Water: A Fatal Attraction
2007-07-02 by Jeff Goin. |
Agama Water Rescue
"I've been in the water several times—it's not so bad" is like
saying "I played Russian Roulette several times—it wasn't that bad." You
The reality is that going into the water, even
shallow water, is a terrible throw of the dice. About one in 30 pilots
who go into the water die. With deep water (over 6 feet) it's
about 1 in 10. Humans are called land mammals for a very good
The problem is that it can go from seemingly benign to
drowning in a minute or less. One pilot got out of his motor then
drowned while swimming to shore, a mere 50 feet away. Another pilot was
held underwater by his rig. He struggled to exhaustion then passed out.
Happens When You Go In
If you're flying low, have a motor failure and go in the water,
things are bad. Even rehearsing on dry land is dramatically different
from ending up face down, unable to breath and trying to think clearly.
The military understands this intrinsically which is why they make their
aviators actually go for a dunking after doing training.
skilled stud of a pilot stands a
high chance of panic. Ace flyers who think coolly in air emergencies have
acted completely inappropriately when faced with the unique trauma of
submersion. Even pilots who have behaved exquisitely under fire have
succumb—being suddenly unable to breath breeds it's own unique panic.
How Can I Survive A Water Landing
So you've accepted the risk of overwater flight and now face a
floatation, there's a good chance you won't survive, as
mentioned, but here are ways to improve your odds slightly. If you go in
without warning (flying low) then you're probably screwed—sorry. Doing
foot drags in the water has caused a number of pilots to dunk when water
slowed the prop or somehow killed the motor. These tips come from actual
experience of numerous ditchings, include those who didn't make it.
If you have some altitude when the motor quits and know you're
landing in water then:
shore. The closer the better in almost all cases unless there's a boat that
you know will see you.
permitting, do the following: Unclip
from the harness—everything except one leg strap. Some instructors
suggest all the straps. Remove your shoes and sox, empty your pockets and
make sure there's nothing around your neck. Even a healthy swimmer will
tire and drown in minutes if he's the least bit encumbered. Rehearse
releasing that last buckle (if left fastened).
more than about 3-5 mph wind, land
into it and don't let the wing fall on you. As soon as you touch, give
full brakes to help it go behind. It's good to have the wing go behind
you since that will tend to put you on your back, face up and
breathing, instead of face down and thrashing.
If there is
little wind, it's probably better to land downwind to insure
the wing overflies you on touchdown. Minimize the flare and let
up on the brakes at touchdown to help insure the wing overflies you.
Advantages are that the wing will land on its leading edge, trapping
air, and also that any breeze will push the wing (hopefully
still standing up on the leading edge) to keep the lines taut which
reduces your chance of entanglement. Thanks to
for this info.
jump out! At least one pilot died after misjudging his height and
jumping too soon. Jump when your feet first touch the water.
Once the motion has stopped, see where the wing went
and swim away from it. Becoming entangled will prevent the necessary
swimming action and you will drown in an exhausted flail of fruitless
thrashing. If your motor is equipped with floatation, consider staying
with it until help arrives. If you do swim, strip down first.
The paramotor sometimes sinks immediately but more
likely will float for a short period depending on fuel quantity (more
fuel, less float time), motor weight, how long it takes to soak the
harness and flood the frame. It then sinks to the bottom of your wing's
lines. Trapped air in the wing will probably keep everything afloat for up to
several hours, regardless of how the wing deflated.
If you're far from shore and still have lots of
clothing on you risk drowning from exhaustion in a matter of minutes.
The clothing quickly becomes heavy (taking on its dry weight) as all the air bubbles escape. With no other option and rescue not
imminent, consider using the wing for floatation. Put two arms around a
puffed up portion and hold it so the trapped air remains. It's a tradeoff
since you risk getting tangled in the lines although they will hopefully
be relatively taut if the motor has sunk.
Can I Fly Over Water Safely?
Yes, if the water is less than 12 inches deep. Otherwise, not really.
But you can reduce the risk. Flying over water deeper than a foot, even with these tips, is
still riskier than flying over land but, if you must:
1. Have buoyancy
mounted on your paramotor. The Agama (pictured left, see
Agama Test) is
ideal but any floatation that can keep the top part of your frame (and
mouth) above water will work. It probably has to have to have at least
100 pounds of buoyancy (the Agama has 400) to keep your head high
enough. It's not good enough just to float you, it must keep you
upright and not hold you in a face-down condition.
2. Wear a personal always-inflated life vest like a water skier. You
must have floatation in order swim away from the motor safely after a
3. Have a boat handy or have people on shore with
floatation! Swimmers without floatation run a huge risk of drowning themselves. Lifeguards carry those
swimming assisters for a very good reason.
4. Avoid moving water like
the plague. At least one pilot drowned after he landed next to a culvert
while his wing feel in the moving water . It pulled him into the water
and he drowned. Water's pull on a wing is extreme and you will not likely escape once the dragging starts.