How Safe is Paragliding?

How safe is paragliding? It may look pretty dangerous being high in the sky with little in between you and the ground if you were to fall. But let’s be realistic and look at the figures – a study into paragliding accidents found that in 242,355 paragliding jumps reviewed between 2004 and 2011, 82 received serious injury and 18 of these people lost their lives. That’s only 0.007%.

If you’re considering paragliding for the first time at a paragliding school or on holiday with a tourism operator, don’t worry, you’ll be flying tandem paragliding. These operators employ paragliding pilots who not only have many years of experience, but have great people skills and can explain what they are doing in the flight and make you feel safe. Most tandem paragliding beginners find that once they’re in the sky, they feel at ease and really enjoy the view.

Paragliding safety can be increased by approaching the sport with a systematic approach. Correct safety checks on equipment and discipline when in flight can help you to avoid most dangerous situations and ensure you live to fly another day.

Here are some key paragliding safety tips:

Maintain Relationships with Experienced Paragliders

safe paragliding with experienced paraglider pilots

Even after completing a paragliding certification course and being told you’re ready to fly solo, it’s a good idea to continue flying with experienced pilots. Join a club or association such as the USHPA in the United States, SAFA in Australia, and the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association in the United Kingdom.

The reason for this is that in your training, you may not gain experience in all types of conditions. Experienced pilots can inform you about different conditions that you’re not very experienced in handling and provide tips on how to safely navigate them.

It’s a good idea to continue paragliding in new conditions while learning to increase your competency. Joining experienced pilots is a great way to do this.

Use Appropriate Equipment

Carrying fancy equipment isn’t enough, you must use it consistently. A variometer and a GPS can inform you about changes in altitude and if your drifting off-track or backwards. These factors can be indicators of weather changes and that you’re gradually losing control of your paraglider.

Make sure you fly with a reserve parachute, it’s not worth flying without one.

Use a Paraglider for Your Level of Experience

paragliding safety

It’s tempting when you’re an amateaur with experienced friends, or you want to buy something for the long-term, to purchase a cross-country or performance paraglider that’s designed for experienced pilots. These require higher skills in manoeuvrability and can be a handful for a beginner. There’s no shame in starting with an EN A rating paraglider. It won’t reduce your enjoyment of paragliding, it will actually increase your enjoyment as you’ll be flying something that’s easier to control and will feel more stable.

Check Paragliding Equipment Before Every Flight

This rule applies to all pilots regardless of experience. You’re paraglider wing may have been damaged when landing in your most recent flight. Your lines may have go tangled when unpacking. Don’t risk it!

Most pilots perform their safety checks in the same way each time, following a set order to reduce the chances of forgetting anything. Helmet (also make sure you’re wearing it) wing, lines, harness, and risers.

Understand and Check the Weather Conditions

Meteorology is something all paragliding pilots need to understand. Key components a thermals, clouds and wind. It’s not enough to check the weather report, even the hourly online reports. It’s important to be able to spot changes in weather as they happening.

And for thermalling, cumulous clouds are important for providing warm thermals for flight. Learn how to spot these and incorporate them into your flying.

Best weather conditions for paragliding are sunny, warm weather with moderate cumulus clouds. However, paragliding can be done in cold and cloudy conditions.

Weather conditions which aren’t suitable include moderate or strong rain, lighting, or excessive wind. It’s important that you recognise your skills and experience when dealing with wind, there will be some strong winds which an experienced pilot can handle, but amateur pilots may find difficult, particularly taking off safely.

It’s also important to consider the direction of the wind. If you have a strong headwind, it will make takeoff difficult and make gliding to your destination in a safe and timely manner difficult. Unfortunately there will be times when you have to abandon your paragliding plans, but at least you’ll walk away without injury.

Maintain Safe Distances

If you have to fly over roads and houses, ensure you’re sufficiently high in the air with more than enough room to correct yourself if something were to make you lose stability. Avoid flying over large groups of people, schools, busy sports grounds, car parks or anywhere else where a crash could harm high numbers of people.

Statistically, How Safe Is Powered Paragliding?

Is paramotoring safe? How does it compare to other types of flying? Driving? Motorcycle riding? Skydiving?

Numerical Analysis is tough but I suspect that we can get within an order of magnitude. Yes, yes, it’s as safe as you make it but lets take an objective look. If you fly a powered paraglider, what are the chances you’ll die doing it? I don’t address the much greater risk of injury because data is even sketchier. Of course you can improve your chances—dramatically it turns out—but I’ll approximate the overall odds.

