How to Keep Your Expensive, Life-Saving Equipment Looking Like Expensive, Life-Saving Equipment

The few weeks after you get a new car are probably when you keep it the cleanest and most well maintained it will ever be. You’ve just spent a lot of money, and you hope it will last a long time. Maybe you promise that this time will be different—you’re going to take excellent care it—but then get busy or complacent and before you know it, the floorboards are sprouting potatoes.
The same thing can happen when you purchase skydiving gear. Even though the gear is important (after all, it saves your life on every jump), your consideration of it can dissipate rather quickly. And for some, that consideration may never have been there to begin with.
It happens. Maybe you were just so stoked from that last jump that you unknowingly dragged your canopy and deployment bag halfway across the landing area. Or perhaps you made 12 jumps a day in the heat of summer, packed for yourself and sweated all over your beautiful piece of nylon. Performance Designs’ maintenance department has seen it all and can shed some light on the most common canopy maintenance issues and how to prevent them.

Canopy Fabric
Though a parachute system is made up of a variety of materials, some typically see more damage than others. The one component that perhaps sustains the most damage is the fabric itself. PD sees several types of damage from various causes. Although outside factors result in some damage, surprisingly, packing incorrectly is one of the most common causes of canopy deterioration. That’s why proper packing is an important component of canopy maintenance.
Sweat
One of the biggest contributors to canopy deterioration is sweat, with the greatest fabric degradation occurring to the center three top skins from the tail to the pilot chute attachment. Believe it or not, PD’s parachute maintenance department gurus can tell whether you’ve been lying all over your canopy in a sweaty shirt while packing, because sweat soak causes heavy degradation. It also makes your canopy more susceptible to UV (ultraviolet) degradation.
Tip #1: Do your best to keep sweat off your canopy, and do not lie on your canopy while packing if your shirt is sweat soaked.
Fertilizer
Although ideally you should pack on a smooth and clean surface, grass is not the worst surface to pack on. However, many drop zones have fertilized grass areas or are surrounded by farms that use pesticides or other weed killers, and your canopy does not get along well with those. If you can help it, don’t pack your canopy on grass that has been treated with weed killers, pesticides or fertilizers. And if you can’t help it, consider investing in a small packing mat to protect your expensive investment.
That Giant, Burning Ball of Gas in the Sky
One thing you can never avoid completely is UV-light degradation. However, you can control whether you leave your canopy in the sun. Simply put: Don’t do it. (Well, at least any more than you have to.) The sun’s UV rays reduce the strength of your fabric, fade its color and shorten your canopy’s life span.
Impact Holes
If you’re one of the lucky few, your canopy will only ever see fading and wear, but most will (at some point) develop holes, tears or rips of the canopy fabric. The single most common damage PD sees is tiny holes in the center top and bottom skins at the tail. These often do not require repair unless many are in a small area, which may require patching.
The PD staff calls this type of damage “impact holes.” Although it’s difficult to ascertain the exact cause, PD is fairly confident that they’re the result of the canopy fabric being between the grommets of the deployment bag and those of the slider as they bang together during deployment. Despite wrapping their heads around this problem for quite some time, PD’s maintenance department staff members have been unable to find a clear correlation between impact holes and packing technique, deployment-bag grommet placement or any other factors. The best advice is to keep an eye on this high-wear area and do your best to minimize other damage to the canopy through correct packing and handling.
Line Burn
Line burn—a hole in the canopy fabric caused by friction with a line or lines—is another common maintenance issue. It usually occurs as a result of an out-of-sequence deployment, poor organization of the canopy during packing or both. An out-of-sequence deployment is simply no bueno. For example, if the bag comes off the canopy before there’s tension on the lines and the canopy begins to inflate while the slider is already coming down (not getting a chance to do its job) … bam! Line dump. Now you’ve got a stiff neck and potentially damaged your canopy. The good news is this is largely preventable! Yay!
Tip #2: Use proper tension when stowing lines, create equal-length line bytes and organize the lines and fabric well to prevent line burns (including when bagging the canopy!).
Tip #3: Line stows should be symmetrical. Don’t mismatch rubber bands (by using some large and some small). PD recommends using large rubber bands and double wrapping all stows, including the locking stows.
Other Holes and Tears
Landing in a less than desirable location, allowing your canopy to hit the ground hard after you’ve landed (typically on the nose) or dragging your canopy across a rough surface can also cause holes and tears in the fabric.
Tip #4: Treat your expensive, life-saving equipment with great care from the moment you land until it’s safely packed up in your container.

