Securing Your Toggles

Setting the brakes, stowing the excess steering line and making sure the toggles are secure on both risers seems simple enough, but apparently skydivers need to pay more attention to this easy yet critical part of the packing process. Over the past few decades, premature brake releases (aka “brake fires”) have increasingly led to cutaways, reserve rides and even fatalities. So, with so much at stake, why aren’t we doing everything possible to reduce the chance of having to deal with this type of equipment problem?

Prior to the early 1990s, when the majority of canopies were bigger and slower and Velcro mated the toggles to the risers, it was rare to hear about a brake fire. And even if one brake did release, it was usually a non-event: With a lightly loaded canopy in a relatively slow turn, the jumper would simply release the other brake and continue to fly the canopy.

Brake fires started to become more of an issue in the late ’90s due to several factors that combined to complicate matters:

  • Canopy designs changed, which led to faster turns and a greater altitude loss during each revolution.
  • Many jumpers started to load their canopies more heavily.
  • Most jumpers began using Velcroless type-17 mini-risers, and many early versions had poorly designed toggle keepers, as well as no way to stow excess steering line.
  • Jumpers used too much time and altitude to deal with spinning-line-twist malfunctions, and some cut away too low to allow the reserve to fully deploy.

A fast canopy design flown at a high wing loading will malfunction violently and lose altitude rapidly when a brake releases on deployment. A released brake on this type of canopy will also generally spin the canopy into line twists as soon as it starts to inflate. A jumper will often fight to get out of the line twists while the canopy spins him rapidly toward the ground, but he’s burning precious altitude while fighting a losing battle. There is also the potential for a canopy collision as the canopy spins away without any directional control.

As a student, you probably learned to kick out of line twists. This works well if the canopy is flying straight toward the horizon. But with spinning line twists, odds are that you will not be able to gain control of the canopy. Don’t waste time and altitude trying to fix something that can’t be fixed. Cut away and pull your reserve ripcord while you still have enough altitude for the reserve to fully inflate.

Although the Velcro-toggle-keeper designs did a great job of holding toggles onto risers when new, the Velcro would eventually wear out and no longer stick securely. Additionally, contact with the hook side of the Velcro could damage brake lines, causing premature wear and need for brake-line replacement. Consequently, manufacturers started looking for alternatives to using Velcro to stow toggles. Some designs would barely hold the toggle in place long enough for the jumper to pack the main in the container, much less stay together while the main canopy deployed and inflated. Early designs also lacked any way to stow the excess steering line, which led to large loops of steering line pulling toggles loose when they snagged on containers during deployment. Over the years, designs improved, and those manufacturers that did not provide any method for stowing excess brake line began to add a loop of tape or elastic to securely stow the excess. But even with the improved designs, it is still possible for toggles to slip out of the toggle keepers once the risers have seen some use. It’s easy to overlook the problem since it usually happens gradually, so make sure to check your toggles occasionally for looseness. If your toggle easily slips out of its keeper, it is time to replace the risers or have them repaired by a rigger. Luckily, it is usually a quick and easy fix.

Many jumpers do not give much thought to stowing their toggles and brake lines, but a simple brake release can generate big problems. If you are not sure whether your risers and toggles are in order, ask a rigger to take a look to see if they need to be repaired or replaced. A simple fix may be all you need to help prevent a tragedy that’s lurking around the corner.

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


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