Soft Links

Q:

 

What are soft links, and how do I know when I should replace them?

A:Soft links are used to connect your suspension lines to your main or reserve risers. They are made from Spectra suspension line and have been available for more than 10 years as an alternative to metal Rapide links. Various canopy manufacturers have different versions available. Aerodyne Research and Precision Aerodynamics offer them, as well as Performance Designs. Performance Designs manufactures two kinds of PD SLinks (short for soft links), one manufactured from 1,000-pound Spectra line for use with main canopies and another manufactured from 1,500-pound Spectra line for use with reserve canopies. Only the heavier 1,500-pound SR-1 SLinks have received Federal Aviation Administration Technical Standard Order approval for use on reserve canopies. The reserve SLinks are also slightly longer than main SLinks to accommodate bulky reserve risers.

ASKARIGGER201312This soft shows enough wear and tear to merit replacement. Photo courtesy of Performance Designs.

Soft links have many advantages over metal links. They are stronger, less bulky and require no tools to install. However, they are not foolproof. Installation errors and worn-out soft links (mostly due to poor gear maintenance) have led to link failures and malfunctions and subsequent jumper injury. One jumper suffered severe injuries when a soft link on his front riser broke during a high-performance landing just before he reached the ground. He struck the ground at high speed because he was unable to maintain control after the lines separated from one of his risers.

Installing soft links is not particularly difficult, but it requires the installer to pay close attention to ensure that he’s installing the links exactly to the manufacturer’s specifications. (Performance Designs has an instructional installation video titled “SLinks by Performance Designs Inc” available on youtube.com.) Most riggers also tack the links in place to keep them from rotating out of position on the risers. Once installed, they are pretty much trouble-free. However, because they are manufactured out of Spectra, they will eventually wear out just like suspension lines. So, as with everything else on your harness and container, you’ll need to periodically inspect your soft links and replace them when they begin to show signs of wear and tear. If you can see areas of broken fiber on your soft links (as shown in the photo), then it is a good idea to replace them. Rusty Vest, customer service manager at Performance Designs, said that many jumpers choose to have their soft links replaced any time they have their canopies relined. He stated, “This is certainly a conservative and safe practice. It is largely due to how much abuse they are subjected to during the course of a line set.”

John LeBlanc, vice-president of Performance Designs, said that the number of jumps made on soft links does not really dictate when they should be replaced. He remarked, “It is possible for SLinks to go for a very long time or for them to be dangerously worn in very few jumps. Regular inspection is the key.”

—Jim Crouch | D-16979
USPA Director of Safety & Training

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