Lets start with the year 2007 estimate of about 3000 active pilots (those who fly 5+ times per year—see sidebar) in the U.S. We’re averaging 1 fatality every 8 months. So we can say there are about 1.5 fatalities per 3000 participants per year which is 0.5 per 1000 participants. I use the per participant numbers because flight hour numbers are even harder to estimate. The comparisons below assume that average participants engage in the respective activity about the same amount per year.

  • Compared to motorcycle riding. In 2003 the National Center for Statistics and Analysis reported about 0.7 fatalities per 1000 registered motorcycles. I’m assuming that anyone bothering to register their bike is probably active. Some bikers ride all the time and others just keep them registered with very occasional use. Same with PPGers although the avid riders take their bikes to work every day—PPGers can’t do that. So, although it appears that PPG is about 30% safer than motorcycle riding, the number may easily be skewed more than others. Here’s a 10 year reference report that shows more on motorcycle fatality rates per 10,000 registered vehicles. Graph at left is from the listed report.
  • Compared to paragliding. The U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA) has about 10,000 members of which approximately 4500 are paraglider pilots. To be conservative, I’m assuming all are active (at least 5 flights per year). Over the past 5 years they have experienced about 3 fatalities per year. That’s about 0.7 fatalities per 1000 participants—almost identical to motorcycle riders which means that paragliding is about 30% more dangerous than powered paragliding. Given that its entirely possible that paraglider pilots have even fewer yearly flights (they are more weather dependant) than paramotor pilots, paragliding could easily be far more dangerous than this suggests.
  • Compared to driving. Unfortunately, driving to the field is much safer than paramotoring. The NTHSA report used above (to compare motorcycle riding) finds that driving is 16 times safer than motorcycle riding so we can infer that paramotoring, which is 30% safer than motorcycle riding, is about 12 times more dangerous than driving.
  • Compared to flying light airplanes. According to Flying Magazine, a light airplane pilot has 10 times more likelihood of dying on a personal flight than on a drive—about the same risk as paramotoring.
  • Compared to flying light helicopters. Yes, this is a ridiculous comparison but, since I fly a helicopter, wanted to quell the common accusation that they are highly risky. Helicopters can land safely after an engine failure and, in fact, have a nearly identical risk of fatality, per hour, as light airplanes. That means helicopter flying is about as risky as flying paramotors.
  • Compared to Sky Diving. Not surprisingly, sky diving is incredibly dangerous! It’s a skydiver myth that flying up in the airplane is more dangerous than the jump out. According to the U.S. Parachute association (USPA), a sky diver is 4 times more likely to die on the jump out than the flight up. That means that sky diving is about 4 times more dangerous than powered paragliding. 4 paramotor flights is the same death risk as one skydive. That is, in fact, how I decided to go skydiving—I decided the fun factor would equate to 4 paramotor flights. Risk and reward.
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But I Don’t Do Risky Things, Am I Safe?

Once you’ve been trained and have achieved approximately PPG2 skills, the risk drops dramatically. Then, if you start exploring steeper maneuvers, flying low or accepting stronger weather conditions and tighter sites, the risk goes back up just as dramatically. Avoiding those things keeps your risk low.

This isn’t a preachy “don’t do such-and-such” but rather a point-out to where risk lies. Hey, we accept x amount of risk just by strapping these things on, but lets know when we’re hanging it way out there.

The motorcycle rider can do only so much because he’s dependent on others. Multi-vehicle crashes produce nearly half of all the motorcycle deaths. But if we die, it’s probably our own doing.

Wanting to fly again is enough reason to be careful but, for many pilots, there are even more compelling reasons.

