- NEVER fly alone
Anything can happen on launch or during a flight. It’s just fabric and string that hold us up and sometimes things go wrong. When they do go wrong you’re likely going to need help. Maybe you carry a Spot or maybe you’ll have cell reception… maybe not. Either way, you don’t want to be in a precarious position needing help while no one is watching or even knows you’re flying today. Be safe. Fly with your friends and always make sure other know where you are.
- Get to know the locals and fly well-established sites
The thrill of pioneering a new site or just showing up (without a proper site introduction) may be enticing, but this sport is all about minimizing risk. Getting to know the locals will help you learn all about the site(s) and will help prevent you from making common mistakes. You’ll also prevent yourself from flying alone and flying closed or jeopardized sites. Remember, most of the sites you fly will have been painstakingly pioneered by one or more people and may have taken a long while to gain approval by the landowner. Let’s be respectful and do our best to keep our launch and landing sites intact by getting to know the locals. A quick Google search should reveal the local club’s contact info.
- Bring drinking water
You never know what will happen out there and even the best-planned flight can end up with a landing “out”. While we can survive without food for 2 weeks, we cannot survive without water for more than 2 days. Save yourself the risk and be sure to pack an extra liter or 2 just in case. You can always feed the plants when you land if you’re not thirsty or don’t want to carry the extra weight.
- Check your reserve handle before each flight
Something easily overlooked is your reserve handle. It’s easily tugged out of position when removing your harness from its carry bag and you do not want your reserve popping out on launch or in the middle of that choice thermal you’ve been circling in. It takes only 2 seconds to check and make sure the handle is secure and its pins are in place. Also, if you haven’t learned how to pack your reserve into your harness, now’s a good time to ask your local expert.
- Check your lines carefully before each flight
Your lines can easily get tangled, knotted or catch on small branches or rocks, so right before you launch make sure you check each line to make sure it’s unknotted and clear of debris. I recently had a tree landing because I didn’t check my brake lines thoroughly – one of them was knotted and caused my wing to horseshoe right after launch. I’m lucky to be alive after making this common mistake.
- You don’t have to launch
Maybe the wind is a bit stronger than you’re used to or maybe the launch looks a little intimidating. Either way, you are the pilot in command and launching (or not) is entirely up to you. Trust me, no one will think less of you if you decide not to fly. You may not be only saving your life by avoiding an accident; you’ll be saving others from having to rescue you too. When in doubt, trust your instincts and err on the side of caution.
- Give yourself plenty of space
Whether flying in a gaggle of other pilots or searching for lift near the mountain terrain, make sure you give yourself a little extra room for error. Sometimes the other pilots are checking their electronics or looking the other way – you don’t want a mid-air collision, so act as if they don’t see you and fly cautiously.
When flying near the ground or mountain terrain you are at higher risk of collapse because the closer you are to the terrain, the less time you’ll have to react to a problem. Give yourself plenty of space to fly safely.
- Fly landing zone to landing zone (LZ)
An important tip for new pilots is to always keep a good landing zone in reach. As you branch out and begin to fly cross-country you should make sure that as you leave the reach of one LZ you gain the reach of another suitable LZ. Often while flying you’ll be surprised with heavy sink or a stiff headwind and may find yourself needing to land. If you’ve been paying attention and already have your LZ selected you’ll be calmer and more likely to land safely and in a good spot for retrieve.
- Keep tabs on the wind’s direction
These days many pilots use wind meters and varios that can determine wind direction, but there is no substitute to feeling the wind while you fly and watching the signs on the ground. In the air you should be able to tell the wind direction by your speed and your wing’s penetration (or lack thereof). When you’re setting up to land there may not be a windsock waiting for you. Well in advance of landing look for signs of the wind’s direction like bending branches or bushes. Keep an eye out for dust and smoke too. You should know the wind’s direction in advance to prevent a potentially dangerous down-wind landing.
- Respect the sport (and yourself)
Like it or not, you’re now an Ambassador for this wonderful sport. Enjoy yourself and help others enjoy themselves too. Keep in mind that what you do (or don’t do) in this sport will likely follow you and your paragliding career forever… it may even affect the flying of others or the sites you fly at. Be safe. Stay positive. Do your best to show others that paragliding is a fantastic sport and that together we can help this sport grow. Growth is good and means more money to research and build safer wings, harness and reserves. Growth also means new sites and more places to fly. So, let’s keep focused on the positives of growth and the benefits of safety.
I hope to see you in the air, on launch or at the LZ.