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Ask a Rigger | Reserves, Part 2: Knowing Your Gear

by Shauna Finley

Ask A Rigger | March 2020
Sunday, March 1, 2020

This article appeared in its original form on the extreme-sports blog pussfoot.com.

A jumper came to me after his first cutaway, concerned about damage to his reserve system. He showed me the damage: a hole in his slider … a perfectly square hole finished around the edges with support tape. Clearly, this jumper had never seen his reserve before he cut away or he would have known that the reserve manufacturer’s design included a hole in the slider. Some manufacturers use this design—which aids in quick deployment of the canopy—but others don’t.

After student status, many jumpers start racking up the jump numbers, stop asking questions and receive very little continuing education about gear. Consequently, they don’t know much about the options on their rigs (e.g., automatic activation devices, reserve static lines and main-assisted-reserve-deployment devices) or their reserves. That’s why it is a great idea for jumpers to hang out with their riggers during reserve repacks and ask questions.

As a licensed jumper, you should strive to know your gear inside and out. Not only will it make you safer, it will help to eliminate gear fear. It will also help answer one of the more common questions riggers receive: What color is my reserve? (They are usually either orange, white, light blue, yellow or red.) So, ask your rigger if you can sit in on your repack. Before the repack begins, actually pull your handles as you would in an emergency situation. You’ll feel the tension it takes to pull your handles and you’ll gain a better understanding of how the components work.

Here are a few things you should know about your reserve:

1.  Your reserve has toggles and you will steer and flare it just as you would your main canopy. Although it may have slightly different flight characteristics than your main canopy, operationally, you will fly it the same way.

2.  The reserve freebag (the reserve deployment bag) and pilot chute are not attached to the canopy. If you see it floating away after reserve deployment, that’s perfectly normal.

3.  When released, the reserve pilot chute spring creates drag and therefore pulls the reserve from the reserve tray. It does not push the reserve canopy out of the container. (This was a concern of an actual jumper.)

4.  Some manufacturers design their reserve sliders with holes in them. Find out whether yours does before you’re surprised in the air!

5.  When purchasing a previously owned reserve, make sure it comes with all of its reserve data cards. Reserve data cards travel with the reserve; they do not stay with the container if the components are sold separately. The data card should provide an accurate history of the canopy. Sometimes older reserves have multiple cards. Make sure that the seller provides all supporting documentation at the time of sale.

Knowledge is power. Knowing about your gear and how it works will instill confidence in the event of a cutaway. If you are a rigger, encourage your senior jumpers, as well as your junior jumpers, to be active participants in their repacks. If you’re an instructor, encourage riggers to participate and help educate students during the gear section of the first-jump course. If you are a jumper, speak to your rigger and ask questions. Many questions! The only way to truly be comfortable with your gear is to know how it works.

Shauna Finley | D-34907 and FAA Master Rigger
USPA Eastern Regional Director

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