Most FATAL PPG accidents have been related to:

  • Training. Sorry to say but this is a dangerous phase. Make sure your instructor goes through the USPPA syllabus methodically, using a simulator and having you rehearse reaction to his instructions. THIS IS CRITICAL! If you have not flown, then your reactions must be made automatic. Just being told won’t cut it.
    You must rehearse! The more realistic the rehearsal, the more it benefits.
    Get a tandem or do hill flying before going aloft alone. Your life depends on it. A flight can go from fun to fatal in a matter of seconds with inappropriate control inputs. Towing is another way to get a flight before soloing with the motor but that has it’s own risk. One student has died during a towing accident—treat it with great respect.
  • Water. Never, ever accept any situation where you could end up in water over 12″ deep if the engine quit. By avoiding the possibility of water immersion you improve your odds of surviving the sport by at least 25%.
  • Steep maneuvering. Spirals are the worst because they can quickly cause pilot blackout which will almost certainly be fatal since steep spirals do not recover on their own. Wingovers are the next worst because they involve so much vertical and can easily result in wing collapses.
  • Low flying. Wires pop up everywhere and, if you fly low enough, long enough, eventually you’ll run into one. When you do, there’s roughly a one-in-30 chance it will be fatal. Other risks of low flying involve being confused by the “downwind demon” illusion and whacking into something from inappropriate reaction. That illusion only causes problems when flying low.
  • Weather. Fly within the first 3 and last 3 hours of daylight on days with benign conditions and no major changes forecast. If it’s windy aloft, it will soon be gusty and turbulent at the surface. Strong conditions have been a likely factor in three fatalities that I know about and overlap a couple others. Training in strong conditions, for example, is a particularly bad idea.
    Some pilots seek out thermals to stay aloft. I have, too. This trades some safety for the fun of soaring and a reserve parachute is essential. It’s not uncommon for paragliding competitions to see several “saves” after pilots take large collapses in strong thermal conditions. A reserve is no panacea, though, top pilots have still died at the hands of strong conditions even though they carried reserves.
  • Midair. If you fly with others you are at risk. If you hit someone there is about a 1 in 10 chance it will be fatal. “look, shallow, up/down, turn” means look in the turn direction, start a shallow bank while looking up and down in the turn direction and finally do your turn. It doesn’t take many pilots in the air, either. The one fatality I’m aware of happened with 4 pilots aloft and neither was in a landing pattern.
  • Equipment. Using someone else’s equipment adds risk. A 2007 fatality happened to a pilot who took off in borrowed gear and got a brake wrapped in the prop. This is more likely in low hook-in machines but there likely other risks that apply to all machines.
    If you have a low hook-in machine, make sure the cage has sufficient protection above and on top (covering the prop, preferably) to prevent a brake toggle from going in. It depends on the wing, too, since they have different brake pulley positions and some pilots have modified their brakes to hang below the pulley. Otherwise it will be up to you to insure it doesn’t happen. I’ve seen or heard of brakes going into the prop about 12 times and this is the second fatality resulting from it.
  • Sites. Flying from tight or unknown sites has proven risky. Scope them out, walk them off, if necessary and don’t accept places where you don’t know how much wind may be present if rotor could be a factor.
  • Landable areas. Landing in or colliding with a tree gives about a 1 in 50 chance of being fatal. Always have a safe landing option. This is painlessly easy to heed for most of us. In fact, if you land into the wind, out of any significant rotor and on dry surface, the chances of dying are very, very small (I don’t know of any). But don’t land in trees or water!
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Injury

As to the risk of serious injury that’s a different story. Of course the fatal causes listed above can certainly also leave serious injury but there is one category that beats them all for non-lethal but debilitating injury: body contact with spinning prop. It’s dramatic, too. Even experienced pilots have been severely injured by getting body parts, usually an arm or hand but sometimes a leg or shoulder, into the prop. And it usually happens during engine start, especially if the engine is being difficult to start.

What’s remarkable about this category is that it’s so preventable. The Safety ring or SafeStart would likely dramatically make machines safer but these technologies have not been adopted by the manufacturing community. Check out articles under Prop Safety.

How Many Paramotor Pilots?

My observation is that there are about 80 active pilots in the Chicago Metropolitan area with a population of about 10,000,000. That’s means that 0.0004% of the population flies PPG. That would be about 2800 pilots but there is a higher concentration in warmer states so I’m assuming there are about 3000 pilots in the U.S.

There are probably 10,000 paramotor units out there although many pilots have more than one and many units are languishing in storage. The sport is replete with those who have big intentions but falter when they discover it’s not so easy, especially without good instruction.

Thanks to John Will & Mike Nowland for input and correction on the fatality rate computation and units.

Is Hang Gliding Or Paragliding Safer?

Is Hang Gliding Or Paragliding Safer? | Flight Notch

Neither hang gliding or paragliding are typically thought of when you imagine a safe activity, but they sure are fun! Which one is safer?

