You hear it at almost every water-training session: “Why do I have to jump in a pool with this old parachute? I’m never going to land in the water, but if I do, I know how to swim!” And so goes the argument from jumpers who don’t truly understand how serious of a problem a water landing can be. Although water landings are not as common as they once were in the days of less-maneuverable round parachutes, they still happen enough for the training to be important. A proper water-training session should serve as an educational tool for each participant and not just a routine to be drudged though so that the jumper can check off that box to get his license. A USPA Safety & Training Advisor, Instructor or Instructor Examiner should conduct a thorough training session and log it in the jumper’s log book once it is completed.
A complete and informative water training session does not take long. The participants will benefit just as much from the information provided during discussions as from the practical exercise of jumping into a pool wearing gear (although removing a parachute harness while treading water and dealing with an unruly parachute and suspension lines is not as easy as some would think). Skydiver’s Information Manual Sections 5-1 and 6-5 address water training and water landings. If your drop zone is located near a river, lake or ocean, it’s probably a good idea to review water-landing procedures with all the regular jumpers at least once a year and with visiting jumpers as a routine part of the drop zone orientation.
Ground training on water landings should address the following topics:
- Flotation devices
- Pre-landing procedures (such as disconnecting the chest strap, loosening leg straps and disconnecting the reserve static line)
- Determining wind direction and how to land facing into the wind, if possible
- Difficulties of depth perception over water
- Using braked flight for the final approach
- Parachute landing fall procedures
- Entering the water with lungs filled
- Remaining in the harness until touchdown and procedures for getting out of it after touchdown
- Making a decision to release the main canopy and doing so only after touching the water
- Procedures for getting out from under a canopy
- Consideration of the additional risks created by weights or other equipment such as camera helmets or skysurf boards.
Inform your students that one of the issues that most strongly affects the outcome of any water landing is the temperature of the water. Many jumpers may not think about the debilitating effects of cold water. According to the U.S. Search and Rescue Task Force, survival time in water at temperatures of 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit can be as little as 30 to 60 minutes. And swimming or treading in colder water causes the body to lose its heat more rapidly, because blood moves away from the core and out to the arm and leg muscles. Additionally, the chance of immediately suffering a heart attack or shock upon entering the water increases as the water temperature drops.
Water training is both fun and exciting for those who are taking the plunge. Make sure that you provide each participant with a thorough briefing and understanding of the risks associated with a water landing. The education just might save a life.
—Jim Crouch | D-16979
USPA Director of Safety & Training