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billbooth

Do skydivers care about safety?

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If I've learned one thing in my 35 years in the sport, it's that it is very difficult to get most skydivers interested in safety. Years ago, when it became obvious that my hand deploy pilot chute and 3-ring release made it possible to deploy a malfunction, and then breakaway from it, 500 feet faster than the existing internal pilot chutes and Capewell canopy releases allowed, a lot of jumpers simply started deploying their mains 500 feet lower. Utterly negating the increase in safety these systems offered. Even today, most jumpers think that because all gear has a TSO tag on it, one piece of gear is as safe as another. Unfortunately, that is not true, and most jumpers will choose "fashion" over safety every time. Here are just a few examples of what I mean, starting in the '60's, right up to the present day. (1.) The army found out that if you put 2 foot band of fine netting around the skirt of a round parachute, you eliminate the most common deployment malfunction, the partial inversion. The trick worked so well that airborne troop static line malfunctions went from 1 in 250 to 1 in 250,000. WOW! So, a company that made round sport reserves (there were no square reserves yet) came out with an "anti-inversion netted" reserve. NO ONE bought it. You know why, of course...It packed up 10% bigger. Jumpers past up a proven 1,000 times increase in safety for smaller pack volume. (2.) Believe it or not, there is a similar, thought not nearly as drastic, choice jumpers are making when they buy a square reserve today. Let me explain. The first square canopies came without sliders, so they had to be built tough. This meant, among other things, that there was tape running spanwise (from right to left) between the line attachment points. With the advent of the slider and softer opening canopies, some companies began leaving the spanwise reinforcing tapes out of their square reserves. Why? Because they cost less to build, and (you guessed it) they packed smaller. This proved to be a wise choice, (at least in the marketing department) because although jumpers very often choose their mains for performance and durability, the almost always always choose their reserves base only on price and pack volume. While reserves without spandwise tapes are fine in most situations, as we have seen recently, they tend to fall apart when skydivers push the envelope. (ie. big people on tiny canopies, going head down at high altitudes.) Safety doesn't seem to be any larger a consideration than it was when they passed up anti-inversion netted round reserves in the '60's. (3.) Standard size (large) 3-ring release systems have never given a solo jumper any problem. They ALWAYS release easily and NEVER break. However, mini 3-rings look neater, so that's all people will buy. No matter all the reports of hard or impossible breakaways or broken risers. Don't get me wrong, Properly made, and maintained, mini 3-ring release systems will handle anything even the newest ZP canopy with microlines can dish out. Unfortunately, because they are now being pushed right to their design limit, they must be made EXACTLY right. And a lot of manufacturers either can't or won't. On the other hand, a large 3-ring system has so much mechanical advantage, that even a poorly made system will still work just fine. But then fashion is much more important than safety, isn't it? (4.) Spectra (or micro-line) is strong and tiny, so it reduces both pack volume and drag , which means you get a smaller rig and a faster canopy. Unfortunately, It has a couple of "design characteristics" (this is manufacturer talk for "problems") It is very slippery (less friction to slow the slider), and stretches less than stainless steel. This is why it hurt people and broke so many mini risers when it was first introduced. Now, I must say that the canopy manufacturers did a wonderful job handling these "characteristics" by designing new canopies that opened much slower than their predecessors. However, the fact still remains, that if you do have a rare fast opening on a microlined canopy, Spectra (or Vectran) will transmit that force to you (and your rig) much, much faster, resulting in an opening shock up to 300% higher than if you have Dacron lines. (It's sort of like doing a bungee jump with a stainless steel cable. At the bottom of your fall, your body applies the same force to the steel cable as it would to a rubber bungee cord, but because steel doesn't stretch, your legs tears off.) So why would I have a fast opening? Well for one thing, you, or your packer might forget to "uncollapse" your collapsible slider. BAM! Or perhaps you're zipping along head down at 160 mph with a rig that wasn't designed for it, and you experience an accidental container opening. BAM again. The point is this: If you want to push the envelope, and get all the enjoyment this sport has to offer, and do it "safely", you need to make careful choices in the gear you jump. If you weigh 200 lbs. and do a lot of head down, perhaps you really shouldn't be using a reserve without spanwise reinforcement, mini 3-rings, or a canopy with micro lines. No matter how much you weigh, you should educate yourself about gear, and then only jump gear that is designed for how you jump. So many fatalities occur because of decisions jumpers make BEFORE even getting in the airplane. Don't join that group. Be smarter than that. Fashion, at least in skydiving, can get you killed. Bill Booth

