Know Your Gear: Harness and Container Systems Part 1
The harness is a fundamental piece of your skydiving gear. As such, you know it like the back of your hand, right? Maybe the answer is “well, not really”. Many experience jumpers will answer that. Most novice jumpers looking for their first rig also often neglect the importance of a harness that fits them. Coming from “one size fits nobody” student gear, they don’t even know how a harness should fit them. This might change once they order their first custom harness/container system, if they ever do. If you want to know your gear a bit better, or if you want to inform yourself a bit better about what you should look for when buying a harness/container, either new or second hand, then this article is for you.
What is a Skydiving Harness?
The harness is the part of your harness/container system that is designed to keep your body attached to your canopies. In today’s sport skydiving gear, the harness and container are 2 different but inseparable pieces. It wasn’t always like that. In the 60s and early 70s harnesses and containers were interchangeable. That allowed to quickly swap components as needed. While this might seem like a good idea at first, these systems had their own set of problems. They were heavy due to the additional hardware needed, and error prone, as they had more room for assembling errors. In the 70s manufacturers started to integrate both into a single harness/container system, hiding part of the harness in the backpad of the container. This concept stays with us almost 50 years later.
Even though the harness and container are today a single unit, it is important to know that the container is built around canopy sizes, and the harness is built around body dimensions. A byproduct of these two pieces of gear being inseparable, is that rookies typically focus on a single thing: the range of canopies they can fit in the container. That is not an issue when they are buying a custom harness/container (as long as the body measurements provided to the manufacturer are accurate), but novice jumpers start their skydiving career typically by buying used gear. Take a look at your DZ next time you are there, and pay close attention to how different harnesses fit their owners. I bet you’ll find a few ill-fitting harnesses among new jumpers. Later on we’ll see why this is important. But first, we have to know a bit more about the harness itself.
Basic Harness Components and Construction
Before getting into the details of harness construction, it makes sense to take a look at the webbing and tape types used for it. Distinguishing webbing and tape is not obvious. Generally it is considered webbing anything wider than 1″ and with a tensile strength higher than 1000 lbs, and tape anything less than any of these 2 parameters. The table summarizes the most common webbing and tape types in harness construction. The pictures below show how they look like and how to distinguish them.
|Kind||Type||Tensile strength||Width||Common use|
|Webbing||Type 7||6000 lbs (2721 kg)||1 23/32″ (4.3 cm)||MLW, laterals and risers|
|Type 8||4000 lbs (1814 kg)||1 23/32″ (4.3 cm)||Risers and straps|
|Type 12||1200 lbs (544 kg)||1 23/32″ (4.3 cm)||Reinforcement around rings|
|Type 13||7000 lbs (3175 kg)||1 23/32″ (4.3 cm)||MLW and straps|
|Type 17||2500 lbs (1134 kg)||1″ (2.5 cm)||Chest straps, main risers|
|3″ Type 4||1800 lbs (816 kg)||3″ (7.6 cm)||Confluence wraps|
|Tape||Type 4-B||1000 lbs (453 kg)||1″ (2.5 cm)||Reinforcement around rings and confluence wraps|
Type 7 webbing. Has yellow lines at the edge. Photo: Bally Ribbon Mills
Type 8 webbing. Has a black centerline. Photo: Bally Ribbon Mills
Type 12 webbing. Has red lines at the edge. Photo: Bally Ribbon Mills
Type 13 webbing. Has black lines at the edge. Photo: Bally Ribbon Mills
Type 17 webbing. Photo: Bally Ribbon Mills
3″ Type 4 webbing (Spec. PIA-W-4088). Do not confuse with Type 4 tape. Some authors consider this as tape, not webbing, due to the low tensile strength it has (relative to its width). Photo: Bally Ribbon Mills
Type 4-B tape (Spec. PIA-T-5038). Do not confuse with 3″ Type 4 webbing. Photo: Bally Ribbon Mills
Now, you can try and take a look at your harness. Can you identify the different types of webbing and tapes used on it? If you do take a look, you’ll also notice that in most parts of the harness you have actually two layers of webbing instead of one. There are two reasons for it: to make a stronger harness, and to prevent slippage.
