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Ask a Rigger | Why Should I Learn More About My Gear?

By Jen Sharp

Ask A Rigger | December 2019
Sunday, December 1, 2019

You pull one handle and, magically, there is an open parachute over your head. And if that doesn’t work, you just cut away, pull the reserve handle and later buy your rigger their bottle of choice. Voilà! Seems simple enough.

However, you should really think about extending your knowledge beyond merely operating handles, even if you do so flawlessly and automatically. Spend time with your rigger to learn more about how your gear works. Here are three of the most important reasons why:

  • To Appreciate the Complexity and Limits of Equipment

Over the years, gear manufacturers have paid attention to incidents. They share information and ideas for improvements despite being competitors in a tight market. Why? To save lives. Skydiving equipment is safer than ever, and it can even overcome pilot error in some scenarios. The flip side is that all of the safety features can lull jumpers into a false sense of security and possibly incline them toward taking on unnecessary risk.

Even the most talented gear makers cannot manufacture products that have no limits. Automatic activation devices have saved countless lives by cutting reserve closing loops, but AADs cannot make sure the reserves actually deploy. For example, an AAD is unable to cut away a main canopy that might interfere with the deploying reserve. Similarly, a main-assisted-reserve-deployment device (a type of reserve static line that uses the cutaway main canopy as a pilot chute for the reserve) will usually pull your reserve pin more quickly than you can do it yourself, but only if the main is out and creates enough drag to do so. There are countless fundamental gear processes and limitations like these that your rigger can help you understand.

  • To Gain Options for Better Handling of Routine and Emergency Procedures

Better how? For starters, your rigger can help you think through options for dealing with a tight situation when you have limited time. The longstanding adage rings true: A poor decision can hurt you, but indecision can kill you. Thinking about situations ahead of time translates into knowing what to do if they happen. In addition, you could gain a tip or two that will make your regular routine safer or more efficient.

Since jumpers often bring their concerns to their riggers, most riggers are tapped into a large body of knowledge about normal gear use, as well as emergencies. Speaking with your rigger even informally will spark thoughts and ideas and provide opportunities to expand on what you already know. You may even find answers to questions about your prior experiences.

  • To Save Your Own Life Someday

In critical situations where time is of essence and “the usual” isn’t working, you must quickly come up with a different plan. The malfunctions taught to solo first-jump students are not the only issues a person might encounter; they are just common ones. A malfunction you experience may not be on that list. Knowing how your gear works instead of just memorizing a list of responses to photos placed over your head might save your life one day.

Take, for example, the true story of two jumpers who collided just after opening. The lower jumper cut away without warning and left his parachute entangled around the other’s body. The entangled jumper struggled to clear the entanglement in vain. He reached for his cutaway pillow but was not able to pull the handle, likely because lines from the cutaway canopy were inhibiting its release. At about 1,000 feet above the ground, still entangled and spinning, he decided to pull the reserve. It did not open, again because the lines were wrapped around the container tightly and inhibiting the pilot chute from launching. Because he understood how the cutaway system worked, he turned his attention to the cutaway handle again, but instead of trying to pull the handle itself, he peeled the cables out of the housing, leaving the pillow in place. It worked; once the main canopy released, it dragged the entangled canopy’s lines with it, and the reserve pilot chute was able to clear. The jumper landed under his reserve with nothing more than line burns on his jumpsuit. Had he not understood how the cutaway system worked, he may not have been around to relay this story that demonstrates the importance of fully understanding your gear.

  • When is the right time?

If you have a question about safety, immediately stop and ask it of a rigger before your next jump. But if you want to have a less-structured discussion, plan to spend some time with your favorite rigger during your next reserve inspection and repack. Since including you and answering your questions may take up extra time, it’s wise to offer to compensate them accordingly.

It takes a great deal of persistence and study to become a rigger. And it takes an attitude of constant improvement to keep rigging. Most riggers are eager to share the knowledge and tips they’ve accumulated. So, the next time you see your favorite rigger, thank them for their contribution by being curious and spending some time with them. You will both be better from it.

Jen Sharp | D-17516, Coach Examiner, Tandem Instructor Examiner, AFF and Static-Line Instructor, PRO
FAA Master Rigger

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