Jumpers come to me for advice all the time – and one of the hardest questions to answer is the following: Should I get a Skyhook, and why?
First, what is an RSL? A RSL is a reserve static line – a line attached from one of your departing malfunctioned main canopy’s risers to your reserve pin. When you cutaway from a malfunctioning main, a RSL should pull your reserve pin (usually faster than you can pull the reserve handle yourself) and initiate the reserve deployment. All student systems have a RSL installed.
So then, what is a Skyhook? A skyhook is a MARD – a Main Assisted Reserve Deployment System. It is different from a RSL in two ways. Here is the explanation from UPT:
A skyhook automatically releases the non-RSL riser in case the RSL riser was released prematurely (ensuring your reserve will not deploy with half your main still attached). The Skyhook then uses your departing malfunctioned main canopy as a super pilot chute to deploy your reserve canopy, taking about ½ second from breakaway to line stretch (reserve canopy out of the bag).
UPT goes on to claim that this is 3 to 4 times faster than a pilot chute on its own. While this may be true for some systems, it is not for some other systems.
So now that you know what a Skyhook is, do you need one, and why?
So in order to answer the question we have to look at the situations in which having a Skyhook may be beneficial, and which ones may not be.
Skyhook Benefit – Low cutaway from main
A normal RSL initiated reserve deployment on any certificated reserve canopy should deploy your reserve in under 3 seconds or 300 feet (See PIA Technical Standard 125 – Section 4.3.8)
A skyhook may be able to deploy your reserve slightly faster than that, so that in theory, you could cutaway from a lower altitude than 300 feet above ground and still live.
First – don’t do it! Secondly – this begs the “why?” question: If you have a malfunction – your decision altitude to cutaway should have been much higher – like 2,500 feet, or 2,000 feet, or 1,500 feet, not under 300 feet.
Skyhook Benefit – Minimized Altitude Loss
Any altitude gained by having the skyhook deploy your reserve faster than the maximum 300 feet (or 3 seconds) is an advantage. It gives you a little more time to select a potential landing area and deal with landing an unfamiliar parachute (reserve).
Skyhook Benefit – Spinning Malfunction
A skyhook may have benefits in a spinning malfunction situation – allowing the jumper to cutaway and instantly have a reserve canopy overhead, with minimal or no linetwists. The alternative (with no RSL) is to cutaway, get stable, and then pull silver, which eats up altitude quickly.
Popularity and Resale
Skyhooks are popular right now. Some people think they have to have one, and will not buy a rig without it. If you are trying to sell your rig to this type of person, having a skyhook will make it easy, if you are trying to sell to someone that does not want one, it makes it difficult.
Skyhooks are popular now – but they may or may not be in the future.
Skyhook Disadvantage – Price
A Skyhook equipped rig will cost you on average $300 more when you buy it new.
Skyhook Disadvantage – CRW and Camera
For Canopy Relative Work (CRW) and Camera jumps, having any kind of RSL or MARD is not a good idea. An easy remedy is to disconnect the snap-shackle on a a skyhook-equipped rig for those types of jumps.
Skyhook Disadvantage – Total Malfunction
In a total malfunction situation (no main out), when you decide to deploy your reserve, the Skyhook has to disconnect from the reserve bridle and freebag. This is not ideal. As one jumper put it, “I like my freebag free”.
In a total malfunction, during the launch of the reserve pilot chute, it launches to 5 feet (not to full extension of 10 or 12 feet like a normal pilot chute) and must find clean air to produce enough drag in order to disconnect the skyhook from the bridle before proceeding to extract the reserve freebag out of the container. Some have argued that this is contrary the doctrine of “shall not interfere with the proper function of the reserve parachute assembly”. See PIA Technical Standard 125 – Section 4.1.3 and USPA SIM AC No: 105-2C – Section 11
Skyhook Disadvantage – Rigging
Your rigger will have to spend a little more time and a give a little more attention to your skyhook-equiped rig. Having said this, any competent rigger should have no problems here.
Skyhook Disadvantage – Complex in function
The Skyhook adds a few parts to the reserve system and makes a rig more complex. It does not adhere to the the KISS principle (Keep it Simple Stupid).
Skydivers are obsessed with vanity and the newest shiniest toys.
For years, experienced skydivers shunned RSLs, yet somehow because the skyhook is a shiny new toy, it has found popular acceptance due in large part to good marketing by UPT.
We shouldn’t be buying gear based on good marketing, but on its merits.
In my opinion, the complexity of the skyhook system somewhat outweighs its potential advantages.
There has already been a double tandem fatality directly attributed to a component of the skyhook (which prompted a re-design that added even more complexity to the design). There was also another incident where a hard opening damaged a student container, where one of the components of the skyhook released the student’s left main riser at 1,000 feet (The incident prompted this UPT Product Service Bulletin).
Bottom line is this – personally, I don’t “need” a skyhook. In some ways, it is just like an AAD: a backup device that I am never going to depend on to save my life. Good judgement and early decision making in a malfunction situation are way more important than whether or not I have a skyhook-equipped rig.
If you’re looking to purchase a rig, new or used – I would encourage you to first look at all the other options available before only limiting yourself to a skyhook-equipped rig. Once you’ve done your research, if you still think you want a rig with a MARD, then by all means, get a skyhook-equipped rig. Keep in mind that for newer jumpers, any RSL or MARD system is better than none.
For 5 years, I used to jump a skyhook-equipped rig. I have two uneventful skyhook reserve rides.
However, my current rig does not have a skyhook. I have decided that I do not want the added complexity that it brings to the reserve deployment system. — Alain Bard has been an active skydiver since 2003. Alain holds the following CSPA ratings: D CoP, Skydiving Coach Level 2, Jumpmaster (JM), Ground Control Instructor (GCI), Skydive School Instructor (SSI), Skydive School Examiner (SSE), Exhibition Jump Rating (EJR), Parchute Rigger (RA). He is also a Skydiving Tandem Instructor. Alain is a certified Hot Air Balloon Pilot (Transport Canada)
Alain is a certified Paramotor Pilot (Transport Canada)
Alain is a certified Paraglider Pilot (HPAC)