An Intelligent Approach to Technology
A jumper with approximately 100 jumps flew his canopy too far downwind to land in the main landing area. After landing uneventfully in another area of the airport, he explained that he did not turn onto his base leg in time because he was waiting for his audible alarm to beep as his signal.
During a 2-way skydive, a jumper with approximately 500 jumps who planned to deploy at 4,000 feet instead deployed at 2,000 feet. He had been waiting for his audible altimeter to beep but finally realized that he was not wearing his helmet for the skydive, so his audible device was not there.
A jumper with approximately 150 jumps was on an airplane fiddling with his GoPro camera just before exit when another jumper pointed out that his chest strap was not threaded properly through the friction adapter.
A first-jump student did not respond to instructions provided via radio while he was under canopy. After he landed uneventfully, staff discovered that he did not respond to the radio commands because he was busy talking to a friend on his cell phone during his canopy descent.
Our daily lives are filled with all sorts of electronic gadgets that are supposed to make life easier. This is also true in skydiving, but jumpers need to take an intelligent approach to using technology.
Audible altimeters are more popular than ever, and manufacturers continue to add features that make them useful both in freefall and while under canopy. However, we should never use an audible altimeter as a primary device for determining altitude. Altitude awareness is critical for every skydive. We first learn to keep track of altitude in freefall using a visual altimeter. As we gain experience, we also learn to cross reference the various altitudes we see on the visual altimeter with what the ground and horizon look like, as well as develop an “internal clock” that helps us know when freefall has been going on long enough and it is time to break off from the formation and deploy.
Once our canopies are open, using visual altimeters can help us fly correct landing patterns until we develop enough experience to fly mostly by visual cues. Both in freefall and while under canopy, jumpers should use audible altimeters only as backup devices, reminders that verify what we should already know based on what our eyes see when we look at the ground and our visual altimeters.
We have become a society that seemingly needs to video everything, and we can’t go for three minutes without checking our cell phones for email or Facebook updates. This has been an ever-increasing problem in skydiving. It is not uncommon to find a student in a first-jump course staring at his phone instead of paying attention to the instructor. And students often ask to carry their cameras so they can take first-jump selfies. Instructors frequently have to deal with these types of challenges while working with skydiving students. The young man who snuck his phone onto his first jump to chat up his buddies while he was under canopy was encouraged to pursue other activities besides skydiving. With judgment that poor, skydiving was probably not a good sport for him to pursue.
The digital revolution continues to generate all sorts of amazing products both for use in everyday life and specific to skydiving. The neat little gizmos are awesome when you use them appropriately, but there is no substitute for developing a solid foundation of the basic survival skills that are necessary for each skydive.
Jim Crouch | D-16979 | USPA Director of Safety and Training