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I know I personally really care about safety. A fellow skydiver at my DZ has broken her back and she knows that one more injury and she probably never be able to fly again. While this point is particularily salient for her, I think all skydivers are just one stupid move away from injury or death. Now obviously no matter that you do you can not take all the risk out of skydiving, and that's not the point. My point is that looking sensibly at your level of risk is important. Think, and plan ahead. How much do you like your legs anyway? Do you want your kids to grow up with only one parent? If after thinking about all this you're comfortable with taking the risks you take, well so be it. I believe you can enjoy this sport and still be safe. Shit happens, but I think precautions can limit the frequency of its happening.
Gale
Life's not worth living if you can't feel alive

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Bill:
i like to think i'm a safe sky diver, i adhere to all of the safty rules, try as best i can to not downsize my canopy without the consultation of an expert who has personally witnessed my landings. i'm very careful about who i jump with, when i do, because of safety reasons. i'm signed up for the coaches course, and plan to obtain my BIC, and AFF levels as well. so hopefully i can teach others our beloved sport, and hand down the same wisdom i've accrued over my brief skydiving career. it's guys like you though, that "keep us grounded" in our awareness of the safety aspect of our sport, and that's what it's going to take, for the duration. thanks for your article.
Richard
"Safety Is No Accident"

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Yeah, with hindsight now I realize that I only got mini 3 rings on my first new rig, because that just seemed the "done thing". If I had had a little more sense I should've asked around about that other option on the order form (for the large rings) and why it might be a good idea to get. This is something I think I would want when I buy a new rig with smaller main.
About the reserves, that is a discussion I have just recently had with someone. They were coming up with all these obtuse arguments about why their reserve was "as good as" anything else on the market. I insisted that they had only bought it because it was the cheapest and if a PD was the same price they would've gone with the PD. I myself am now strongly considering getting a PD instead of the (cheaper) one I currently use.
Will
PS I do not, nor have I ever owned a PD canopy (main or reserve), but doing freeflying I would like the extra spanwise protection they have.
"Don't die until you're dead"

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Bill, Once again your experience and expertise shines!
I think there needs to be more communication with our BASE jumping relatives. They have the most experience with "reserve jumps" and shun Spctra line. With no back-up canopy, packing is becomes a science. Pilot chute design and sizing is critical. Equipment performance awareness is job #1.
Skydiving is not a static excercise with discrete predictability...

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Fashion, at least in skydiving, can get you killed.


Heh. It's funny. The one and only criticism I've heard of Vector 3s is that "they're ugly".
Yeah. You know what else? They're frickin' bulletproof. That makes them quite beautiful in my eyes. :)Bill, if you're reading these, thanks for your posts and thanks for making such a wonderful rig! One question, I saw a mod on a Mirage this weekend that was interesting. It looks like a PUD handle, but it's attached to a BOC pilot chute. So basically they ditched the hacky in favor of a tuck-tabbed handle. Sort of a hybrid PUD/BOC. Made a lot of sense for us freefliers that don't want to go to a full blown pullout. Are you planning on offering something similar?
"Zero Tolerance: the politically correct term for zero thought, zero common sense."

