s a tandem factory that keeps sullen fun jumpers on the ground.
Whether it is or isn’t your motivation that’s the problem, the fact remains: long lapses between jumps are dangerous. They dull skills, heighten apprehensions, create a sense of unfamiliarity with aircraft and degrade the muscle memory you have carefully built around your gear, which is of vital importance in the event of a reserve ride.
It’s vital to your career as a skydiver – especially, at the beginning – to make the effort to jump every couple of weeks. Make the effort and get up there.
The USPA Skydiver Information Manual puts it rather dryly: “Regular, periodic review, analysis, and practice of emergency procedures prepares you to act correctly in response to problems that arise while skydiving.”
Rephrased in a slightly more compelling manner: practicing might save your life, especially if you’re a newer skydiver who isn’t quite as accustomed to the stresses of freefall as an old-timer. Here’s a two-item to-do list to tip you in the right direction:
- Deploy your reserve for every repack. Have you ever deployed the reserve for your current skydiving rig? If not, the result may surprise you. You’ll learn the direction of pull for your gear, as well as the force you’ll need to exert. If your rigger watches the process, he/she can watch the deployment and identify potential problems. Even if you have deployed your own reserve, a repack is an unwasteable drill opportunity.
- Practice emergency procedures in your DZ’s training harness. (You may feel like a dork, especially if you’ve already been skydiving for a little while. Go on a quiet weekday and do it anyway.)
3. Do The Little Dance
Before each and every jump, the USPA advises skydivers to “review the procedures to avoid emergency situations and the procedures to respond to emergencies if they occur.”
This doesn’t have to mean poring over your SIM like you’re cramming for a test. It does, however, require a little bit of work before every jump--just to make sure that your muscle memory is fresh and your brain is prepared for puckersome eventualities.
- Touch your handles in sequence before you enter the plane. It is not beneath you. Being blasé about basic safety doesn’t make you more awesome. If you ever happen to share a plane with an energy-drink teammate or a world-class coach, watch ‘em closely and you’ll see what I mean.
- Check that your reserve handle is seated, while you’re at it. A loose reserve handle can deliver a reserve ride without the fun of a malfunctioning main – and you don’t want that, do you?
Right! So: now you’ve done what you can to be ready for a potential reserve ride on any given skydive. Next time, we’ll talk about what to do when your main decides to give you the pop quiz.