Lets be honest. As adventurous and exciting as it may look to go paragliding in San Francisco with us, there's probably a part of you asking whether it's safe or not. After all, you'll be hanging under a piece of nylon by a bunch of strings. This is a reasonable concern and we'd like to explain exactly why you're not going to fall out of the sky. In a nutshell, we use certified equipment, our tandem instructor's meet a certain level of training and exhibit good judgement.
All of the equipment that we use to do our flights are certified. The most important of these certifications is the certification of the paraglider. After a paragliding manufacture is done designing a wing, they can send their wings into an organization in Switzerland called Para Test if they choose to. There's a few other testing organizations, but Para Test's EN system is the most commonly used. With very few exceptions, most manufacturers choose to have their paraglider certified.
In order for a paraglider to receive a rating, it must be collapse and load tested. Test pilots take these paragliders over the water and intentionally collapse the paraglider in various different configurations. Once the pilot has collapsed the paraglider, they let go of the controls and observe how the paraglider recovers. If a paraglider does not recover by itself, it cannot receive a rating, however it's more complex than that. There are four different ratings issued to paragliders; EN-A, EN-B, EN-C, and EN-D. If a paraglider recovers from a collapse almost instantaneously without pilot input, it will receive an EN-A rating while paragliders that take longer to recover will receive an EN-B, EN-C, or EN-D rating. Aside from collapses, there are a handful of other maneuvers that are tested as well. As great as the flight tests are, it's not all that must be done before a paraglider can receive a certification. A paraglider is load tested. Regardless of how well it has performed in the flight test, if it doesn't meet the load test requirements (8 times the top of it's weight limit for three seconds), it cannot receive a certification.
Pictured above is the load test of one of our tandem paragliders. The maximum weight in flight for this particular paraglider is 452 lbs (205 kg). It's tested to 3,657 lbs (1,659 kg).
The EN Load Test
Aside from the paraglider alone, the harnesses and the carabiners that connect the paraglider to the harnesses are load tested. The chances of the equipment breaking is very low. Because we're paragliding in San Francisco, the chance of the paraglider experiencing a collapse is low as well because of the smooth coastal air. Despite the odds of our tandem paragliders ever experiencing any sort of failure or collapse in these conditions, our tandem instructors carry a backup reserve parachute (which is load tested as well) in case the unlikely does happen.
Paraglider Reserve Deployment
At the end of the day, when we're paragliding in San Francisco, the chances of anything bad happening because of the equipment is low. Ultimately what will keep you safe is the good judgement of the tandem instructor. If the instructor flies perfectly safe gear into a cliff, lands in the ocean, goes flying in unsafe weather, or does anything else that's stupid, it doesn't matter whether the equipment is safe or not. Good judgement from our tandem instructors is biggest factor keeping you safe.
In order for a pilot to be able to legally fly tandems in the United States, they must hold an FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) tandem exemption. In order to hold this exemption, they must have a certain amount of experience, take specific tandem paragliding clinics, pass tests, and pass the approval of a tandem administrator who has final say on whether the pilot is tandem qualified. It goes without saying, but all the instructors that paraglide in San Francisco with us not only hold this tandem exception, but exhibit good judgement.
We hope this eases your nerves. At first glance, paragliding looks like a nutty and wild sport that's sketchy at best. After reading this, we hope you understand that a lot of thought, effort, and training has gone into making your tandem paragliding flight safe. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us. 650-735-2FLY (359)