Managing Safety In Your Paragliding Activities

By Jeff Greenbaum - Air Time San Francisco Paragliding School

Once you decide that you are going to paraglide and become a pilot, you need to prioritize your flying activities with safety as number one. This sounds easy and obvious, but all too often people become jaded and forget that all other priorities stack up below this. I have been saying for a very long time that the most dangerous part of paragliding is how easy it is to get started. Because of the ease and short time it takes for people to get airborne, sometimes the proper respect does not happen by itself. Perspective of safety is something that gets forged stronger and stronger over time, but can become inherent if you choose to make it such from the early stages.

Safety is a giant topic and needs inclusion in every aspect of paragliding. Before each flying session, it involves preparatory research on the flying site and on the weather forecasts for that day. Prior to that, it involves finding the right instructor to teach you and help you build systems and techniques to manage safety. As you grow as a pilot, safety requires the elimination of ego and callousness. Good instructors will inspire the student pilots with many ways to look after themselves.

Habits need to be built with the preflight that you do each and every time you fly. It is easy to get complacent about such, but if you keep your priorities straight, then it will be far less of a burden and something to take pride in.

Feeling vulnerable is a good thing in any high risk endeavor. It helps you make safety the priority and this can aid your decision making. Some say that it is not possible to teach a good attitude. Ultimately, attitude comes from the inside, so I would agree to the limits of how much can be taught. However, I would also say that instructors can help to mold and build a better attitude in a student. A student can be guided to look at flying with the emphasis on safety rather than on technique as the key. Attitude and perspective are really the keys to a pilots being able to look after themselves.

It is not possible to impart a good attitude about safety management via one article. I can provide some perspective though, on how to begin building an attitude where you become self reliant and can look after yourself. Attitude is the envelope that drives all of the subparts of paragliding. A student who has all of the talent of the world, but is not great at tempering their skills and, thus, will have a tendency to be more at risk. Another student might have much less physical talent, but knows how to manage their growth and safety. The good attitude will overcome skill growth every day of the week. Skills can grow over time but bad attitude or judgment can result in an instant catastrophe.

Another take on safety is that it is not always the big and giant mistake that causes the accidents. Often it is the more subtle, less obvious 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 mean that you need to use your peripheral vision to look out for the unexpected situation. Nobody plans for an accident, they can come from unexpected situations or lack of preparations. Tunnel vision for only the larger situations can leave you vulnerable for something sneaking up on you.

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

Leave assumption out of your preflight routine!

  • Although the preflight should be a routine, do it one step at a time with the intent to find something wrong instead of doing it for the sake of routine!
  • Habits are hard to break. During your lessons, get in the habit of doing a complete and thorough wing preflight each and every time you unpack your wing.

Launching is optional, Landing is MANDATORY!

  • You can always decide not to fly. Launching in the wrong conditions leaves you in the air and having to land in conditions that you might not be safe in. Once you have launched, you cannot back up.

It is better to be on the ground, wishing you were in the air rather than in the air, wishing you were on the ground!

  • Very similar to previous. Take pride in being your own boss when it comes to flying !

Eliminate "maybe" and "probably" from your paragliding vocabulary and thinking

EXAMPLES:

  • "Yeah, we will probably be able to reach the Landing Area."
  • "Maybe the air will be smoother once we launch."

In other words - Stick with certainty!

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:

  • 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 just not feeling good 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 is just a few of the bigger hazards that we need to avoid and prevent while flying:
  • Launching, Flying or Landing in rotors or mechanical turbulence
  • Launching, Flying or Landing in strong winds
  • Flying at sites that stretch our ability
  • Landing in trees
  • Mid-Air collisions
  • Sharp turns near the ground
  • Spins or locked in spirals

Each Flight has 4 basic rules that go above and beyond any others:

  1. Prior to flying do a thorough preflight after making sure the day and weather are suitable for your flying.
  2. Each successful flight begins with a good launch that includes keeping the legs down until well clear of the hill.
  3. During the flight, the number one goal should be to make sure and reach the LZ with some extra altitude. This is to be able to assess the wind and plan and make a solid approach. Thermaling and other goals in the flight all take a back seat to this.
  4. Each successful flight ends with a nice landing in safe terrain and into the wind (if the LZ and conditions permit). Having you legs down and ready to run should be done for the last 30' of each flight (this will enable a PLF should something go wrong with your final approach)

Some General Guidelines Follow:

Training:

Air Time San Francisco
  • Get thorough and complete instruction:
    • Find the right instructor for you!
    • Communicate clearly with your instructor
  • Add Instruction after basic training:
    • Mountain and Thermal clinics
    • Maneuvers Clinics
    • Repeat of Basics (whenever skills lapse) and Advanced Clinics (when approaching new techniques/skills)
  • Match your flying time with ground handling practice / kiting:
    • If you have 2 hours of airtime, you should have at least 2 hours of kiting time as well.

Each Flying Day:

  • Include Weather Checks for each flying day:
    • General Forecast Checks - Every flying day
    • Mtn. Top Wind Checks
    • Wind Assessments
    • Personal "State of Mind" assessment
    • Local Pilot Feedback on weather
  • Thoroughly Preflight your flying gear
    • Leave assumption out of your checks, do it for you and not habit

Gear:

  • Wing Choice :
    • Consult with your instructor and choose an appropriately conservative glider for your skill set.
    • Don't be a Lemming when you choose your 2nd wing. Don't be swayed by the latest and greatest wing that the local hotshots are flying. Leave ego out of you decision and know that choosing an lower category wing is something to take pride in.
  • Get a good helmet and a protective harness:
    • Though this seems very obvious, I run into a lot of students that care much more about form than function. Get a full face helmet with adequate protection.
    • Get a harness that has maximum back protection.
  • Boots are very important for safety:
    • Good boots can prevent twisted, sprained and even broken ankles. Specialty boots are designed with high ankle support and even some have some energy absorption built into the soles.
  • 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.

Jeff Greenbaum - Air Time San Francisco Paragliding School
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Jeff Greenbaum
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San Mateo, CA 94401
United States
Phone(650) NET-WIND / (650) 638-9463






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