Lines
Twenty years ago, most canopies were made of F-111 fabric, which showed a lot of wear after a few hundred jumps. Today, you can potentially get thousands of jumps out of your parachute (depending on the care you give it and the conditions you jump in). However, a canopy’s lines—unlike its fabric—will need replacement several times throughout its life, typically due to normal wear and tear from use. How you care for your lines can greatly affect whether you get 150 jumps out of that line set or 400-plus.
Before reviewing common causes of line wear and how to prevent premature wearing of your lines, keep this in mind:
Tip #5: Never push your sketchy lines beyond what is reasonable or try to squeeze a few extra jumps out of seriously worn lines. The cost of a new line set is nothing compared to the potential cost of losing your canopy due to a malfunction from broken lines or the hospital bills from injury (or even death!) on landing. Yes! Jumpers’ lines have broken on deployment, in flight and on landing. Don’t be that person.
Below are some examples of lines well beyond what is reasonable wear. Never, ever jump lines that look like these:

Sketchy HMA

Sketchy Vectran

Sketchy Dacron

Sketchy Microline  

    
Twists
One way to avoid excessive wear on your lines is to prevent the steering lines from twisting. Twisted lines cause lots of problems and are one of the simplest things to avoid!
Tip #6: Right after landing, set your brakes or at least stow your toggles. At the end of each day, untwist your steering lines if needed.
When steering lines are twisted, they shorten over time, get set in the twist and are weaker. During deployment, the carriers of your lines (the elements that make up the lines) will be under an uneven load and may end up taking more of the opening force than they were intended to. This can cause fraying and breakage. In addition, lines that are unequal in length due to twists can cause your canopy to turn and may also have a negative effect on your canopy’s opening.
Slider Grommets
Dings and dents in slider grommets are another major cause of accelerated line wear. If your gear utilizes metal connector links, the slider grommets can sustain damage when they slam against them as the slider comes down. However, a variety of situations can cause damage to slider grommets.
Tip #7: Check your slider grommets often for any nicks or damage, which will wear out your lines prematurely.
Collapsing Your Slider
If you have a collapsible slider, check the drawstring channels for frayed edges or broken stitching. Make sure the drawstrings work as they should. On smaller and faster canopies, the inability to collapse your slider will cause it to flap around and can result in premature wear on the lower portion of your lines. This will be much worse if you have any nicks or dings on your grommets!

Some Parting Words …
Whether your gear is brand new or 15 years old, how you treat it on a daily basis directly affects how long you’ll be able to use it, how much money you’ll spend on it during its lifetime and its potential resale value. Be mindful of how and where you pack, and keep an eye on these high-wear areas:

  • Top three center cells and the area surrounding the warning label (near the tail)
  • Steering lines (and line-set condition in general)
  • Slider grommets, channels (if applicable) and fabric

Boom. Mic dropped.

About the Author
Ella Ran, D-30832, has been jumping since 2005 and has worked for Performance Designs in its marketing department since 2013.

Comments

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Camilo Moreno
Sun, 09/17/2017 - 13:55

Hi, there are some landing areas in drop zones that are just regular soil, not even grass. My question is how do you clean the canopy since is unavoidable to have a canopy full of dirt after landing. Thank you!

Webmaster
Fri, 09/22/2017 - 10:02

Check with the manufacturer of your canopy to see what is recommended for cleaning and maintenance.

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