Harness diagram with its main components.
Now that we know what are the materials used, we can get into the different parts on a harness. Any sport skydiving harness has the following components:
Detachable main risers:
These are the risers that you are most familiar with. They are attached to the rest of the harness via the 3-rings system, and they depart with the canopy when you cut away. They are also some of the parts of the harness that see the most wear. The most common type are the “mini-risers” with “mini-rings”. These are made of Type 17 webbing. During the transition period where this style of risers became popular, there were occurrences of riser breakage close to the grommet used for the 3-ring system. This was particularly dangerous with RSL equipped rigs, as if the riser broke below the RSL attachment ring (while the opposite riser stayed attached), your reserve could fire into a trailing main, and you’d be set for a bad day. The Collins lanyard, the double-sided RSL system, or the LOR system try to prevent that from happening, by either releasing the other riser, or by keeping the reserve pilot chute in the container until both risers leave. Regardless of these solutions, to diminish the chances of mini-riser breakage, most manufacturer reinforced their mini-risers with a piece of Type 4 tape sewed between the front and back risers at the grommet area. Parachutes de France opted for an alternative solution, reversed risers, that avoid the grommet piercing the webbing altogether. With these changes, the number of risers breaking was reduced drastically, and is today almost unheard of.
If you are a student, you are probably more familiar with the “normal” risers, ie: the ones with Type 8 webbing and full size rings. These risers are stronger than mini-risers, and the leverage provided by their bigger rings allow to cutaway with less force. They are however bulkier and have more drag in flight, and have fallen out of fashion among most sport skydivers.
Non-detachable reserve risers:
These are the risers that you will get to know one day during a cutaway, if you haven’t done so already. They are an integral part of the harness. In many harnesses they are part of the same webbing of your MLW, instead of a separated piece of webbing sewed to it. They are normally Type 7, even though other materials are possible.
Main lift web (MLW):
The main lift web, typically shortened to MLW, is the piece of webbing that holds the whole harness together. It takes all the load from opening and during flight, all the way from the risers (either main or reserve) to the leg straps, where you are hanging/seating. Due to that, it is typically the strongest part of the harness, made of Type 7, 8 or 13. Even though this is the strongest part of the harness, it doesn’t necessarily mean that other parts are significantly weaker. It can be further divided in upper MLW and lower MLW. Conceptually, you can think about the lower MLW as the part that goes from the chest rings (or chest strap junction) to the hip rings, where your handle pockets are sewed. The upper MLW is the part that goes from the chest rings (or chest strap junction) to the upper part of the junction between MLW, reserve risers, and diagonal back straps. The length of the MLW is normally fixed, except in some student or tandem gear. In these cases the length can be adjusted to accommodate the sizes of different users.
The chest strap is one of the 3 straps you have to fasten to adjust your harness. It secures your torso in place, and keeps it in the space formed by the chest strap, the MLW, and the back straps. It is not designed to take a huge load, since most of it is transferred from the risers to the leg straps by the MLW. The webbing used has typically a lower tensile strength. It is normally either Type 8 or Type 17. The hardware to fasten the chest strap has been also certified with lower loads than leg straps hardware (500 lbs. vs 2500 lbs.).
There are jumpers today “abusing” their chest straps, by putting a load on them that they weren’t designed for. Think of hybrids or Mr. Bills. Harnesses are typically “overbuilt”, so they are unlikely to fail due to these practices, particularly with hybrids, due to the limited stress induced in the seams, webbing and hardware (for a 2 belly flier + 1 freeflyer hybrid, just 100—150 lbs. hang from each chest strap). However, on Mr. Bills, the load can be significantly higher. A careful jumper should try to hang on the upper MLW on a Mr. Bill, instead of the chest strap.
