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Skydiving Article - Your Reserve Repack

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Your Reserve Repack

Andrew Hilton - BPA Advanced Rigger.

£30 for a reserve repack? You cannot be serious! That's extortionate!

No, it's a pittance! Our last chance is in the hands of our reserve packer

How are they chosen, why do they do it, what do you have to do to qualify?

You don't have to be a rigger to pack reserves, you can gain a BPA Advanced Packer's rating. This allows you to assemble and pack reserves other than tandems. It does not qualify you for stitching or repair work which must be done by a rigger.

Packing reserves is one of the greatest responsibilities in our sport. Other jumpers will trust you with their lives. Literally. Are you prepared to take on that kind of responsibility? A mistake could seriously injure or even kill.

Why Learn?

• Being able to put something back into the sport, your club or centre
• Gaining further knowledge and understanding of equipment
• Doing something worthwhile on bad weather days and midweek.

But don't expect becoming a reserve packer to make you a fortune. Though a lot of time and effort goes into learning how to pack reserves the financial rewards are fairly minimal.

High Standards

If you intend becoming an Advanced Packer, you will be expected to set and follow very high standards of equipment safety.


The title 'Advanced Packer' belies the fact that, not only are you packing reserves, you must inspect them as well. To just repack a reserve without inspecting it is both illegal and pointless. Your job is to certify that, at the time of packing, the parachute equipment is airworthy. To do that you must examine the system thoroughly; inside and out; component by component; stitch by stitch. Equipment problems could come to light in two main ways:

• inspection on the ground or
• during equipment failure in the air.

As a jumper, which would you prefer? As a packer, the answer is the same.

Anyone who does not thoroughly inspect a system during a repack is seriously endangering the user of that equipment. No-one is qualified or justified in packing the system without a thorough inspection - whether the equipment is brand new or old; round or square; big or small; expensive or cheap; just deployed after a terminal velocity mal or in for a routine repack. Anyone is qualified to question their actions if you see a reserve being packed and not inspected.

How do you qualify?

Develop your interest and initial knowledge in this area
Whilst you could go straight into stage two (the teaching course), you may then discover that you're really not interested in packing reserves after all. So, before you spend all that money, get to know how reserves are packed and see if you want to continue.

Watch reserve packers at work. Ask as many questions as you dare. Although realise that they may be justifiably reluctant to talk whilst repacking so they can concentrate.

Obtain documents from the BPA:

Reserve Packing Guide - to be studied before your teaching course
Operations Manual - essential reading to understand the regulations that apply to the sport
Safety Notices and Safety Information Bulletins & Safety Notice Index - most importantly, these two documents are a listing of all the safety notices issued by the BPA; both advisory and mandatory. Reserve packers must be familiar with this information and know how to apply it to any equipment they are dealing with.

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Increase your equipment knowledge.

Are you completely familiar with your own rig? With the 3-ring release? Collapsible pilot chutes? Reconnecting main canopies? Student equipment at your centre? You can never know too much about skydiving equipment. This knowledge is both free and beneficial to your skill set as a reserve packer.

Start to acquire the tools and information you will need.

My own personal tool collection, has cost several hundred pounds, but has been built up gradually.

You will also need stocks of certain materials to help you do basic servicing. These include:

Cypres and main closing loop material; Cypres silicone gel;
hand-tacking thread;
leg strap elastic keepers;
packing cards;
BPA reserve inspection sheets and more.

Start to build a comprehensive set of packing manuals for containers and canopies. Both before and after qualification you need to have access to the respective manuals for the canopy, container and AAD during the repack. You cannot pack the equipment without these, so start collecting as soon as you can. The best source is the manufacturer of the equipment. Some manufacturers charge for their manuals whilst others don't. Some place this information on the Internet too, then it is free.

Acquire a copy of the Riggers' bible - The Parachute Manual by Dan Poynter. There are two volumes with such an enormous amount of equipment information, you cannot afford to be without them.

Teaching course

These are run by Rigger Examiners and Advanced Riggers and last for four days. During this time you will get hands-on experience of inspecting and packing reserves under supervision. This is the time to learn from your mistakes. This is when you realise that it can be a lot more difficult than it looks - even if you think it looks difficult to start with!

You will also be instructed in other aspects of reserve packing including:
General rigging and assembly of parachute systems - to enable you to put a system together from the raw components.

Equipment compatibility - to show you why all canopies don't fit in all containers and why this is important. This is more than a case of sizing. Some systems aren't designed to accept round reserves, and others can't accept squares, for example.

Basic equipment design and construction criteria; equipment inspection techniques; inspection and installation of AAD's and RSL's - to help you identify problems with equipment during your inspection of a system.

How to use information in the Safety Notices File and Index.

BPA rules and regulations - which parts of the BPA Operations manual affect your work.

Packing tool control - which tools help you pack a reserve, and why you should keep track of them during the repack. Some tools will prevent a reserve from opening if left in during the repack, so it is critical that you know where your tools are at all times. This should explain why your rigger won't lend you any of his tools or even his pull-up cord.


The four day course should cost several hundred pounds, though actual prices will vary. The price reflects the expert skills that the course instructors are passing on to you. It may seem a lot of money, but once you are qualified you can recoup these costs during your initial repacks.

Gain experience

During this time you must be supervised by at least an Advanced Packer who will sign off all the work you do. During this stage, it would be an idea to seek out anyone temporarily not jumping and beg for the use of their equipment to practice on. Locate equipment whose owners are not in a hurry to get it back in the air (perhaps the owner does not need it for three or four weeks) and practice, practice, practice!

Make sure you do as many real repacks as you can as well, and get a feel for the responsibility Aim to pack a wide variety of equipment. This stage should last for at least three months and, the more time you spend and the more experience that you gain, the better. You will need to pack 30-40 reserves for real to acquire the minimum knowledge for the exam course.

Attend exam course

You will have to demonstrate that you know enough to be able, and have the right attitude to be trusted, to pack reserves on your own. This course will last at least two days and be run by an Advanced Rigger or Rigger Examiner. The final exam consists of four reserve repacks with a variety of equipment, plus a written test. The exams are not designed to trip you up but, if you are not confident or capable to pack reserves, you will not pass.

After Qualifying

You must keep up to date with the ever-changing world of skydiving equipment. You will need to prove your currency each year to have your rating renewed. It is not a good idea to get out of practice with the fine art of packing reserves.


There is a lot more than meets the eye to packing reserves, so I hope you understand why your repack costs 'so much'. If you are interested in becoming a reserve packer, contact your local reserve packer and the BPA to find out when the next courses are. Reserve Packing Course

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