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Zennie;
We have been offering "tuck tab" BOC handles for quite a while now. Since I don't do a lot of free flying, I have no opinion on whether that style of handle is safer than any other. However, I do listen to the local free flyers, and several of them really like it. Bill

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So many fatalities occur because of decisions jumpers make BEFORE even getting in the airplane. Don't join that group. Be smarter than that. Fashion, at least in skydiving, can get you killed

I see this nearly every day in my job - jumpers choosing their equipment based on price and size (with smaller of course being sexier). And it's not just the jumpers themselves making these decisions. A lot of new skydivers are being told by their instructors to buy canopies (main and reserve) that are much too small for their experience, location and/or type of jumping they plan to do. Some of them listen to me when I suggest they go bigger and ask them how they plan to land that canopy in the worst case scenario (I usually use "into someone's back yard cuz Joe Bob can't spot" and/or "what are you going to do when someone cuts you off on final"); some don't. Unfortunately, it seems that many jumpers have to learn things the hard way... whether by seeing a friend seriously injured or killed or by being injured or killed themselves.
Thanks for the wake up call Bill. I'm really glad to see you posting here! :)pull & flare,
lisa

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We have been offering "tuck tab" BOC handles for quite a while now.


Ah. My bad. That was the first time I had seen it and all of the Vector fliers I've seen have hackeys, so I figured it must be a new thing.
I will definitely check into it when I order my own rig (probably with my next canopy). For the record, I've never had problems with my hacky.
"Zero Tolerance: the politically correct term for zero thought, zero common sense."

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Excellent post this is information that is so crucial to all skydivers , but especially to beggining skydivers like me. I bought my rig slightly used (17 jumps) it's very nice on the eyes, but it has every option that you mentioned as being unsafe plus no RSL. It has just started bothering me that there is no RSL(what have I been thinking the past year). So I will be adding that. The mini rings are going away when I downsize the same with the spectra lines now that I have that info. One question on the mini rings I'm currently flying a spectre 170 loaded at 1.2:1. What are the chances that I will have a high speed spinning mal and have a hard to impossible cutaway VS if I was flying a Stilleto loaded at 1.6+. Should I be worried enough to change to full size rings before I downsize (which will probably be around the end of the summer). I really wish I had known some of this before I bought my equipment, but now that I do I can make much better choices in the future
Thanks a ton
JG

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John;
Properly made mini 3-rings, with hard housings, both on the rig, and on the risers WILL give you an easy cutaway up to 6 "G's", even with spun-up risers. I am in the process of building, and testing a bunch of mini-risers with common construction errors. This will enable people to determine exactly how bad, or good, a particular set of risers might be. Even though the study is not yet complete, I will post a few pictures of correctly made mini risers for you at Relative Workshop's website by tomorrow. The further your risers differ from these pictures, the worse they will perform. If you still have doubts after viewing the pictures, give me a call at Relative Workshop. Most mini 3-ring risers I've seen can handle a 1 "G" malfunction. The problems start happening when a highly loaded elliptical produces a badly spinning malfunction, producing 3 or more "G's". Some companies do a good job at making risers, some don't. And because risers tend to travel with canopies, you may or may not have risers made by the same company that made your rig.
Bill Booth

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And because risers tend to travel with canopies, you may or may not have risers made by the same company that made your rig.


LOL, some of the best advice a rigger gave me (when I bought my first rig) was if I plan to change the canopy, take the risers with me! I just picked up a used canopy in January, and the first thing I did was switch out the risers, mainly because the ones on the "new" canopy looked a little sketchy to me.
Turns out they were the "old" risers without the reinforcement at the bottom. I'm glad I trusted that rigger!
And thanks for the article, too. Actually, the only reason I got the mini 3-rings was because I'm a small person, plus the beatiful black Vector II in just the right size for me happened to be sitting on the shelf at RW...aren't I lucky? However, on my next rig, which will probably be custom, I'll seriously consider the things you mentioned.