The leg straps are the remaining 2 adjusting points of your harness, besides the chest strap. They are attached to the hip rings or sewed directly to the MLW. In some older designs without rings, they could also be part of the same piece of webbing of the MLW. They need to be strong, but sometimes they aren’t as sturdy as the MLW. They can be Type 7, 8 or 13.
The elastic cord that attaches both leg straps isn’t necessarily a part of the harness. However, it has a small but very important function. It prevents the leg straps from slipping up your leg towards your knee. The largest “hole” in your harness is right there, between your laterals and your leg straps, waiting to mess up your day when you have a premature opening while sit flying. Tandem harnesses have a “Y” strap that has essentially the same function. If you don’t want to find yourself in a difficult situation like the granny on the video, use this simple addition to your harness. If you still think that this can’t happen in a sport harness, well, take a look at the remaining 2 videos and think again.
The laterals are some of the most commonly overlooked parts of the harness. They are relatively small and out of sight, so people tend to forget about them. They are the parts that join the MLW (or the hip rings, depending on the harness design) with the bottom end of the diagonal back straps. This last junction is hidden inside the backpad of the container. They also form an horizontal back strap, which I am considering here as part of the laterals itself, even though strictly speaking, it is not. They are normally made of Type 8 webbing, but Type 7 or 13 are also possible. Their only function is keeping your rig close to your back. It is a simple but important function, and we’ll come back to it in part 3 of this series of articles.
Diagonal back straps:
If laterals are overlooked, it is safe to say that the diagonal back straps are completely ignored. They sit below your reserve risers and typically wrapped in fabric, and they are completely out of sight from that point on and all of the way to where they meet the horizontal back strap AKA (in this article at least) laterals. Even with the reserve tray completely open, they are out of sight, trapped between the backpad and the bottom fabric of the reserve tray. Like laterals, they can be made of Type 8, 7 or 13. Their function is holding your torso in place and keeping the whole harness together. Without them, the container would support a higher stress, which would wear it and break rather sooner than later. There are multiple configurations possible for them. They can have an “X” arrangement, where the left shoulder straps crosses the back and joins the lateral at the right side, and vice versa. They can also have a “V” arrangement, where the webbing goes down from one shoulder, wraps the horizontal back strap, and goes up again until it reaches the opposite shoulder. Other arrangements are also possible —like “U” for instance, but manufacturers don’t discuss these details openly and knowing what is really used would require tearing open the containers.
The hardware binds together 2 or more pieces of webbing, either permanently or temporarily. Taking a look at the hardware used in harnesses, you can see 3 different types from the functional point of view:
These are the quick fit adapters found in chest straps and leg straps. For the leg strap adapters there are 3 common types: thread-thru, thread-thru with locking bar, and flip-flop, shown in the pictures. All of them are rated for 2500 lbs. The chest strap has a lightweight thread-thru quick fit adapter, rated for 500 lbs, independently of the width of the chest strap.
Thread-thru leg strap adapter.
Thread-thru leg strap adapters with locking bars.
Flip-flop leg strap adapter.
These are the 3 rings we are all familiar with. There are two variants: The original, rated for either 2500 lbs or 5000 lbs, depending on the particular model, and the mini version (RW-8), rated for 2500 lbs. The tandem variants are slightly different in the large ring to allow to connect the student harness, and are always rated for 5000 lbs.
Hip and chest rings:
These rings are optional and normally use the same type of ring found in the large ring used in the 3 rings system. In some cases the ring is completely flat, as opposed to the large ring in the 3 rings system, which are bent at the point where they are connected with the MLW. Some rigs have a completely round hip ring, instead of using the large ring from the 3 rings system.
Obviously all the different pieces of webbing have to join somehow. These junctions can be of 4 types:
In a ring junction, the webbing goes around the ring folded on itself —typically with a reinforcement tape in between the ring and the webbing—, and is locked in place with a stitching that follows a given pattern. It is important to note that the pattern is not arbitrary. Its shape, thread and number of stitches per inch determine the strength of the junction.
