Equipment Compatibility Facts and Myths: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Last updated 16 Sep 2023

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What you need to know, and why. By Charl Rootman, APF Safety and Training Manager.

Designers and manufacturers of skydiving equipment have ensured that our modern equipment is state-of-the-art and as safe as it can be...but - yes, there is a 'but' - that is only if it is configured correctly, used as intended, and properly maintained.

We don’t all have the same level of knowledge, expertise and understanding when it comes to equipment. That is why we entrust our gear to those with a higher level of expertise than us for certain tasks: Packing a reserve, installing an AAD or MARD, making repairs. This also extends to what components are compatible in our parachute systems. Our Packer A’s and Riggers have been doing this for decades with our containers, reserve parachutes and other “certified” parts. Since April 2020 it has also been a requirement to have the main parachute verified as compatible with the rest of the system.

Current Regulations and Requirements: The Requirements, The Facts, The Myths

APF regulations require that all parachutists must ensure their equipment complies with Part Seven of the Operational Regulations (ORs)(OR 6.1.11 (d). This is an individual responsibility of every member. So, what does this mean in terms of main parachute compatibility? Very simply, the main parachute must be verified as compatible with the rest of the parachute system by a Packer A or Rigger. (OR 7.1.1 (b)) - There is an exception for CRW main parachutes, where a CRW coach can do the verification.

Introducing the verification of the main parachute as compatible with the rest of the system is the only relatively new requirement. The requirements of OR 12.5.2 (a) have been around for a very long time. That is, a reserve/emergency parachute can only be certified as airworthy by the holder of at least a Packer A who has packed or directly supervised the packing and who has assured themselves that: (i) all parts of the parachute assembly are fully functional and compatible, as per APF Equipment Standards.

For a parachute system to be serviceable and legal in Australia, it must have a documented compatibility verification of the main parachute by a Packer A or Rigger, the same way it requires a reserve card, with documented evidence of airworthy certification by a Packer A or Rigger. It is each member’s responsibility to ensure that their parachute system meets these requirements. If your reserve packer is not doing this, either insist on getting it done or change service provider.

The format of the main parachute compatibility verification is not prescribed. In the simplest format, it can be noted on the reserve data card. Many lofts, Packer A’s and Riggers have their own forms. Some use simple paper forms or the APF Form P3 (or a modified version), while others use various electronic platforms or Apps. The document needs to state that a specific main parachute (make, model and size) is compatible with the rest of the parachute system (which is identified), identify who did the verification and be dated. This would usually be done during the periodic reserve repack (“certification of airworthy”) by the Packer A or Rigger but can be done at any other time as well. If a jumper uses more than one main on a regular basis, all of these can be verified as compatible at the same time. If a jumper changes main between reserve repack (e.g. buys a new one) this needs a new verification.

APF regulations also require that a jumper’s equipment is checked and approved by the DZ. This too, is not new. Part of a Drop Zone Safety Officer’s (DZSO) responsibilities is – and has been for a very long time – to ensure measures are in place so that equipment being used complies with Part Seven of the regulations (refer OR 6.1.6b)iv)). This is a general serviceability check (standard gear check) which also checks overall safety. The only relatively new requirement added to this (since April 2020) is that the DZ check should include confirmation that the main parachute system has been verified as compatible with the rest of the system as required and mentioned above (by checking the document, form, or card provided by the Packer A or Rigger), and that the DZ should document the check.

With this too, the format of the documentation is not prescribed. A Group Member (club) can design their own, use paper or electronic, and keep records in any form they wish. Free electronic checklists are available from “Safety Culture”. These checklists can be modified, items added or removed, to suit any needs. To make this even simpler, APF will be launching DZ Level Approvals to be included on all members’ profiles on the APF website (similar to APF Qualifications). This will allow for a DZ level equipment check to be recorded (“documented”) and reviewed on the member’s APF profile.

Of course, the primary responsibility for a certified parachutist’s equipment is with the individual. But there are other levels of responsibility. When a parachutist is in the aircraft and the sky with other jumpers, poor decisions, lack of knowledge and possible lack of assumed responsibility can impact the safety, and lives, of others. A DZSO owes a duty of care and responsibility to these other people, and therefore has a responsibility for all equipment used at the DZ. Not all jumpers have the same level of knowledge and understanding, and some simply don’t care.

Compatibility Cards

Why Do We Need This?

