What is the scariest part of skydiving? Many people think that a parachute failing to open is the biggest worry when jumping out of an airplane. But, thanks to advancements in skydiving gear and technology, that’s no longer the case. More of a concern is a parachute hard opening.
In skydiving, a “hard opening” means that the parachute has opened too fast and the force of the parachute opening is much greater than usual. This can be uncomfortable for the jumper or even cause serious injury if the opening is hard enough.
When it comes to the possibility of having a hard opening, skydiving can seem a bit scary. However, with education, preparedness, and best practices, you can right-size that fear. Read on to learn what exactly a hard opening is and how it can be avoided!
Reading the official USPA definition is the easiest way to begin answering the question, “What is a hard opening in skydiving?”
“While the definition of a hard opening can be subjective, the results of a hard-opening parachute can range anywhere from an uncomfortably quick opening that results in light bruising and soreness to a brutally hard, instant opening that results in severe or even fatal injuries.”
As with anything, the “hard” in a hard opening is subjective. Every opening is different, and there is a range of forces that skydivers experience in every single parachute opening. But an opening should never be uncomfortable. Discomfort, or even pain, during opening, is where things start to cross over into the “hard” category.
Parachutes are designed to open at just the right speed so that they open fast enough to be safe, but not so fast that they injure the person they are saving. There’s even a piece of equipment on the parachute whose sole job is to control the speed of the parachute opening.
But when a parachute opens faster than it’s designed to, it causes an effect that’s similar to a car accident. Our bodies aren’t equipped to suddenly slow from 120 mph to 20 mph, and the snatch effect of the parachute stopping our fall too quickly can result in pain, injury, or even death.
So, how do hard openings manage to happen if parachutes are designed to open in a specific way? There are many factors that go into how a parachute opens, and they start all the way back on the ground. Some reasons a skydiver might experience a hard opening include:
The one thing all of these factors have in common is that they are avoidable. With proper training and attention to detail, skydivers are able to greatly minimize the risk of ever experiencing a hard opening.
How a skydiver packs their parachute has a lot of influence on how it opens. One requirement of the initial training to become a licensed skydiver is learning how to properly pack a parachute, and this is because it’s one of the most important life-saving skills a skydiver can have. Besides avoiding malfunctions and cutaways, carefully packing a parachute helps ensure it won’t open harder than it’s supposed to.
It’s also very important to properly maintain all lifesaving skydiving gear, and the parachute is one of the main pieces of equipment. Skydivers have an opportunity to visually inspect their gear every single time they pack it, and giving their setup a lookover during each pack job is a great way to notice any issues before they become a real problem.
Additionally, there are specially trained and FAA-certified riggers who are experts in skydiving gear. They would happily inspect any piece of equipment that may be questionable.
There are also ways that skydivers can avoid hard openings during the actual jump. The planned deployment altitude is decided before even getting into the airplane, so everyone on the jump knows when playtime is over and it’s time to get serious. It’s crucial that skydivers are focused on safety and procedures when it comes time to deploy their parachute.
Slowing down as much as possible and having a stable, symmetrical body position is key to setting the parachute up for success. Any input from a skydiver’s body position or movement during opening can throw off the deployment and cause issues.
Luckily, hard openings aren’t all that common in skydiving. Training and practice in how to avoid them keeps them from happening very often, and the result of experiencing a hard opening is enough to keep skydivers on top of those best practices.
All things considered, the unlikely prospect of having a hard opening isn’t enough to offset the benefits of making a skydive and experiencing the incredible sensation of human flight.
Are you ready to fly? Come see what the fuss is all about! Blue skies.