Hip ring with Type 8 and Type 4 as reinforcement at the leg straps. Note how the ring is completely flat.
Normal stitched joints are simply that, points were 2 or more pieces of webbing are sewed together with a particular pattern.
Chest strap junction with Type 8 and Type 7 webbings.
Hip webbing sandwich with Type 7, Type 8 and Type 12 webbings.
3 rings junction where you can see most of the webbing types used in modern harnesses. Note how the large ring is bent at the webbing loop, instead of being flat.
Layers in a confluence wrap below the 3 rings system.
Confluence wraps are similar to the previous type, but there a piece of reinforcement tape wraps the junction to make it stronger. These reinforcement tapes are particularly important in high stress areas, like where the 3 rings, the reserve risers, and the MLW meet. One thing to consider when two pieces of webbing are sewed together, is that the strength required to break that junction is way lower when “peeling” than when “shearing”. A manufacturer can in most cases design its joints to prevent situations where peeling forces are applied. However, depending on the harness design, these situations might occur. Confluence wraps are added to strengthen joints that are at risk. A couple of years ago, some BASE rig manufacturers had to modify the construction of their harnesses because of this. If you want to know more I suggest you take a look at this excellent article.
The confluence wrap that stitches together the MLW, reserve risers, main risers and diagonal back straps is normally hidden in the mud flap. But some manufacturers —not all— have another confluence wrap that you have seen a thousand times but probably didn’t pay attention to it: the wrap that traps the 3 rings locking loop in the main risers.
Here 2 pieces of webbing are locked in place together with a fastener. As we saw before, they are normally located in the chest strap and leg straps, but there are other possible points, like in student harnesses or belly bands.
End of Part 1
Hopefully by now you feel a bit more confident about the construction of your harness. This is important knowledge to better understand part 2, where we will take a look at the different articulations and other options possible in modern harnesses. Part 3 will focus on the proper fitting of the harness, and how a bad fitting can affect our performance or safety in the air. Stay tuned for more!
Skydiving Risks for Tandem Jumps
Every year, we welcome thousands of first-time skydivers here at Skydive California (in the Bay Area) to make their first jump, usually as a tandem. Tandem skydiving is the most popular way to experience skydiving for the first time. Here, we explore tandem skydiving risks and explain why this sport is the safest it’s ever been.
Tandem Skydiving In The U.S.
Skydiving has grown in popularity here in the US over the years. According to USPA (United States Parachute Association) statistics, there were an estimated 3.2 million skydives made in 2014 by skydivers across the country.
What Is A Tandem Skydive?
Tandem skydiving is the preferred choice of most first timers because it gives them the opportunity to experience the feeling of jumping from an airplane, without having to go through extensive training to do it alone. All you need is a brief from one of our highly experienced instructors, (which takes around 20 minutes), then you’re able to jump.
As a tandem skydiver, you’ll be attached to your instructor by four connection points on your harness which securely fasten you to the instructor’s harness and rig. The ‘rig’ is the container which holds, among other things, two parachutes. We’ll talk about this a bit later on in this article.
Tandem Skydiving Risks
Tandem skydiving, like any extreme sport, comes with its associated risks. The very fact that you’re jumping from an airplane means you are stepping outside of what’s ‘normal’ for a human being and as such, every now and again, something happens that wasn’t part of the original plan.
Typically, skydiving accidents are very uncommon and usually minor. The most common skydiving accident for tandem skydivers is a sprained or broken ankle sustained on landing. This typically happens when tandem skydivers fail to follow the brief. It clearly states they should lift their legs for landing. Providing you lift your legs up as instructed, you’re far less likely to sustain a landing injury.
Tandem skydiving gives most people a huge burst of adrenaline, too. This can result in you feeling overwhelmed, dizzy or nauseous, but is not a common occurrence.