Our regulations and procedures are intended to improve safety. There is a saying that many of our rules are written in blood. Unfortunately this is true, and catastrophic events become a wake-up call that more is needed.

There were claims that we do not need changed rules because of one incident. The reality is that the major incident of December 2017 was not an isolated event.  It was one of many but with the worst outcome. There have been many similar problems, both before and after December 2017. Similar situations, with really bad equipment, were reported in the first nine months of 2018, with another in 2019. Keep in mind that not all such situations are reported. We need unsafe and incompatible equipment identified and not allowed on any aircraft.

We do not want another catastrophic incident which could have been prevented. We don’t need a preventable premature deployment on climb-out at altitude. We need to take responsibility on more levels and spend that extra minute or two, because relying on only one person (e.g. only the owner of personal equipment) for the safety of a planeload of skydivers is just not smart.

We cannot allow complacency regarding equipment. We cannot simply trust that "she’ll be right". I cannot, you cannot. At every level and every stage, each of us needs to take responsibility and action. Any rating holder acting within their privileges, complying with regulations, acting reasonably and using good judgement has the protection of the APF.

If an individual jumper decides to deceive or defraud a DZSO or Packer A, by providing false or misleading information, or by lying or not disclosing when they have changed something on their parachute system, they are solely and personally responsible. Not the DZSO or Packer A.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

As with many new regulations, the newer compatibility regulations were phased in from April 2020, to allow compliance to be affected within the next reserve repack cycle. The phasing-in also allowed DZ’s to gradually inspect jumpers’ equipment over weeks and months, until the system and process was fully implemented. The expectation was full compliance by end of the first quarter 2021.

The good news is that most Members, Packer A's, Riggers and Drop Zones were compliant within the expected period, or shortly afterwards. Most understand and appreciate why this is needed and have found a how that suits them while also meeting requirements. The bad, and sad, is that there are still those out there who are resistant to make the required changes and follow the newer regulations. A very few simply refuse.

And then there is the ugly. The fact that some diligent Instructors, Packers and DZSO’s still have equipment turn up at Drop Zones and lofts, which they inspect as required, and then find non-compatible, unserviceable, or sometimes outright unsafe; equipment which they do not allow to be jumped, to ensure the safety of everyone; equipment that is being jumped at other Drop Zones. Obviously, this equipment usually does not have compatibility verification, and is unlikely to have been properly checked at the other Drop Zones. Some lesser experienced jumpers appear oblivious to the regulations and requirements, and clearly have had no guidance or education by those supervising them.

Not A Conclusion, A Continuation

The equipment compatibility requirements have already identified and prevented numerous potential serious equipment problems, possibly even a catastrophic incident or tragedy. No-one wants another, just to look back and realise it was preventable. Adding a little extra effort, taking a few minutes to do a check and record it, referring a tricky matter to someone with more knowledge, and sometimes saying “no”, may save a life. That is all this is about. We all must continue to collectively contribute to the safety and wellbeing of each other. The time for action and compliance is now.

Equipment Compatibility and Checks Explained Step-by-Step

Step 1:

- During the periodic reserve repack the Packer A or Rigger must verify that the main is compatible with the rest of the parachute system (this can be done at any other time as well).

- This either needs to be added to the reserve card, or the Packer A/Rigger can use a checklist or form.

- If a jumper uses more than one main on a regular basis, all of these can be verified as compatible at the same time. If a jumper changes main between reserve repack, this needs a new verification.

Step 2:

- Sports jumper gear checks at DZ level, either when a visitor/new jumper arrives for the first time, or every 12 months.

- DZSO must ensure a system is in place and it happens, but DZSO does not personally have to do this. It can be done by any instructor, or a Packer A (or Rigger).

- This is a general serviceability check (standard gear check) which also checks general safety.

- The check needs to be documented and records kept. Use of a checklist is highly recommended.

- A statement by the jumper should be included, stating that nothing has changed since the verification by Packer A/Rigger. This confirms personal responsibility by the jumper.

- The check should include that the compatibility verification was done by a Packer A/Rigger (just checking the card/form/document).

Step 3:

- Each jumper has a personal responsibility to ensure they receive a buddy check before they emplane.

About the Author

Charl Rootman, APF Safety and Training Manager, is originally from South Africa and now lives in South Australia. He has 30 years of skydiving experience and multiple instructor-level ratings behind him.

[Photo Sources: Ria Dobson]

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