Complacency: The Silent Killer
Safety & Training | Jun 14, 2024
Complacency: The Silent Killer

Rosy Booker

Above: Photo by Joseph Thomas.

In the fast and fun world of skydiving, where adrenaline rushes and heart-pounding moments are common, there exists a silent but deadly threat that often goes unnoticed until it’s too late: complacency. Complacency arises when skydivers become overly comfortable or accustomed to the risks associated with the sport. This false sense of security can lead individuals to lower their guard, neglect safety protocols and underestimate hazards. The consequences can be catastrophic.

The Insidious Nature of Complacency

Despite its well-known dangers, skydivers often underestimate complacency. Unlike other risks that are visible and immediate, complacency sneaks in silently, masked behind a facade of familiarity and confidence. Complacency doesn’t manifest overnight; it builds up slowly over time as skydivers become more confident in their skills and more comfortable around risk. This gradual onset makes it difficult for individuals to identify when they are becoming complacent until it’s too late. A complacent skydiver is almost never aware they are being complacent.

Understanding the dangers and traits of complacency is crucial for being able to identify complacency when—not if—it presents itself in you or your community.

Three Ways Complacency Creeps In

  1. Routine behaviors: Routine behaviors are the habitual actions and procedures that skydivers engage in before, during and after each jump. While routines are essential for maintaining  consistency and efficiency, when performed mindlessly and without concentration they can become a breeding ground for complacency. A few areas where these routine behaviors occur are:

  • Preflight equipment checks: Jumpers should check their gear three times: before donning their gear, before boarding the aircraft and prior to exiting the aircraft. These pre-jump gear checks are crucial rituals for ensuring safety, but they can become routine to the point that skydivers just go through the motions without fully engaging their attention or focus. Complacent skydivers might rush these checks or perform them half-heartedly, assuming everything is in order. Some may even forego gear checks entirely.
  • Emergency procedures: Reviewing and rehearsing responses to emergencies such as malfunctions is an imperative part of preparing for a jump, but complacent skydivers who (incorrectly) assume that such scenarios are unlikely to occur or underestimate the urgency of knowing how to respond quickly and correctly may overlook them. They may also assume that the initial training they received and knowledge they gained as students or novices will suffice without frequent refreshing.
  • Canopy handling: After deployment, it can be tempting to just head back to the drop zone to quickly land and do it all again on the next load. But are you engaging in due diligence for every component of canopy flight? Do you do a thorough canopy-control check on each and every jump? Are you continually scanning your airspace for other jumpers? Are you making necessary adjustments to create separation above pattern altitudes and while flying the pattern? Are you checking the wind strength and direction?

  2. False sense of security and overconfidence: As individuals gain experience in skydiving, they may develop overconfidence in their skills and abilities. This can lead to underestimating risks and neglecting proper safety precautions, which can leave them vulnerable to accidents. Complacent skydivers may exhibit an unjustified sense of invincibility, dismiss warning signs and believe that accidents or mishaps won’t happen to them. This mindset is more common than you might think. For example, it’s quite typical to hear skydivers discuss a recent incident and say things like, “Well, that person did <ABC dumb thing>, they should have done <XYZ smart thing>.” They believe, “I wouldn’t do that dumb thing, so that won’t happen to me.” This illusion of superior judgment can lead to a false sense of security.

It is important to remember that devising the ideal response to an incident is much easier in hindsight, especially in a relaxed environment on the ground, when there’s no stress. Plus, when discussing a mistake, you already know that one response should be ruled out ... the one that led to the mishap. (This doesn’t only apply to skydiving ... have you seen the movie “Sully?”)

It’s crucial to recognize that when you’re faced with an emergency situation and you don’t have the luxury of time and already-ruled-out answers, things can look quite different. Your best defense against being an incident statistic isn’t how well you can pick apart situations after the fact, it’s actively learning from those incidents and training your brain to react correctly to the myriad of various scenarios you can find yourself in.

  3. Normalization of risk: Skydivers often love to embrace challenges and push boundaries; just look at how the sport has evolved and continues to evolve! But this can lead to normalizing risk-taking, which leads skydivers to downplay inherent dangers. When the inherent risks of skydiving no longer faze a skydiver and complacency creeps in, the skydiver may start to take unnecessary risks such as performing advanced maneuvers without proper training or making jumps in challenging conditions beyond their skill level.

Any of these factors or a combination can leave individuals vulnerable to accidents. The first line of defense against complacency is to be aware of how complacency can manifest within our behaviors and mindset and have checks and balances in place.

Three Ways To Guard Against Complacency

Regularly take time to reflect on your mindset, behaviors and attitudes toward skydiving. Be honest with yourself about any overconfidence, complacency in routine behaviors or lapses in attention to safety. Complacency exists on a scale–it’s not as simple as either being complacent or not. If you notice a complacent action in your own behavior, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are entirely complacent, but it serves as a warning sign. Identifying and addressing these instances of complacency can contribute to becoming a safer skydiver in the long run. If left unchecked, these behaviors can quickly snowball into an ingrained complacency mindset, significantly increasing the risk of incidents.

Continuous Training
Regularly refreshing your skills and knowledge helps combat complacency by reinforcing safety practices and maintaining awareness of potential risks. Refresh and rehearse your emergency procedures, canopy flight drills, hazardous landing protocols and aircraft safety drills. Further your education and understanding of your canopy and your chosen disciplines. Seek out education and guidance from experienced jumpers and experts. Never stop learning!

Mindfulness Practice
Incorporate mindfulness into your routines to cultivate present-moment awareness and attention to detail. Stay grounded in the here and now, rather than allowing your mind to wander or become preoccupied with distractions. For example, rather than giving your gear a quick glance over to see if anything stands out as glaringly wrong, slow down your gear checks, thoroughly check each individual component with care and attention to ensure it is serviceable and ready to safely jump. Got distracted halfway through? Start over!

Stay Humble and Stay Safe
Be vigilant: If you notice any complacent behaviors, take responsibility. See it as a sign to slow down and refocus on safety. Complacency poses a silent yet insidious threat to skydivers and the community, gradually undermining safety. By recognizing the signs of complacency and adopting proactive measures to combat it, skydivers can enjoy the sport longer in safer skies. Above all, remember to stay humble and respect the inherent risks in the sport, as even very seasoned skydivers are not immune to accidents.

About the Author

Rosy Booker, D-34461, is the lead AFF instructor, USPA Safety and Training Advisor and assistant manager at Skydive Spaceland-San Marcos in Fentress, Texas. She is also a coach examiner and AFF evaluator with The Ratings Center. In these roles, she has frequent opportunities to use her skills and experience to improve education and training and address safety concerns in her local community.

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