Though nausea and landing injuries are by far the most common skydiving risks or injuries involved, there are, in a very small number of cases, a skydiving fatality. This is something we do all we can to protect you and ourselves against. According to USPA safety statistics, there were 0.003 tandem fatalities per 1,000 jumps over the past decade. As stated on the USPA website, “a person is much more likely to be killed getting struck by lightning or stung by a bee.“
How We Minimize Skydiving Risks
The sport of skydiving is getting safer every year thanks to continuing research into our equipment and safety tools.
Though we can never 100% abolish the risks of skydiving (we’re jumping out of an airplane after all), we do all we can to negate them as much as possible. Here are just a few of the provisions we have in place to help everything go to plan:
Planning for the unplanned
We talk a lot about planning in this sport. We plan who we jump with, types of formations, and even jump order.
But we also do a lot of planning for those things which are against our normal plans, too.
For example, our plan is always to use our primary parachute (or our ‘main canopy’) when the time comes to reduce our fall rate and fly back to the ground. However, there are times (around one in every thousand jumps or so) that our main canopy fails for some reason. That’s why we jump with two parachutes! If the main parachute has a malfunction, we can ‘cut away’ the parachute and deploy a reserve parachute.
We’re always sure to plan for those things which are outside of our best case scenario. Nothing is unexpected and our instructors are trained to cope with unexpected situations.
Automatic activation devices (AADs)
AADs are one of the most important innovations of skydiving today.
A small device which sits inside the ‘rig’, the AAD measures air pressure and speed and knows when we are still in freefall at a height where we should have deployed our parachute.
If a skydiver failed to pull their parachute, an AAD is designed to ‘pull’ the parachute.
The AAD recognizes this and sets off a small cutter which releases the reserve parachute automatically. This is a last resort device, but provides us with that extra level of protection should something go awry.
Training plays a hugely important part in skydiving. From our very first jump course, we learn with precision how to fly our bodies and operate our equipment in the most efficient and effective ways.
Our training doesn’t end when we achieve our skydiving licenses either. Every jump is an opportunity to learn something new and there are lots of formal qualification routes to take. Our instructors are all accredited by the USPA and have passed strict courses and exams.
If you’re thinking about tandem skydiving in the Bay Area for the first time and wish to speak to us about any concerns you have, please contact us and our friendly team will be happy to help.
What Is A Tandem Skydive Actually Like?
If you’re thinking of going skydiving, you need to read this.
If you’ve already been, you’ll probably be able to relate to this. This is a detailed description of exactly what a Tandem skydiving experience feels like. A Tandem skydive means a skydive in which you’re attached to an instructor, and he/she controls the parachute.
You’re flying with someone else, and not on your own, in case you were wondering.
In early 2013, I did a Tandem parachute jump for charity. It was one of the best experiences of my life. The feelings and sensations involved are beyond words, nevertheless, I will try to explain them here.
Table of Contents
What a Tandem Skydive actually feels like
You get to the drop zone usually sometime in the early morning to be sure you get on the first few flights up, but it doesn’t matter too much. You get to the drop zone and check in, fill in all the forms, your heart starts racing a bit and you look around at all the other people about to jump out of planes.
You’ll fill in forms such as insurance and things like that basically meaning that if you should die the company isn’t held responsible. Not to scare you or anything, but they get you to pay well in advance!
First you meet a tandem skydive instructor!
Next you’ll go into a room where there is music playing and an instructor will tell you lots of things about skydiving, crack a few jokes and generally pump you up for it. You’ll watch a video of someone else skydiving along with some pump up music.
There may or may not be a group of young girls screaming or getting all hyper, maybe they were dared or challenged to come today? Who knows.
After that, you’ll have a bit of a wait around the drop zone, just watching people moving around getting ready, you might see a couple of plane loads go up and fall before you do. When watching them, you’ll think that they’re falling fairly slowly, until you go up.
Then when your name is called up to the rigging tent, you’ll meet your personal tandem instructor and shake their hand, but you’ll be sort of distracted by all the people running around and all the equipment In the place.
He’ll kit you up and make sure your skydiving harness is on properly. Right, now you’ll go towards the plane. It’s at this point that you realize that you’re genuinely going to jump out of a plane 10,000 feet in the air and hope that the parachute works.
