Paragliding Safety Overview

This overview of paragliding safety is a general, figure-free look at how you can ensure your safety when flying paragliders. Of course, if you don't fly yet but are interested, this will still make for an informative read!

The paragliding P1 written exam has a question which asks you what affects pilot safety the most.

The right answer is pilot attitude. Just a couple of words, but it pretty much sums up paragliding safety.

This wasn't put in because it sounded good, it's actually borne out by the accident figures. The write-ups on the accident reports tell the story, and also give information on pilot injuries.

In a large proportion of cases, it turns out to be a novice who was too confident and pushed ahead and ignored good advice. It's like it's all been easy so far, and nothing has ever gone wrong. An example comes to mind, from an actual accident report.

A guy had been warned about a particular section of the ridge he was soaring. A spur jutting out from the ridge, combined with the wind direction that day made it likely that this area contained some rotor turbulence. Disregarding the advice of more experienced pilots, he attempted to cross this area to join some pilots on the other side who seemed to be getting better lift. Unfortunately, his wing got hit by some rotor and caused a major deflation. He lost height and ended up hitting the slope below heavily.

I can even remember something relevant to this paragliding safety issue from my own experience. This was back when I was just starting to top land my Mars 170 hang-glider at a coastal slope soaring site. Around this time I had got into the habit of climbing into my cocoon harness the instant I got airborne into the sea breeze. One day, Larry my instructor noticed and made a comment to me after I landed. He said 'at the stage you're at people can get a bit over-confident - just take it easy on those launches!' Or words to that effect. See what I mean?

In another fairly large proportion of cases, more experienced pilots can find themselves in trouble. These guys can have a tendency to push the limits of their own ability and/or equipment. Due to their experience they probably know the risks they are taking, but do it anyway in pursuit of a racing goal, a record or maybe just some personal achievement. Also, in a risky situation the joy of flying sometimes overrides the pilot's better judgement! Paragliding safety, in fact soaring safety in general, depends so much on the attitude of the individual pilot.

Final Points

One final point on paragliding safety, which is another angle on 'attitude' really, is complacency. Sometimes flying in a paraglider seems so serene, placid and utterly safe that pilots are not as attentive to the flying environment as they should be.

Worth pondering on.

Can I squeeze in another final point? I've hardly mentioned 'good equipment' as a safety factor so far. The fact is, any modern paraglider design that passes the latest DHV-1 certification is pretty darn safe. Good safe handling, hardly turns after a minor collapse, quickly recovers from bad situations if you let go both brake toggles and so on. Really, the simple solution is to buy new equipment if you want to maximize safety overall. And if you fly often, get it all inspected each year by a school, shop or paraglider distributor.

Summing Up

Paragliders are the slowest of all gliders and they are also very stable by nature. So it's actually one of the safest and easiest ways to experience what we all dreamed of when we were kids. Personal Flight. Yeah! The combination of good training, good judgement and good equipment provides a very high level of safety these days, as long as you don't get too gung-ho!


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