Trust me, I get it. Worrying about how safe something like hang gliding or paragliding is can be one of the biggest holdups and hurdles stopping you from getting into these exciting sports. But the truth is, these activities might be much safer than you think. To most people, they might seem inherently dangerous, but that’s not necessarily the case. But is one safer than the other?

Hang gliding and paragliding are both extreme aerial sports that involve free-flying through the skies, and both can be dangerous if done improperly. According to USHPA, there are roughly 3.5 hang gliding deaths per year and 5.9 paragliding deaths per year.

When it comes to the question of which sport is safer – hang gliding or paragliding – both activities involve a certain amount of risk, but how much depends on the individual and their level of experience. In this article, we will take a look at both sports and discuss the risks involved in each. We’ll also offer advice on how to stay safe while participating in these activities, and review the number of accidents and fatalities that have occurred in each sport.

At Flight Notch, our main focus is providing you with the best, most helpful gliding content that you’ll find anywhere on the web. Especially when it comes to any topic related to safety, only the most accurate information will suffice. To ensure this, we extensively researched this topic to find statistics, consulted with other experts and enthusiasts, and used our own knowledge to really outline which sport is safer.

Table of contents

‍ What Is Hang Gliding?

Hang gliding is an aerial sport or recreational activity in which a person hangs beneath a specially designed winged frame and pilots it by shifting their weight in order to control flight. This winged frame acts like a huge kite, or similar to the way that the airfoil (think wing) of an airplane acts.

Due to its shape, air moves across the top of the wing faster than the bottom, creating higher pressure underneath the glider. This difference in pressure creates lift, which keeps the hang glider flying. The amount of lift generated depends on several factors: how fast the wind is blowing, how large and smooth the surface below the hang glider is, how steep the angle of attack is, and more.

We have other articles on the site that dive into the details about how hang gliders work, but that should give you an idea!

What Is Paragliding?

Paragliding is a recreational and competitive extreme sport that involves flying — you guessed it — paragliders! These lightweight, free-flying, foot-launched aircraft are somewhat similar to hang gliders except that they have no rigid primary structure. Instead of a kite-like wing, a paraglider is just a fabric airfoil that’s more similar to a narrow section of parachute.

The pilot sits in a harness (or lays horizontally like in a hang glider) suspended below a fabric wing composed of a large number of interconnected baffled cells. Wing shape is maintained by the suspension lines, the pressure of air entering vents in the front of the wing, and the aerodynamic forces of the air flowing over it. By skillful exploitation of sources of lift, the pilot may gain height and fly for long periods of time, just like with hang gliding.

Hang Gliding Vs Paragliding: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between them is that a hang glider has a rigid frame, while a paraglider does not. Hang gliders are also heavier than paragliders and require more wind to get them into the air, which means paragliders can often be used on days and in conditions that are not conducive for hang gliding.

Additionally, hang gliders are more aerodynamic than paragliders, which means that they can travel faster and farther. Of course, this is not a one-size-fits-all comparison. Performance-oriented paragliders or pilots with more experience can still out fly many inexperienced hang gliders out there.

But let’s be honest here, these sports are not in competition just to see who can fly faster or farther. They’re both absolutely amazing sports that let you experience things that nothing else on this planet offers.

Hang Gliding Vs Paragliding: Which Is Safer?

Now that you know a bit about what each sport is and how they differ from each other on a macro scale, let’s take a look at the risks associated with it.

What Are The Risks Of Hang Gliding?

Even though it’s typically considered a relatively safe sport, there are some risks that you need to be aware of when you hang gliding. These include:

  • Losing focus and making poor decisions: If you lose focus while hang gliding, you can make a bad decision such as turning too quickly, flying too low, or worse. Remain vigilant at all times.
  • Collision with other gliders or aircraft: One of the biggest dangers when is colliding with other aircraft. This can occur either on takeoff or landing, or while in flight.
  • Poor weather conditions: Flying in poor weather conditions can increase the risk of accidents and fatalities. Winds can gust unexpectedly, which can throw you off balance or cause you to lose control of your glider. Fog and low clouds can also make it difficult to see obstacles and other aircrafts.
  • Landing mistakes: A bad landing can result in serious injury or death. If you land too fast, you could hit the ground at a much higher speed than you intended.
  • Equipment failure: Hang gliders are susceptible to equipment failure, which can result in a crash landing.
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Hopefully these risks haven’t turned you away from giving hang gliding a shot just yet. There are plenty of ways to lower the chances of anything bad happening while you fly.