It really starts to dominate your thoughts until all you can think about is the present moment.
Where you are right now, it’s really powerful when this happens as you’re so connected with ‘now’ that nothing else matters. So everyone will load into the plane and you’ll pack right to the back, and no matter how small the plane is, they will somehow squeeze everyone into it, so it will be a tight fit.
They will be talking or shouting amongst themselves, looking at their altometers from time to time.
Now the plane will climb for a bit and after what feels like 20 minutes you look out the window and think this must be high enough, better get ready to jump, and then your instructor will shout in your ear, we’re not even a quarter of the way yet.
This is when you realize just how high 10,000 feet really is. It’s very high.
So after another 10 minutes or so, the plane will start to slow down a bit and level out. The instructors then start the process of throwing everyone out of it. Now they’ll do their final checks on the equipment and their altometer, and then..
Then they open the plane door
This will be loud.
But no amount of description can convey to you just how loud this will be until you do it, so just for now accept that the door opening will be loud. If you’re not going first, you’ll see the first person go to the edge of the door and disappear outside.
You may hear them screaming and it will slice through the screaming. They’ll scream on the edge and then as they are pulled out of the plane the scream slices in half and you don’t hear it any more.
They just vanish and almost the second after that, your instructor will tell you to get on your knees and slide over to the door. You do so, and when you get to the edge, you are filled with adrenaline like nothing you’ve experienced before.
You will be euphoric.
All other thoughts vanish and you’re left with a few seconds. These few seconds are possibly the most amazing seconds you will have experienced so far in life, the seconds where you lean forward and leap out of the plane. they feel like forever, and at the same time, a brief moment.
Time seems to just freeze while you’re in freefall
This is no exaggeration when I say that it feels like time freezes, you fly almost in slow motion out of the door, and the overload on your senses that you experience is indescribable.
You’ll then start to accelerate, fast and within a few seconds you’re falling at about 140 mph.
Although it doesn’t feel like you are cause you can’t see things moving past you. It feels very intense and the force of the wind pushing up at you is very strong. You can’t hear anything, as it’s literally so loud, and yet at the same time, utterly peaceful and serene.
The camera man will now come into view and start floating around you, he might give you a high 5 or something.
Now after a few more seconds, the instructor will pull the chute, and you’ll dramatically slow down. Sometimes the force at which you slow down can make people slightly dizzy or maybe wind them a bit.
Now your parachute is open and you float to the ground
The chute will spiral and steer towards the landing zone, and it’s at this point that you may feel a bit dizzy or feel your ears pop.
This is normal and won’t last. Enjoy the view, there is such an amazing view from that high up. Now you’ll come into the landing, and the chute will level out and you’ll slide forwards into some grass. Bring your feet up and knees to your chest and slide into the landing.
Now what follows this is a state of disbelief and shock. You won’t know what’s just happened until you sit down and it really sinks in.
You won’t get the same feeling from indoor skydiving, because it’s not as intense, you get the rush of air and it feels like freefall, but it’s not the same, the air isn’t as cold, you don’t get the view, the realization, and the experience that you do from real skydiving with an indoor skydive.
It’s almost the same, and they put you through a wind tunnel, so you get the rush of the air, but don’t take my word for it, try both and then see what you think.
I want to skydive now!
Hopefully I’ve just pumped you up and you’re ready to go skydive right now! If so, here are some tips to help you get the most out of the experience –
1 – Make sure you’re not tired. Being tired will mean you can’t focus as well, and you’ll sort of miss important sensations and feelings because you’re so tired.
2 – Don’t eat much before. The spirals the chute does on landing can make you feel a bit sick if you’ve got a full belly of food!
3 – Take pictures! I find that pictures are better than video because you can pick the best looking ones and publish them on Facebook. Video is FAR less flattering, believe me.
What you may find is that the day after you are instantly addicted to skydiving and already want to go again. That’s what a tandem skydive feels like.