Don't Cut Away Before You Read This

You Might Not Be Prepared for a Skydiving Emergency

This will someday happen to you. Know how to react.
This will someday happen to you. Know how to react. Image courtesy Brett Kistler

Are you ready to be alone in the sky with a misbehaving parachute and two handles? Though there are skydivers with thousands of jumps who have never experienced the fun of a cutaway, don’t be fooled: it’s not a question of “if,” it’s a question of “when.”

If you don't feel ready, you aren't the only one. You can, however, be smart. There are several tried-and-tested methods ways to boost your confidence (and, therefore, safety). Here's how.

Stay Religiously Current

I know. It’s not your fault. Your home DZ is seasonal – or it’s far away – or it’s a tandem factory that keeps sullen fun jumpers on the ground. Whether it is or isn’t your motivation that’s the problem, the fact remains: long lapses between jumps are dangerous. They dull skills, heighten apprehensions, create a sense of unfamiliarity with aircraft and degrade the muscle memory you have carefully built around your gear, which is of vital importance in the event of a reserve ride.

It’s vital to your career as a skydiver – especially, at the beginning – to make the effort to jump whenever you can. Weekly is best.


The USPA Skydiver Information Manual puts it rather dryly: “Regular, periodic review, analysis, and practice of emergency procedures prepares you to act correctly in response to problems that arise while skydiving.” Rephrased in a slightly more compelling manner: practicing might save your life, specially if you’re a newer skydiver who isn’t quite as attenuated to the stress of freefall as an old-timer.

  • Deploy your reserve for every repack. Have you ever deployed the reserve for your current skydiving rig? If not, the result may surprise you. You’ll learn the direction of the pull for your gear, as well as how much force you’ll need to use in order to operate the handle effectively. Ask your rigger to watch the process, so as to watch the deployment and identify potential problems. Even if you have deployed your own reserve, a repack is an unwasteable drill opportunity.
  • Practice emergency procedures in your DZ’s training harness. (You may feel like a dork if you’ve been skydiving for a while. Go on a quiet weekday and do it anyway.) The Dance

Before each and every jump, the USPA advises skydivers to “review the procedures to avoid emergency situations and the procedures to respond to emergencies if they occur.” This doesn’t have to mean poring over your SIM in the staging area.

  • Touch your handles in sequence before you enter the plane. It is not beneath you. Being blase about basic safety doesn’t make you more awesome.
  • Check that your reserve handle is seated, while you’re at it. A loose reserve handle can deliver a reserve ride without the fun of a malfunctioning main – and you don’t want that, do you?

What If It Goes Wrong?

OK. So you've gone through the skydiving emergency two-step, over and over, as a student. You know the sequence: arch, look down at your handles, grasp the handles, pull cutaway, pull reserve. You've seen the videos and you've seen the ground-school photos, so you know what a malfunctioning main looks like. Before you pull that handle, though, make sure you know the rest of the story.

Continued in Part 2 >>