What happens if your parachute doesn’t work? What if something goes wrong? Most skydivers have likely been asked similar questions countless times by non-skydiving peers. It is a very logical question from people who are not familiar with the skydiving sport or the equipment. And as a skydiver, it is good to spread awareness to those curious people about emergency situations. Yes, skydivers have safety features within the equipment in case “something goes wrong.” This article is here to answer the familiar question, “how does a reserve parachute work”?

“All skydiving gear must have one main parachute and one reserve parachute. – USPA

Please share this article with your friends and family, so they can learn more about the equipment skydivers are using. Perhaps our peers won’t be as quick to call us crazy with more understanding of skydivers’ safety equipment.

Back up parachute

A common question skydivers are asked is: Do you have a back up parachute? The answer is YES! There are two parachutes inside each skydive backpack. The main parachute is the parachute that is used all the time on every jump. The back up one is called the reserve parachute. The reserve parachute is only used in the case of an emergency. Emergency situations are not common, but they do happen. In skydiving, these emergency situations are referred to as malfunctions. Malfunctions are generally a result of human error and not a mechanical error.

Regulations state that skydivers must be equipped with a reserve canopy. The reserve is located neatly packed in the upper portion of the skydiving gear. It is also mandatory to complete the required maintenance of a reserve canopy. This means, in order for skydiving gear to be “jumpable,” you must adhere to maintenance rules. A reserve skydiving parachute must be inspected and repacked by a qualified FAA rigger every 180 days (USPA). This inspection must take place regardless if the reserve canopy has been used or not.

Emergency situation cut away
In case of fire – cut away

What is a rigger?

Only a qualified rigger can repack, inspect, and deem a reserve airworthy. A rigger must complete in-depth training before being certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. FAA approved riggers are trained and educated to the high standards required for reserve parachute maintenance.

What makes the reserve canopy different?

Each skydiver is jumping a different type of main canopy. There are small parachutes, which may be trimmed in a way to fly faster and be more aggressive. Other skydivers use larger canopies, which are less aggressive and more predictable. Main canopies have designs on all ends of the spectrum. However, reserve parachutes are not designed for fun! They are highly advanced and designed for a reliable and safe opening, flight\, and landing. Reserve sizes can vary. Although they are not extremely small, and they are certainly not designed to fly fast or aggressively.

Safety equipment

Multiple pieces of equipment assist a skydiver in the situation of a skydiving malfunction. We have discussed that skydivers use a back up parachute. However, how does the reserve parachute work? Well, skydiving containers have a few devices to assist with emergency situations. Additionally, for a person to receive their skydiving license, they must have the knowledge and be able to act in case of an emergency. Skydivers must have been able to demonstrate repeatedly practice of the EP’s. Skydivers are trained on how to use the safety equipment on their gear.

Cut away back up parachute

Automatic Activation Device (AAD)

The AAD or Automatic Activation Device is a small and very precise technology device in our skydiving equipment. This device calculates the rate of descent and altitude and activates the reserve at a pre-set altitude. At this pre-set altitude, the AAD will deploy the reserve parachute. Keep in mind, it will not activate if the skydiver is under their main canopy, as the speed will have significantly reduced. Remember, the AAD is activated as a result of speed and altitude calculation. If the skydiver is still in a freefall speed at the pre-set altitude, the AAD will activate.

AAD for emergency situationReserve Static Line (RSL)

The RSL is connected to the main parachute via a riser on the skydiving gear. The other end of the RSL is connected to the reserve ripcord. When a skydiver is in an emergency, they will “cut away” their main canopy. The RSL then assists the jumper with the reserve deployment.
Skydiving gear has two handles for emergency situations. One handle to cutaway the main parachute and a second handle to deploy the reserve canopy. First, the main cut away handle is pulled, and then the reserve handle.

The job of the RSL is to deploy the reserve parachute. Remember, it is connected to both the main parachute and the reserve ripcord. Once a skydiver cuts away the main, the RSL leaves with the main canopy. While the main canopy and RSL jettisons away, the RSL is also attached to the reserve ripcord, and so it deploys the reserve parachute. Although the RSL is a fantastic safety feature, skydivers are still trained to use both emergency handles and deploy their reserve. Basically, they are not to rely on the RSL to activate the reserve.

Main Assisted Reserve Deployment (MARD)

Skyhooks and MARDs are main parachutes assisted reserve deployment systems. Like the RSL, it is another safety system to activate and deploy your reserve parachute more quickly than you likely could with pulling your handles. When a skyhook system is integrated with the RSL and the reserve. The skyhook system is attached to both, the main and reserve parachute. Once the main canopy is released, the Skyhook will use the force of the main parachute released to assist in deploying the reserve parachute. The power of the main canopy being jettisoned allows the attached Skyhook system to use the main canopy to act as a giant pilot chute. The reserve will be extracted much quicker than an RSL alone or deploying by handles.

Back up parachute

Keep coming back

Hopefully, you have enjoyed learning a little bit about skydiving equipment. If you like the article, please let me know, send me an email or a message on Instagram. I want to know about your experience and thoughts!

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