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>Unfortunately, that is not true, and most jumpers will choose "fashion" over
>safety every time.
I agree that, in the final analysis, many skydivers do just that. I think, though, that 90% of the time this is due to a lack of knowledge, rather than a conscious decision to decrease one's safety margin for the sake of fashion.
Take a typical skydiver, recently off student status, with around 50 jumps. He begins to consider buying new gear. So far, his entire experience consists of using student and loaner rigs, and his only other inputs come from other jumpers. As far as he can tell, large 3-rings are used exclusively on student gear, and all experienced jumpers use small 3-ring systems. As a result, when the day comes to order his new gear, he orders small 3-rings. After all, he's not a student any more.
It's interesting to ask people like this why they ordered the small 3-rings. Rather than an answer like "I feel the odds of a breakaway failure are acceptably low with this system" the answer is usually "Huh? What else would I get?" They have never even considered the issue.
Skydivers get a minimum amount of gear training in the FJC. They learn the basics of how their gear works, what happens in what order, how a reserve deploys or a 3-ring separates. They get none of the background - they don't learn about the shock-absorbing characteristics of dacron vs spectra, and indeed the FJC isn't a good place to learn about such details. I try to cover some of that material in a graduate course, but again, the coverage isn't very comprehensive - there's only so much material you can squeeze into a one-hour course.
So where do they learn? In an ideal world, they would talk to you about rig construction, talk to John LeBlanc about main parachute choices, George Galloway about reserve issues, Dan BC about beginning 4-way, Kate Cooper about bigger RW. Dan Poynter could help them out with rigging questions. In the real world, their universe is a lot smaller. They may get most of their information from their buddy who has 100 jumps and has owned one rig. They may choose an idol like Olav Zipser and decide that the ideal rig is as small as possible, and the primary decisions to make are color and fabric type. And, from his limited experience, he is justified in his decision - Olav has made thousands of jumps and has always survived, so he must make good gear decisions. In a way skydiving has become a victim of its own success. Gear failure has become rare enough that examples of how _not_ to do it are easy to miss.
Sure, there are people out there who, even if you present them with a choice between fashion and safety, will choose fashion every time. But from my experience these people are in the minority. Much more prevalent is the attitude "Well, if it's good enough for Olav it's good enough for me," and that's hard to refute. It can be hard to even convince such a person that gear failure is a real possibility, because they see it so rarely.
>No matter how much you weigh, you should educate yourself about gear, and
>then only jump gear that is designed for how you jump. So many fatalities
>occur because of decisions jumpers make BEFORE even getting in the airplane.
I think this is the key. Mandatory training is critical (whether within a standard JCC or an ISP program) but even more important is that jumpers need to educate _themselves_ when it comes to gear choices. It's easy for people to forget that it really is a life-or-death choice.
-bill von

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because although jumpers very often choose their mains for performance and durability, the almost always always choose their reserves base only on price and pack volume.


So, how would the average jumper know that the decrease in pack volume of A canopy compared to B canopy was due to the fact that the spanwise reinforcement tape was left off?
Fly Your Slot !

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I just got rid of my reserve and got a new one. I realized that iffy during a headdown deployment was not good enough. When I was a student I didn't understand the need for a lot of things. I saw lots of problems with my rig I was jumping early on so I replaced that. When I saw how the reserve was contructed when I packed it myself the first time a few months back I was shocked because I'd seen the construction on BASE canopies and always thought a reserve should be comparable. Shortly after that I sent that reserve on its way and got one much more suitable for what kind of skydiving I was doing.

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Still on student status, hoping to get my first rig this summer . . great article, but who do I trust when it comes to advice at buying time?

Hopefully you have a friendly, helpful, and experienced rigger you can talk to. Actually talk to as many people as you can and do a bunch of research. People like instructors and riggers TEND to have more informed opinions, but they are not immune to prejudices.
-Sandy

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Amir;
First, mini 3-rings are safe, IF they are correctly made. Secondly, the TSO is just a MINIMUM performance standard. Some versions of the TSO include no standards, or even the requirement, for a main canopy release of any description. In the years since the mini 3-ring was introduced, new canopies and new suspension line have upped the standard to which mini ring risers must be built, and some manufacturers simply have not kept up. A mini 3-ring riser made to a perfectly acceptable standard 5 years ago, might not work too well when you have a 6 "G" spinner on your new "Starfire 77". Try getting hot new computer software to work on a 5 year old computer. As annoying as a "crash" is on your computer, it's a lot more annoying when you're skydiving.
Bill Booth

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