Equipment Emergencies and Canopy Malfunctions

Equipment Emergencies


You can never know when you will have a malfunction.  You may have a malfunction on your next skydive or it may happen 2,000 or more skydives into the future.  You just can’t predict.    

The only thing that you can be certain of is that it is likely that you will have a malfunction at some point in your skydiving career.  To get your reserve parachute out timely and correctly follow this process:  Assess, Think, and React.  

The categories you will be introduced to in this section help simplify the many technical problems into an easy process where you can: Assess the situation, Think of your appropriate action, and React deliberately.  To follow these processes automatically requires repetitive and deliberate practice of these procedures often

As a skydiver it is your responsibility and in your best interest for safety reasons, to practice these drills so that they become second nature to you.  In addition, having the confidence that you will Identify and React to a malfunction correctly, will help you to feel more comfortable with skydiving and will thus improve both your enjoyment and performance in the sport overall.

2,500 feet, is known as the Decision Altitude.  If you do not have a controllable main parachute by 2,500 feet you must execute emergency procedures.

Emergency Procedures

Two of the biggest questions in First Jump training are “when do I use my emergency handles” and “how do I use them.” Let’s start with the operation of the handles first then proceed to the different response procedures.

There are TWO methods are the most common emergency procedures for reserve parachute deployment taught at the schools. Each school will teach only one of the following so we will not expand on all specifics as you will learn this in your practical training prior to jumping.

Most student equipment will come with a RED cutaway handle, and the reserve deployment handle is usually a metal ‘D’ ring. It is important to be able to recognize which handle to grab first when initiating Emergency Procedures, and many drop zones require you to recognize the red handle on the right as your starting point. RIGHT RED

Red Cutaway Handle

Two Methods for Emergency Procedures

Regardless which method you are trained in, practice it many times! It needs to be such a critical part of your training that when an emergency occurs, you immediately react without hesitation!

A great demonstration of the ONE HAND on EACH HANDLE method.

—– RSL Video

Canopy and Malfunction Assessment

Remember from the section on Canopy Control:

The canopy assessment is comprised of first a visual inspection followed by a “steerability” check.  The inspection process is known as the three S’s.  The end goal of the three S’s is, after a normal opening the canopy should be rectangular in shape and controllable. This is essentially a “steer-ability check”. The assessment results are simplified into one of three categories:

  • Good Canopy
  • High-speed Malfunctions
  • Low-speed Malfunctions

When experiencing any equipment issues, the following advice is to be followed:

2 Times Rule: The “two times rule” is the maximum number of attempts you should try when attempting to fix a high speed malfunction. Examples such as not finding your pilot chute handle, or a hard pull of the pilot chute handle are when it would be best to return to the neutral box position and try to pull one more time only.

Remember: 2,500 feet, is known as the Decision Altitude.  If you do not have a controllable main parachute by 2,500 feet you must execute emergency procedures.

1,000 feet, is known as the Minimum Altitude for Cutaway.  If your parachute is still not landable, deploy the reserve parachute only to add more material in an attempt to slow down the rate of descent, and be prepared to perform your best PLF.

High-speed Malfunctions

A high-speed malfunction occurs when the amount of deployment and inflation, or the lack of activation or deployment, has not provided you with enough support to decelerate your freefall speed much.  The speed you are traveling requires immediate response.  The assessment of this situation is simple.  You have no support, your visual inspection does not confirm the first of the three “S,s” priority, Shape.  Shape being the canopy approaching “rectangular.” 

Low-speed Malfunctions

A low-speed malfunction occurs when you have deployment and inflation of the parachute that is providing good support but does not completely satisfy the “Stable” or “Steerable” criteria.  The speed of falling has been reduced so there is more time to respond, but the decision still must be made:  Is it land-able or not?  When you are in doubt as to whether to cutaway or not, follow through with your Steer-ability Check.  The steer-ability check will either confirm the canopy’s control or confirm the problem.  If the situation is the latter, follow through with emergency procedures.  Remember your decision altitude of 2,500 feet.

The following may be taught to you for your first jump or will be taught at a later point in your training.

Total Malfunctions

No activation of the main container has occurred (i.e.  hard/no pull, lost handle).  If you do experience one of these situations try to pull or find the handle no more than twice.  This is a high-speed situation and you must respond quickly.  The reaction to this situation is to pull the reserve handle.  No cutaway is required but there is no harm done in following the basic procedure if uncertain.  The key point after assessment of a total malfunction is to react.  The “two times rule” is always a wise strategy to apply when experiencing a “high speed” malfunction situation.    

Partial Malfunctions

Activation and deployment of the main parachute has occurred but the parachute has not deployed or inflated fully or properly.  A partial malfunction will require a cutaway and depending on the degree of inflation could be either high or low speed.

The following video gives examples of low and high speed malfunctions.

The following table shows “examples” of high and low speed malfunctions and the proper response.  This is in no way a complete list of all that could go wrong but it provides enough examples to exercise your decision-making ability and react to the situation.

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The three phases of responding to a parachute malfunction is to Assess, Think, and React.  

Proper response to a malfunction is to locate, reach and pull the cutaway cable followed by locating and pulling the reserve handle. Parachute malfunctions can be categorized and simplified in three response categories:

  • Good canopy: follow flight plan. 
  • High-speed malfunction: immediately follow emergency procedures. 
  • Low-speed malfunctions: apply the Flight Control Check, if good follow flight plan, if uncontrollable follow emergency procedures. 

The proper procedure will always reinforce LOOKING at the handles prior to grasping and pulling.