By Ally Milne
This article is aimed at licensed parachutists, if you are a student parachutist you should only seek advice from your instructors. The British Skydiving Operations Manual says the following for licensed parachutists in Section 5 Training:
RESTRICTIONS FOLLOWING A LAY-OFF
'Where a Student or a British Skydiving ‘A’ Licence skydiver has had a lay-off of two months or more, approval of the CI must be obtained as to the type of descent to be made next.'
This article is a food for thought and is only generalised advice. To receive advice specific to your situation before you jump again please contact your CI, local instructors or your coach who can provide specific advice tailored to you.
The Current Situation
Ok so we all know the situation by now, coming out of the back of one of the worst winters in recent times, the Coronavirus began to spread rapidly, and eventually for our own good the country is put into lockdown for weeks on end. However, it seems like there is some light at the end of the tunnel and its looks like we might get the green light to restart the season again. Normally when we take the winter off, whether it's our choice or the weathers, we need to exercise caution when starting back. However, this is an exceptionally long time to have not jumped for anyone, so let's take this opportunity to prepare ourselves the best (and safest) way we can for the real start to the 2020 skydiving season.
Now, before you arrive at the DZ and start complaining you haven't been able to take part in your hobby, it might be worth realising that for the Skydiving industry and staff in the UK they haven't been operating. A lot of the staff haven't been working. Some haven't been getting paid and have fallen between the cracks for the government welfare system. Now while you might not have been able to get your skydiving fix, they would have been worrying about how they are going to pay the bills, the mortgage, and the recent massive increases in aircraft insurance. Many people across the board are likely to have lost loved ones due to the virus or gone through hardships that might not be visible. So let's all remember to bring positivity to the DZ and treat all of our skydiving family with respect. Now let's look at some key areas to reduce risk to yourself and those around you.
Firstly, have you renewed your British Skydiving membership? You can now do this online. To reduce single use plastic, British Skydiving membership cards are no longer being sent out and are only available online. So, if the Wi-Fi at the DZ is down or slow it might be a good idea to have a copy of it printed out just to be sure. If you have joint membership this can't be done yet online. Even if you haven't renewed yet, and can afford it, you could renew now and show your support for the association. If you have any Instructor or Coach ratings, they are not valid unless you have full membership, and your selected CI will need to verify them not only online but may ask to see your logbook. The CI is likely to be very busy near jumping time, so getting this sorted well in advanced is recommended. It's also worth noting that as well as the 3-year time limit on Licensed Parachutist Declaration of Fitness (Form 115E), that if any of the statements is no longer valid you would need to take further medical advice from a doctor. Skydiving Instructors are not qualified to give medical advice.
With regards to equipment, making sure your reserve is packed is vital, as you wouldn't be the first person to roll up at a DZ having forgotten this and having to sit on the ground as a result. Now Advanced Packers and Riggers are going to be super busy, my advice would be to drop the rig off as early as (legally) possible and if you have asked to have repacked for a certain day, even if that day turns out to be bad weather, please show up and pay them! There are few things worse than being a broke packer when they spend a late evening in a cold hanger to make sure your kit is ready for you, and then you don't show up. Also, if your kit has managed the lockdown and is still in date, its worth taking out the main, giving it a shake and repacking it.
If you are renting gear, remember before you jump a set of kit take the time to give a hands on check, ensure you are suitably trained and briefed to use the kit and are familiar with the main and its flying characteristics. Are you happy with the reserve size as that may be smaller? I've always thought a bad time to downsize is after having a malfunction.
Double check all your ancillary gear is where you think it is and ensure your audible has still got sufficient battery power. Make sure the jumpsuit still fits, you might find that it's got tighter.
Currency is a big contributing factor to canopy and landing issues. Its often said that the most dangerous day of a tourist ski holiday is the first day, as people think that can just pick up where they left off from the last trip. Let's take the time to ensure the same isn't true for our return to the sky. Everyone will be less current, and possibly after the long winter lockdown, a bit heavier. By making the decision to put progression on hold till you regain currency. We can take everything down a notch to ensure we train our eye back in and reload our muscle memory. Not only will this reduce risk for ourselves, but everyone in the air with us. If you have just downsized or are jumping a high-performance canopy it might be worth considering reducing your rotation or doing some straight ins, or even borrowing a bigger canopy to get current. Check with your CP coach well in advance, as trying to get their time on the first sunny Saturday back may not prove productive for you if they are already busy.
Malfunction and Emergency Drills
With recognition of malfunctions you will mostly remember the key questions and everyone has a slightly different version such like:
- - Is it Big/There?
- - It is Rectangular/Square/Oblong?
And for any canopies you check that you are not sure about, applying the same version of the following questions can help with your assessment and decision.
- - Can I Land it?
- - Can I Control it?
And recap yourself with your decision hard deck altitude.
Training some practical cutaway and reserve drills is great idea, maybe with your own kit when you drop it off nice and early to get repacked? The key words for the practical drill vary from centre to centre, however all drills have in common looking at the pad/handles before taking the appropriate action. This ensures your hands will go directly to the pad/handles without fumbling and taking more time than is necessary. It's this part of the drill that even very experienced skydivers can forget.
As well as recapping other scenarios such as if you can't find your pilot chute, how many attempts will you have? What technique will you use to find the handle? How will you control 2 parachutes out? And thinking about your aircraft emergency plan for the different altitudes.
Realistically its likely you have remembered all of this, however without repriming the brain back into Skydive mode, the time taken to look at the issue, assess what is going on, make the correct decision and follow through with the appropriate action may have taken too long, and caused further complications. The basic premise of Malfunctions and Emergencies being that we make our personal decisions and actions as high as possible. And who wants that nervous feeling of self doubt just as the door opens at exit altitude thinking 'I wish I had done more drills..'
Making a plan
Just like any skydive you should make a plan. Have the discipline to make a simple plan and stick to it. Good season warm up drills include, doing a solo or a 2 way, pulling a bit higher, having a good plan under canopy, ensuring you are facing the landing direction in plenty of time to land a flat and level full flared canopy.
When in this case is just as an important question to what, and why. Everyone is keen to get themselves back in the air, however the first sunny day you have available is going to be mobbed! Perhaps choosing a bad weather day beforehand to ensure all the correct admin and practice is completed so that you are not on a crowded DZ full of stressed uncurrent skydivers.
It's also worth noting that it's going to be best to keep to your usual DZ. Choosing to visit a new, unfamiliar DZ/ landing area is going to increases your stress levels and decrease your performance! Not ideal at this time with so many performance inhibiting currency factors.
Bear in mind this whole situation was caused by a pandemic super bug that spread easily through the air and by surface contact. In our sport we spend a lot of time in each other's personal space in the aircraft, and sometimes in the bar afterwards. To ensure that we don't have a second wave of infection and another shutdown, its wise if you are not feeling well you stay home. At the DZ you must wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds, cough into your elbows if needed and maybe that hand shake where you slide your sweaty palms across the palms over every person on the aircraft should be avoided, it never looked that cool anyway. A fist bump wearing gloves is an age-old symbol of respect, and most importantly cleaner!
Do you have a question about this article or a question for Ally himself?
If you have any worries, questions or want further knowledge or training then feel free to contact me anytime on Facebook or Instagram (allymilne1). When coaching or load organising I always look to give my students, not only freefall tuition but help expand their equipment knowledge and give canopy tips to improve their safety and help progression.
Ally is available for: Tunnel coaching, Sky coaching, Canopy coaching, load organising, BPA coach rating instruction, public / private parachute displays and media projects.
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