APCO MAYDAY What should one know about reserves?

When one buys a reserve, it should be possible to make an informed guestimate about your descent rate under your reserve. For that one needs some basic information, firstly about reserves in general, secondly about the reserve you want to buy.

The industry standard for descent rates is 6.8 m/s at max all-up weight. This will indicate to you at what rate you will descend at YOUR all-up weight. There are manufacturers who are making parachutes that descend at rates lower than the standard. The new CEN Standards are endeavouring to lower the rate of descent as a standard (to approx 5.5 m/s). Many new reserves are now as slow as 4.1m/s.

The next important thing is that a reserve must be packed so that the deployment is staged over three phases. For parachutes (the conventional ones that jump out of aeroplanes), the staged deployment starts at the drogue chute that pulls out the canopy, then the lines and lastly the bridle (short). Only then should the reserve open to avoid tangling of lines, line overs, etc. For parachutists therefore the reserve canopy has to have a delayed opening so that the lines and bridles will be fully stretched before it starts opening.

For hang gliders and paragliders the stages are the other way around - first the bridle (long for hang gliders, short for paragliders), then the lines and lastly, the canopy. Because the lines are already stretched by the time the canopy is released, and because we operate from low heights near the ground very often, the reserve is packed in quick opening method.

A reserve that is packed in a deployment bag that allows it to fall out at the same time as the lines or before the lines (i.e. before the lines are stretched to full length) must be packed in the delayed opening method as well to allow time for the lines to stretch.


There are many rated reserves on the market. Unfortunately, there are also many unrated reserves. This makes life difficult in that information about a specific canopy is not always easy to come by, especially after it has been resold in the secondhand market.

Many reserves do not have a size or weight range printed or marked on them, sometimes even if they are rated. For that matter, they do not have a manufacturer's name or model either, let alone a date of manufacture. If one is lucky, one might find a serial number somewhere. This is great pity. If one does not know what reserve one has, it is difficult to know whether it is the right size. It is not possible to guess from the number of panels as the designs vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

If your reserve is one of those without any identification marks, then likely it is unrated. Unfortunately, even manufacturers whose reserves were rated, often did not mark them in the past, or left out some details.

If you have a reserve without markings or only some markings, and you have its manual that gives all these details, then ask that the packer write the details on the hem or skirt of the canopy with a thin marking pen in clear letters (thick pen might be illegible as the ink may run together on the material) at the next repack.

Hang glider pilots require a long bridle, typically from 5m to 6m long, in order for the reserve to clear the wing before deploying. Some reserves are manufactured with long bridles specially for hang glider pilots, but these days it is more regular to use a paragliding reserve (identical except for the length of the bridle) with an extension bridle of the correct length. The hang glider pilot can connect the reserve and extension with a reserve maillon, or with a swivel. Swivels are handy gadgets that prevent the reserve lines from being twisted up and closing the mouth of the reserve. This can happen when the hang glider is rotating below the reserve. It is more likely to happen with a hang glider than a paraglider, hence paraglider pilots do not require swivels. Swivels are expensive, but then, how much is one's life worth when things go wrong?

Having said all that about descent rates, and what to look out for, this last quote is also worth remembering when you have difficulty finding a reserve to suit your pocket and/or size: any reserve is better than no reserve.

If your reserve is too small or old initially, you can always upgrade at a later stage.


It is very important to know what to do when you have to deploy your reserve.

LOOK - at the handle, you don't have time to waste by grabbing the wrong thing
GRAB - the handle and start pulling it out. At the same time
LOOK - where you are going to throw the reserve - into clear air, away from the area the glider is
THROW - as hard as you can. The throw can be a continuation of the pulling out or it can be a deliberate separate throw.

Paraglider pilots have to de-activate their paraglider by pulling it in and collecting it on their laps. Another way that works well is to pull in from a stabiliser line (hand over hand, twisting the line to avoid line burn)and tucking as much of the wing tip as possible in around the body strap.

Very Important - Use a parachute landing fall on reaching the earth.


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Vonblon parachutes are DHV certified.


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