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The subject of water landings has been brought up a number of times here at club meetings. I was knocked out by the stories which came our of a couple of water landing clinics held by the Sydney Northern Beaches and Lower Blue Mountains Clubs (down under.) I pass their report along. Their information while a bit sketchy, sounded like a very entertaining and educational session.

I would be most interested in hearing if other clubs have developed structured procedures and have helpful suggestions or ideas to further develop this clinic. Good fun clinics are a great way to build camaraderie and membership in a club.


You would be amazed at how hard it is to get out of a harness when you land in the water, never mind when there is wind and waves washing your wing

If you have any old harnesses kicking around, save them for water landing clinics. Put on your harness, throw a safety line on the carabiner, apply just enough pressure so the harness fits normally and jump in a pool.

Quoting the June 1991 Skysailor Pg 39.
"Over 20 hopefuls lined up to be put into a harness, clipped into a glider and thrown into the pool to experience, 1st hand, the intricacies of the fine art of exiting a glider in the water. Despite a few close calls where a few pilots would have drowned but for the saving grace of our rescue diver who was with the submerged pilot at all times with the back up air supply, the night was an outstanding success - all those who participated found the experience both gratifying and informative and learned:

  1. Keep calm at all times - you CAN hold your breath long enough to get out.
  2. Get out of the harness - don't waste time by trying to unclip. Once out of the harness, you can do what you like, but 9 times out of 10, the glider will either sink or be battered to pulp by the ocean swell - so think of your own safety first.
  3. Once out of the harness you still have to clear the gliderís control frame and wires.
  4. A water landing is the ABSOLUTE LAST AND NO ALTERNATIVE RESORT!!..."

The Lower Blue Mountains Club took a more conservative approach: the pilots ran the glider into the pool at a depth of water where they could stand up head-above-water (keeping two buddy breather divers in the pool just in case) and declared the pilot "offed" into the deep if he/she had to touch the floor of the pool with their feet.
From: mhellier
At the last Northern Beaches training night I had the opportunity to be the diver for a while and the sight from under the water is just as informative as being in the glider. The sight of thousands of bubbles, loose hang straps and a pilot who canít see anything methodically getting out of his harness is good training. We also experimented with hook knifes for a while but found not to be 100% reliable. In mufky water it may be impossible see the hagn strap, and it has to be taunt to cut easily. I can highly recommend this as a club social activity. 100 % FUN
Sometimes you really have to question conventional wisdoms...

I have noticed an increasing number of pilots (now adhering to the current conventional wisdom of a single steel carabiner) choosing to fly in coastal conditions with the carabiner gate unlocked. The rationale is that this will allow a more rapid escape by unclipping from the glider after a water landing.
This is a *very* unsafe strategy - and pointless. From experience in water landing practice sessions (and several real ones) we've found that attempting to unclip from the glider is the most difficult and time consuming way to escape, especially with modern pod harnesses. It is always better to get out of the harness, leaving it attached to the glider.
David Phillips


Jeff Greenbaum wrote;

"There are some harness designs where the pilot cannot possibly crawl out of the shoulder area either because of size or harness design. I personally fly coastal (water present) sights with my carabiner twisted just a couple of turns past the point of not allowing the gate to open."

This is true. Newer harnesses are much more secure, and need to pass certification tests. Steve Moyes, on hearing our recommendation to escape from the harness rather than unclip, observed that any harness which allowed this without needing to be undone in some way, would certainly fail certification, and probably let the pilot fall out in extreme turbulence or during a tumble or inversion....a sobering thought.

The problem we found in our practice sessions was that a harness and body combination is very buoyant. For Hang Gliders, this caused the pilot to become wedged under the glider at the top of the A frame, where it's very cramped, with lots of wires, ropes, straps, and cables floating about. Under these conditions, and with poor visibility (remember, it's pretty hard to see under water without goggles), many found it very hard to find the carabiner, locate and open the gate, remove the hang strap and safety, and swim clear. Using a hook knife was better, but it still took time to locate the right strap to cut. Some of the cheaper hook knives were very poor, requiring a lot of hacking and sawing to cut through even the simple tape loop we used as a sacrificial hang loop in our tests. We found the most reliable strategy was to have a plan to escape from your harness (whatever style it is), and STICK to it. People got into difficulties very quickly if they vaccilated between trying to escape from the harness, unclipping, cutting themselves free, or cutting through the sail to create an air pocket (although we didn't test that one!).

By the way, don't think that water landings are only a problem for coastal pilots. We had a fatality several years ago, many miles inland when a pilot overshot his landing approach and landed in a small irrigation dam.

As Jeff said, *Up is Good*, don't land in the water.

May 1 2005   Top Top