Paragliding Safety

Having Your Guard Up

Safety is a giant topic and needs inclusion in every aspect of paragliding. When you begin, it involves finding the right instructor to assist and enable you to build systems and techniques to manage safety. Having a good sense of risk management and a good attitude are keys in the long haul. As you grow as a pilot, safety requires the elimination of ego and callousness.

I have been saying for a very long time that the most dangerous part of paragliding is how easy it is to get started. The ease and relatively quick progression that happen in learning to paraglide can lure new pilots into a false sense of security. Later, after the ramp up period, there is a common occurrence called “intermediate syndrome” where overconfidence can lead pilots to move into bad situations and possible accidents. In any high risk sport, it pays to always have your guard up.

Feeling vulnerable is a good thing in any high risk endeavor. It is important to realize that accidents happen to many pilots and that you are not excluded from this. It can take extra effort to keep this going, human nature sometime makes us feel like we are above making a mistake or missing a safety issue.   With a sport like Paragliding, there are so many factors that it is easier to miss something.   If you can keep your guard up and maintain some vulnerability, safety can become the highest priority on your list. This mindset should never disappear from your approach and attitude toward flying. A long term approach for each day of flying will help you see the big picture.

In the first days of training you can begin building an attitude where self reliance and correctly timed caution and vulnerability are included on your priority list. Attitude is the envelope that manages all of the facets of paragliding. Students that have all of the talent of the world, but fail to temper their skills will have a tendency to be more at risk. Students with much less physical talent, but who have a good attitude will maximize their growth and safety. The good attitude will overcome skill growth every day of the week. Skills can grow over time but having a bad attitude or judgment can result in an instant catastrophe.

Some say that it is not possible to teach a good attitude. Ultimately, attitude comes from the inside, so teaching attitude is limited to how the student absorbs and personalizes lessons about approach and perspective. Instructors can help to instill awareness of flying factors to help a student have a better attitude. As a student of paragliding, you need to understand that you will always need to keep your guard up. You need to always put safety at the top of your priorities and use this in your decision making and flight planning. Attitude and perspective are really the keys to a pilots being able to look after themselves.

Only Four Things

In the end, with a good attitude, safety can be simplified into four elements for each flight to be safe. These four items are:

  1. Preparation
  2. A Good Launch
  3. Reaching the Landing Zone with Sufficient Altitude for an Approach
  4. A Good Landing

Preparation

A Good Launch

Reach the Landing Zone with Adequate Altitude

A Good Landing

See the Big Picture / Risk Management

Another take on safety is that it is not always the larger and more obvious mistakes that cause accidents. Often it is the more subtle mistakes or situations where accidents can occur. For example, kiting does not seem near as dangerous as flying. But, if the wind is strong and somehow you get dragged or pulled by the wing, the ground is right there and injuries can happen. I see pilots sometimes kiting without a helmet, displaying a lack of respect for safety. Safety in such a sport means that you need to use your peripheral vision to look out for the unexpected situation. Nobody plans for accidents; they can come from unperceived factors or lack of preparations. Tunnel vision for only the larger situations can leave you vulnerable for the hidden issues that might lead to a crash.

There are many resources that will help you gain perspective As you grow as a pilot, exposure to the community of veteran pilots will help you learn a ton. By asking questions and hearing stories your perceptions will grow constantly. Stories about accidents or hazards at flying sites will make you aware of places to avoid and what to do or not do in similar situations. Joining local clubs is a great way to gather information.

Intermediate Syndrome

The concept of intermediate syndrome is that pilots at some point in their training or flying begin to feel like they “have it”.  They are doing well and the critical nature of what they are doing can get lost in their picture.   The term intermediate comes because this occurs after lessons when pilots have relatively low hours.   Master rated pilots are not exempt from this syndrome.  It only takes letting your guard down once to find that one risk that you did not see..   Year after year, a larger number of crashes have a common theme when the pilot looks back and realizes that at the heart of their accident experience was overconfidence and failure to see one facet of flying.   Risk awareness and management require pilots to keep a wide focus when flying and to keep humility in their bag.

I have long promoted the saying – “The most dangerous thing about paragliding is how easy it is to learn.”   After training, it is essential to progress in increments and to watch yourself and make sure you never feel like you have it all wired.   In flying, there is always much more to learn no matter how far you have come.

 

Some sayings that I have created and some that are common in the Paragliding world follow:

EXAMPLES:

“Yeah, we will probably be able to reach the Landing Area.

“Maybe the air will be smoother once we launch.”

“When a flying decision is at all GRAY, WALK AWAY! “

In other words – Stick with certainty! Whenever you are making decisions about flying, if you feel any factor is not definitive, listen to this and choose not to fly. If you are “on the fence” about a decision related to flying, get off the fence and back on the ground.

Real World EXAMPLES:

You are with a group of friends and at a flying site and the wind is a bit strong. Some of your friends decide to fly, but you are unsure about it – hedge your bet and do not fly.

A flying friend wants to sell you a wing a bit above what your instructor recommends – who do you trust more, don’t move up till you are ready.

Experience is the best teacher, but let the other guy be the one who flies through the rotor.

There are some things you really cannot afford to play with in a paraglider. This expression is not specific to rotors, it is talking about any of the hazards that we need to manage while flying. Learn how to prevent any hazardous circumstances by seeing them prior to them biting you like a snake.

The following list are some of the bigger hazards that we need to avoid and prevent while flying:

When a flying decision is at all GRAY, WALK AWAY!

What this means: Whenever you are making decisions about flying, if you at all feel any factor is not definitive, listen to this and choose not to fly or venture away from the choice. If you are “on the fence” about a decision related to flying, get off the fence and back on the ground.

EXAMPLES:

There are some things you really cannot afford to play with in a paraglider. This expression is not specific to rotors, it is talking about any of the hazards that we need to manage while flying. Learn how to prevent any hazardous circumstances by seeing them prior to them biting you like a snake.

The following list is just a few of the bigger hazards that we need to avoid and prevent while flying:

Some General Guidelines Follow:

Training:

Each Flying Day:

Gear:

Wing Choice:

Get a good helmet and a protective harness:

Boots are very important for safety:

Have a Hook Knife on your harness:

A Hook Knife is a knife that has a blade inside of a curve or razor blades shaped into a V inside of an enclosure. This type of knife is mainly used for rescue or in skyding and paragliding for quick separation from the wing. The inside blade eliminates cutting oneself and also keeps the blade on webbing or lines that you intend to cut.

If you ever land in the water or a tree, this simple piece of equipment can quickly help you seperate from the harness if the buckles or other methods are not working.

Use an anemometer anytime the wind is more than light:

Even the most experienced pilots and have a hard time differentiating a 12 from 15 mph wind.

Have Radio Equipment for Emergency Situations:

A ham license is cheap and easy to acquire. Radios help pilots communicate with each other, but more important, they can really help if there is a flying related emergencies.