Recommended Posts

Check out a very good article on topdocking at:


--or read it here:


By Craig Stapleton

So Ya Wanna Topdock?

You and your friends have gotten up the courage to not only do some CRW,

but to try some of the more interesting and challenging formations. Those

would be the ones with the extra canopy hanging off one side or two pilots:

formations that require someone to do a topdock. Do not despair, the dock is not as

difficult as it seems, and can even be fun to do. Certainly, it will change

your perspective on CRW.

First off, the goals for a successful topdock are to add to a formation

without altering its flight path and without inducing the dreaded swing. Your

ultimate goal is to have no effect on the flight of the formation as you dock.

Swinging formations are probably the single most common reason for sequential

wraps. What may look like a bad dock on the bottom or a too-hot approach is

really the formation being out of sequence to the docker's perspective. Simply

stated, a lateral swing in a formation that is not anticipated can make a

beautifully placed wing dock finish with the catcher getting the center cell. When

the opposite happens, ending with an end cell, it is easy to understand why

formation swing is to be avoided.

As a canopy pilot, there are several "weapons" available to make the job

of docking easier. Of course, one can use the toggles to steer the canopy with

simple inputs. But toggles are limited in the fact that they work only by

slowing the corner of the canopy, this initially will decrease speed and increase

lift with further inputs decreasing the lift of the canopy over time. All of

the discussions here are in reference to a formation of a few canopies, not

necessarily to the canopy itself. Toggles are what most canopy pilots are

familiar with, but you need a variety to get the topdocking job done.

Almost every CRW dog will tell you how much stronger they are after a

season of jumping because they have been using their front risers. Front risers

are great for increasing speed and losing altitude quickly without sacrificing

your position near the formation, unlike a large toggle turn or big 360.

Unfortunately, the down side is you can gain too much speed relative to the

formation, or energy into the canopy. A jumper may dive down using front risers, then

immediately hit the toggles to slow the speed only to find that they are

right back where they started. The speed (energy) they gathered in front risers

generated lift when they hit the toggles. You can eve sashay your way down to a

formation to decrease the energy you can and lessen the impact on your arms.

So, judicious use of front risers is necessary, knowing that you are gathering

speed as you descend.

Rear risers are not used as often and depending upon the canopy trim and

aspect ratio, may not be very effective. They will work well coming out of a

steep turn to flatten the dive and maintain the canopy energy to catch up to a

formation. A good example of this use is after opening and running back to the

formation, you mis-time the turn and wind up in that awful "low and behind"

position. Instead of finishing the turn in that one toggle, you switch to the

rear risers and finish steering in them. You may not gain all the

altitude/distance back, but you will have at least salvaged what you could, with less time

for your friends to laugh and point at you.

That brings us to combination moves. Very rarely is a move all toggles,

all risers, or all flight. Often times you need a little front riser and

opposite toggle to "scrunch" the canopy into position. By working those two opposite

controls, you guide the canopy easing one up and the other down for the

desired affect. Unfortunately, this is all very experiential, and only practice

really gives you the feel of how to make this happen, but it is easy to practice

after breakoff. Grab one riser and the opposite toggle and keep

your eyes on the landing area, then pull hard on one, then the other, then a

little of both to get the feel of how your canopy responds.

Reading over all this, you get the idea, that CRW is a busy sport, not

just canopies running into each other. Quick hands are one of the greatest

attributes a CRW jumper can have, not just to grab lines or nylon,

but to get from one control to the other very quickly. You have to be

familiar enough with your front risers, rear risers, and toggles to grab, wrestle

and feel them without looking. You cannot take your eyes off a formation that is

three feet away and closing to see if your hand is really where you think it

is. If you must use front riser dive loops to make an aggressive front riser,

you may need a little more upper body strength before trying this. All the

controls should be an extension of your mind, and your hands can flow to all

positions with as little direct thought as possible. You will have lots of other

things to occupy your mind as you hurdle at a formation.

