Breakoff Series Part 1: Planning Breakoff and Tracking

Revised August 2015

Before you hop in the plane for your next jump, here’s some food for thought on safety: Plan your breakoff and tracking just as carefully as you plan the freefall part of your jump. This part of the jump is often neglected because it comes after “the good stuff,” but it is at least as important to your survival as your other freefall objectives, if not more so. Remember you don’t have any friends below breakoff, so get away from those people! Your objective is to get as far away from your group horizontally as you can, so you all have clear columns of air in which to deploy your parachutes and deal with any malfunctions.

Let’s plan the dive and dive the plan. Whatever you’re going to do for most of your freefall, make sure you have these bottom-end basics in mind.

  1. Plan enough exit separation from previous groups to give your group plenty of room to open in clear airspace. If you aren’t sure how much time to leave, check our Safety Stand information on today’s winds and thereby the recommended exit separation. If you are still not sure how much time to leave, ask an organizer or instructor.
  2. Plan an appropriate breakoff altitude that will allow everyone in your group enough time to track away from each other into clear space for deployment. Allow at least 1500 feet between breakoff and deployment altitude of the highest-pulling jumper. At belly speeds, this gives everyone about nine seconds minimum to turn away from the formation, track to achieve separation, then slow down to initiate deployment. Groups with less experienced jumpers or larger groups may want to give even more time to track away.
  3. Know which direction you will track from your fellow jumpers from any given point in the dive. If your group is very small and you have a large “piece of sky” for escaping others in your group, track away from the line of flight. (You knew which way that was before you exited, right?)
  4. Dirt dive breakoff from each planned formation so you know where everyone will go regardless of whether you complete all of the planned formations (or start going through them again!). 180° from the center of the formation is the usual breakoff direction for everyone, but if you’re already facing sideways to the formation, for example, you’ll only have to turn 90° to get there. Think about this ahead of time and you won’t be trying to make decisions at the bottom of the skydive as time is running out.
  5. Break off on time. Period. Don’t suck it down to close that last point or get that last geek in; this reduces the time you have to break off safely and it’s often the first link in the chain of events that leads to a collision.
  6. Maintain awareness of other jumpers in your group as you track, so you can adjust your path as needed to maximize horizontal separation.
  7. When you deploy, always scan for other skydivers so you can avoid any that are close enough to require evasive action. Don’t fly up or down the line of flight until you have verified that the groups exiting before and after you have already deployed and are not collision risks. Particularly with today’s faster canopies, you can cover a lot of ground even before you unstow your brakes, reducing your margin of safety if you’re flying towards other jumpers.

As always, if you have any questions, just ask one of our instructors or organizers. Happy skydiving, and stay tuned for part 2 on flat tracking!

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