The safety of the sport is directly proportional to the skill and sense of the pilot. It’s important to note that almost all paragliding accidents are the result of pilot error. Paragliding equipment is very well built and, if properly cared for, will never fail. As an example, the average paraglider has around 30 lines connected to the risers, yet each one is strong enough to support the full weight of a pilot individually. Aerodynamically, newer paragliders that are not within advanced or competition categories are rated for safety and will tend to recover from most incidents on their own (without pilot intervention).
Given that equipment failure of properly certified paragliding equipment can be considered a non-issue, it is accurate to say that paragliding can be a very safe sport. The individual pilot is the ultimate indicator of his or her personal safety level.
- The safe pilot will not fly at sites that pose an unreasonable challenge to his/her flying skills.
- The safe pilot will not be influenced by the possibly negative examples set by others.
- The safe pilot will only fly on days in which the weather is conducive to safe flight. Turbulence in all its forms is enemy #1 for a flying paraglider wing. Because paragliders have no solid support, their shape (and ability to fly) can be ruined by an errant down draft or the like. Therefore, turbulence or conditions conducive to turbulence generation is a primary factor in determining whether the weather is safe.
THE FOLLOWING WEATHER IS TO BE AVOIDED:
- Excessive wind speed or gustiness. 15mph wind is fairly windy for a paraglider, and most pilots won’t take off in much more wind than that. High winds will also increase the effect of mechanical turbulence. Gusty conditions will make take-offs and landings more dangerous and will make collapses more likely while in flight.
- A wind direction that will not allow a take-off (or landing) into the wind, or at least generally so. Tail-wind take-offs are to be avoided at all cost. Assurance that an [apparent] headwind is not actually a ‘rotor’ is also critical (rotors comprise a form of mechanical turbulence).
- Excessively high atmospheric instability, indicated in part by overdeveloped cumulus clouds, or in worse situations by cumulo-nimbus cloud formation. Such conditions will contribute to turbulence. If cumulo-nimbus (thunderstorm) clouds are anywhere in sight, the effect of severe atmospheric instability may exist where you are.
- Rain or snow. Because a paraglider wing is made from fabric, it has the ability to absorb moisture. Moreover, the weight (or lack thereof) of a paraglider wing is critical to its performance. Flying into heavy rain or snow will weigh the wing down and may terminate a flight quickly. A wet wing is also less controllable, less stable (more prone to collapse) and will exhibit less tendency to recover into normal flight.
General safety precautions include pre-flight checks, helmets, harnesses with back protection (foam or air-bag), reserve parachutes, and careful pre-launch observation of other pilots in the air to evaluate conditions.
For pilots who want to stretch themselves into more challenging conditions, advanced ‘SIV’ (simulation d’incidents en vol, or simulation of flying incidents) courses are available to teach pilots how to cope with hazardous situations which can arise in flight. Through instruction over radio (above a lake), pilots deliberately induce major collapses, stalls, spins, etc, in order to learn procedures for recovering from them. (As mentioned above, modern recreational wings will recover from minor collapses without intervention). While fatalities and freak accidents do occur, most properly-trained, responsible pilots risk only minor injuries – particularly twisted ankles – and an occasional pounding heart.