How to Avoid The Risks Associated With Hang Gliding

To reduce the risk of accidents while hang gliding, you should always follow the safety guidelines set out by your instructor and everything you learned during your lessons. In addition, you should:

  • Always fly with a buddy: Never attempt to fly on your own – only do so when accompanied by another experienced pilot.
  • Check the weather conditions before flying: Make sure that the weather is suitable for flying before taking off. Do not fly in poor weather conditions.
  • Wear appropriate clothing and gear: Make sure you are wearing clothing and gear that is appropriate for the weather conditions, as well as something that can hold up in an emergency landing. Never fly in shorts or sandals.
  • Stay alert at all times: Always be aware of your surroundings and the aircrafts around you. Do not become distracted while flying.

Most of these might seem like the basics of hang gliding, and that’s because they are! As long as you follow these simple tips, you lower your chance of anything bad happening greatly.

What Are The Risks Of Paragliding?

Paragliding might seem like this incredibly dangerous activity, but, like hang gliding, it’s actually pretty safe. That said, there are still some inherent risks to paragliding to be aware of. And, to be completely honest, the risks are almost the exact same as those associated with hang gliding since the sports are so similar to one another!

That said, paragliders also have an additional risk, and that’s of the wing itself getting tangled up in one way or another. A strong gust of wind, or perhaps something like a bird could fly right into it. And since it’s a loose fabric wing, it can easily get tangled up on itself. If this happens, you lose all lift and start heading to the ground.

How Can You Avoid These Risks?

Since most of the risks of paragliding are similar to those associated with hang gliding, I won’t bore you by repeating the exact same things again. However, we can briefly discuss the one major additional risk of paragliding that I mentioned above.

If something happens to your wing while paragliding, the number one thing is to not panic. More often than not, you can use the guide cables to wriggle the wing of the paraglider enough to untangle it or to dislodge whatever is stuck in it. Then as soon as the air hits it, the wing will immediately spread back out and generate lift again on its own.

That said, this is why it’s so important to have the right equipment each time you go gliding, especially a knife and a parachute. In extreme circumstances, having a knife is essential for cutting yourself free from the tangled up fabric and then you can pull your parachute to safely come back down to the ground.

How Many Gliding Deaths Are There?

While comparing the safety of different sports can often be difficult, if not impossible, we got lucky with this one. Both of these sports can be compared easily since they’re both overseen by the same organization, the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Associated (USHPA).

Every year, USHPA publishes annual fatality records for all recorded deaths in each sport among its members. USHPA members can be used to represent the entire population of people that participate in these sports since most hang gliding sites in the US require an USHPA rating for you to be able to fly. So let’s dive into those reports and see which sport is safer.

Based on the annual fatality reports , there is an average of 3.5 fatalities per year while hang gliding. Based on data from the same reports, there is an average of 5.9 hang gliding deaths per year. With those two numbers alone, it would seem that there’s a stark difference between the two sports, but that’s not the entire picture.

You also have to take into account how many hang gliding pilots there are and how many paragliding pilots there are. According to the organization, the number of hang gliding members fluctuates between 3,000 and 4,000; for paragliding members, it’s 4,000 to 5,000.

So there are more paragliders out there, and if we assume that the average paraglider pilot goes on as many flights as the average hang gliding pilot, then there should be a bit more paragliding accidents. All taken into account, there is roughly 1 fatality in every 1,000 hang gliding pilots and 1 fatality in every 760 paragliding pilots.

Is Paragliding Safer Than Hang Gliding?

There is no definitive answer when it comes to which sport is safer since it depends on your own definition of safe vs dangerous. Both sports have their own risks, and there are ways to minimize those risks and stay safe while participating in either activity.

However, purely looking at the fatality numbers, it seems that hang gliding may be a bit safer than paragliding. There are fewer fatalities each year associated with hang gliding accidents compared to paragliding accidents, but this difference alone probably shouldn’t be the driving factor behind your decision to choose one sport over the other.

So, if you’re trying to decide between the two sports, it might be wise to go with hang gliding if you just want the statistically safer option. But remember that both activities can be dangerous if not done properly. Heck, I recommend trying out both sports and seeing which one you enjoy more!

About THE AUTHOR

Tom Savage

I’m Tom Savage, and I love hang gliding. It’s a passion of mine that I’ve been pursuing for years. I’m always looking for new opportunities to fly, and I love sharing my experiences with others.

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