Canopy manufacturer Performance Designs would love it if every time you needed a canopy you'd buy a brand-spanking-new one. Of course, that's not always possible, and without a doubt there are some great deals on used parachutes in the marketplace. Many people choose to buy used, especially for their first or second sets of gear. If you do choose to buy used equipment, particularly a main canopy, you’ll need to do your homework.
Although you can get a good value by buying a used parachute made by a manufacturer that you trust, this won’t be the case if the parachute is not in decent condition. With that in mind, here’s a guide that tells you what to pay attention to, red flags to watch out for, questions to ask and (apologies) a few reality checks.
First, you're going to want to do a full canopy inspection and, if possible, have a rigger check it out for you, as well. You’ll want to pay attention to these high-wear areas:
• The top of the three center cells and the area surrounding the warning label near the tail
• The steering lines and the condition of the line set in general
• The slider grommets, channels (if applicable) and fabric
The condition of the overall canopy fabric is a big one to watch out for when buying used. One of the biggest contributors to canopy deterioration is sweat, with the greatest fabric degradation occurring to the top skin of the center three cells from the tail to the pilot chute attachment. Also, the sun’s UV rays reduce the strength of the fabric, which shortens its lifespan, so watch for canopies that are very faded. You should also keep an eye out for impact holes and line burn.
Ask about the history of the canopy, which can let you know what else to watch for. Don't get super hung up on how many jumps have been made on the canopy. You may find that a canopy has been jumped very little but still has issues. Dig deep and ask questions. Two big factors are:
• Location, location, location. It's essential that you find out where the canopy has been jumped. A canopy that’s been jumped in hot, desert-like, dusty conditions or an agricultural area where pesticides are common will show premature wear.
• Is the seller the first owner or have there been multiple owners? The more owners, the less likely you're getting the full story on the canopy. Just because someone says it's in good condition doesn't mean it is. (Sorry to remove those rose-tinted glasses, guys.)
When you ask questions about the parachute’s history, keep in mind the types of use that can affect a parachute’s condition over time.
• Has the canopy gotten wet? If a canopy was not dried before use or if it dried asymmetrically, the fabric, tapes and thread could have undergone changes, which will create a change in the canopy’s overall performance.
• Has the canopy been exposed to salt water? If the owner didn’t rinse it properly or rinsed it but handled it roughly and used excess agitation, the canopy could be damaged.
• How was it packed? If the owner repeatedly used bad packing practices and routinely put stress on one portion of the canopy, the canopy may have undergone dimensional changes.
• What maintenance has the canopy undergone?
• Is it a high-performance canopy? If so, it likely has seen aggressive use, been swooped and been in ponds and probably has a high number of jumps on it. Therefore, it may have a great deal of premature wear.
Fly Before You Buy
How many times have you bought a used car on Craigslist and not asked to drive it before buying? Fingers crossed the answer is never. When it comes to buying a used canopy, flying it is an essential step. When you fly it, ask yourself how it performs compared to others of the same model and size. If you’ve never flown a canopy of the same model and size, ask someone with knowledge and experience to fly it for you.
Buy at Your Own Risk
By taking the proper precautions, you should be able to purchase a great second-hand parachute. Most manufacturers, including Performance Designs, will be happy to answer questions about their products and help you through the purchasing experience whether the canopy is new or used.
However, there are always risks. If you find that your newly purchased parachute needs a checkup, contact the manufacturer, who should be able to fully inspect it and make any necessary repairs. Some repairs are simple and will bring the canopy back to manufacturer’s specifications at a reasonable cost. Others come with a large price tag and take time, delaying your return to the sky. The Performance Designs Parachute Maintenance Department has made some amazing makeovers, but sometimes it’s best to put a canopy out of its misery. To avoid this heartache, do your homework ahead of time. Happy shopping!
A Cautionary Tale
The purchaser of a used high-performance canopy sent it to the Performance Designs Parachute Maintenance Department to be relined. The owner had recently purchased the canopy sight unseen. PD staff found that the canopy was severely damaged from exposure to UV rays and from repeatedly being dried improperly after having gotten wet. Although the buyer sent it to PD for a reline, the condition of the canopy was so bad that the PD staff had to deem it unserviceable.
About the Author
Hollie-Blue Allum, A-83547, is an ex-drop-zone kid turned social butterfly at Performance Designs, where she stalks social media, writes articles and gets her bosses to debrief her landings.