During the final closing on a topdock, your body position in the harness is

critical. Take time on some dives to feel how shifting your weight or hip

position in the harness inputs the canopy. It is amazing how much turn you can

induce with a twist in your body. As you topdock, you simply use a combination of

toggle/riser inputs with twisting your body slightly to dampen the effects of

your body hitting the top of a formation. Twisting away at the last second

and inducing an outward turn, does not change your canopy speed at all but gives

you that last little bit of turn you may need. This harkens back to the goal

of having as little effect as possible and again it is something gained with

familiarity with the use. This would be "fine tuning" the dock and separates a

good top dock from a great one.

Luckily not all the requirements for a good topdock are solely with the

topdocker. Base and pin have to be solid and stable throughout the docking to

add stability and predictability to the formation. Also, whoever else is

docking first has to not induce any sudden changes or "bobbing" of the upper

canopies by swinging on the bottom. Base has to fly a set, predictable heading. As a

top docker you learn that various formations have a tendency to due certain

things- changes in descent, sliding to or away, and changes in speed. Just like

docking on the bottom and having an eye for what the formation is doing, the

same is true on the top. Certainly, if you cannot dock well on the bottom yet,

stay away from the top and practice more. Better to be thought a mediocre

bottom dweller, than the guy that caused the triple cutaway.

So, like any good flight, you have a plan for how it is going to proceed.

As a topdocker you want to plan being a little below and behind the formation

and intersecting it's flight path, in all three dimensions and at the same

time. By using the controls above and your experience, you want to mimic the

formation flight characteristics as much as possible as you intersect it. Now

competitors may not seem to be doing this, but they are in a very small window of

opportunity. Use a larger window of opportunity (time and patience), to

approach the formation and as you get closer be flying more and more like that

formation. A slight turn away, or body twist ends the intersection to dampen the

crossing of paths. Outside front riser also works well, and outside toggle will

induce a lot of lift and upward pull. While all this is going on, you need to

remember to get a foot or a hand onto the canopy well enough to maintain a

grip, while remembering to finalize the dock, and becoming a second pilot to a

formation. Again, quick hands (and feet) and visualizing how you are going to

grip/kick in before you get there is critical. Take your time and make a good

approach, and learn from each one. Too high, too low, too fast, too slow, etc.

>From the movie Topgun, "Better to breakoff the engagement than to push a bad

position and lose the day" or something like that.

So, what do you look for as your approaching the side of a formation and

preparing to dock it? Relativity is the key, slow steady approach, slightly

behind and catching, slightly below and coming up. Say twenty feet outside, head

level with the bottom skin of the target canopy, back about the B or C lines.

Be aware that you can get your canopy to rub on your target as you approach,

so slightly below. Use your "weapons" and patience to close the gap and

converge (not bash into!) your target and have in your mind where your hands/feet are

going to go. If you get a little high, a little scrunch or even front riser

if you can bleed to speed. If not sashay, toggle, whatever to get back to your

set position. Then you have a reference point as you make approaches and can

make adjustments. If you start making gun runs from all over the sky, you will

not learn as much and your buddies may start making excuses about the next


Before you take to the skies and scare your friends into selling the CRW

gear, plan everyone's role throughout the dive and have contingency plans. Get

a dedicated base who knows how to fly a heading and keep a heading so you can

land in the landing area, follow up with a reliable pin who can get the base

every time. Topdocking a two-way is the easiest, but if someone wants to come

along as cargo/witness/victim it would at least then be a fourway and a lot

more fun. Assign everyone a role in the event there is a cutaway, this has to be

a little fluid, since you never know who it could be. Start with some simple

formations. A Tee formation tends to be the most stable and durable in taking

a hit. Stairsteps tend to slide away from the side they are built, wedges

tend to fly pretty fast and be a little harder to catch and that opposite wing

loves to come around, stacks are just plain hard because you have to dock on the

center cell on something falling out of the sky. As always, keep it a simple

plan, --plan the dive and dive the plan.

Topdocking is a great skill to have and can and some real challenging

formations to your dive pool even for recreational/weekend CRW dogs. However, all

the skills necessary to make a successful formation (i.e., base/pin,

spotting) are necessary to ensure a safe, challenging and fun skydive. As a former

World Champion, Sharon Shumway put it best, "not every dive needs a topdocker,

but every dive needs a base and a pin."

Blue skies and soft docks!

Craig Stapleton

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.