Don't be fooled—ditching
with a paramotor can be fatal. Success stories may lead
some to think it's trivial but it's not—about 1 in 30 pilot's have died
after going in, including one who made it out his
paramotor only to die while swimming to shore from exhaustion. The Agama system was developed to give
pilots an fighting chance if they go in the water.
There's no doubt that the system, used properly, will prevent any machine from sinking. But I had reservations
regarding other issues. What if the pilot
goes in face first? Could it inflate in such a way as to hold his head down under water? With an empty bottom-mounted gas tank that
scenario seems almost likely.
When Paul Czarnecki of UCanFly2.com gave me an opportunity to test one, I
took it. He instructed me on its use including tips on how best to mount it
which I've included here. This is is what I found.
For one, it is extremely well made. The Czech company that builds these also does
so for other industries. It is clearly a first class, professionally
produced product. Weight is under 2 pounds and, being against the frame,
its weight doesn't pull you back at all.
View video of Agama going into the water with a paramotor
How It Works Overview
The U-shaped device has single-use CO2 bottle and sensor located
down low on one side. When the sensor gets submerged (it won't activate
just by getting wet), it triggers the bottle to empty which quickly
inflates the cavity. After activation the sensor and bottle must be
replaced. New ones are about $30 for a set.
Inflation is very quick, probably about 1 second and it will remain at
least 90% inflated for probably several hours. If it doesn't auto-inflate
there's a pull handle to trigger the CO2. And if the CO2 bottle
malfunctions there is a blow tube that you can inflate it manually. Of
course you'd need to have your head out of the water for that to help.
They say the device will float over 400 pounds which means it would
probably need a buoyancy of around 50-100 pounds since the 400 pounds of
pilot and paramotor will displace 375 pounds or so depending on
construction and how full the paramotor's fuel tank is. That requires an
inflated volume of about 13 gallons (100 pounds / 8 pounds per gallon of
water) which seems reasonably judging from the inflated size.
The most important mission of the device, though, is to keep your face above water. Thus the reason for
The system is painless to mount—enough so that pilots won't mind
using it only
for their over-water flights. It comes with these ingenious double velcro
straps that hold it to the frame although the importer recommended using
cable ties in addition. I used only what came with it. It must be
mounted reasonably high up on the frame for best effectiveness.
My machine has weight shift bars that would chafe against the Agama.
Taping a piece of plastic to the Agama would solve the problem but I
didn't bother for the test. As you can see from the picture (top right), I put it
inside the bars but, depending on your model, it might be better to put
it on the outside. On low hook-in units I doubt it will be a problem
because the Agama's vertical portions will be above the pivoting bars.
My paramotor hasn't been this clean since it left the factory. I didn't
want to leave mung in Mike's pool so I cleaned it thoroughly. That
took a lot!
The test was designed to minimize my chances for breathing water and maximize photographic coverage. We had two video cameras rolling, two
still cameras, two underwater cameras and one person in the water with
scuba gear. Yes, my overkill warning light was flashing.
It's a good thing there was redundancy because one dry camera didn't do
continuous shooting and one underwater camera filled with water. That
can't be good on the film. Both videos were flawless and will eventually
be edited into a 2 minute piece for here and YouTube.
brother Mike for manning one underwater camera and the SCUBA gear,
Rebekah for manning another underwater camera, to Sarah for manning the
second still camera and to the whole Goin Gang for letting me use their
After a countdown to get the cameras rolling, I headed off the edge.
Just as planned, I went in basically on my stomach and almost
immediately started tilting head down. That's a terribly uncomfortable
sensation because, besides being unable to breathe with a weight
overhead, water went up my nose. I immediately started thrashing around
trying to right myself. I thought the Agama had deployed but it had
not—yet. The empty gas tank and motor weight were holding me down. I'll
admit to feeling a bit panicked.
In spite of agitated state, I succeeded in turning myself over. Then a
swoosh of air as the Agama inflated as advertised—about 3 seconds after
submersion. Staying afloat now was easy. But that didn't tell me exactly
what I set out to determine. What if I wound up face down with the Agama
So I told the others that I was going to turn back over so that the
Agama may be holding me head-down and to be ready for a rescue. That
proved unnecessary, there was less force holding me face down with the
Agama now inflated and I could right myself easily.
The test was a resounding success and complete endorsement of the
Agama's mission effectiveness.
It appears that, with the system mounted reasonably high on the
paramotor, it will allow you easily right yourself even from a face down
position. Once in the seated position it will hold you solidly above the
water level. In fact, it's quite comfortable.
With the envelope filled it was easy to get and keep my head above
This is a safety device. It's mechanical and can fail so you wouldn't
ever want to completely depend on it. But if you already can't resist
the urge to fly beyond gliding distance of shore, this could easily save
Although it worked flawlessly as tested, the most likely part to fail is
probably the sensor. You should rehearse where the manual
inflation handle is along with the manual inflation tube. Secondly, you
should still follow the practice of having all but one buckle (some
instructors say all buckles) unfastened before going in the water on a
known ditching. Just like a reserve parachute, you must know where your
hands are going to go without having to fish around. Underwater thinking
gets weird in a hurry and panic can destroy reasoning ability.
As to transportation, I'm told you can take the compressed air bottles
in checked luggage but not carry it on. That's how it worked for me—I had it
in checked luggage coming from Florida to Illinois.
You must also acknowledge that just because this test went well doesn't
mean that the unit will work perfectly in all cases. There may be even
worse-case scenarios that I haven't thought of or it may inflate in
non-predicted way. Accept that if you go in the water, with or without
the Agama, you may drown!
I'm gonna buy one. There have been several trips where it would have
been handy to have and yes, a few places where I'd like to do some over
water flying. Plus, besides saving your life, it will save your gear.
1. Showing the mount where it's just inside the
underarm weight shift bars.
2. Wearing the Agama just before going deep.
1. Go in, flail to get my head up.
2. Two seconds later I come up gasping for air.
3. The Agama inflates and all is well. Photos by
These clever velcro straps keep the Agama unit
secured to your paramotor frame. This sequence shows how to use them.
Doubling up like this makes them very strong. The Agama provides loops
to make mounting it easy to just about any paramotor. I cannot think of
one that it would not mount to.