How to be Your Own Load Organizer

by Gary Peek

The original text from the September 1994 Parachutist magazine and the World Freefall Convention Welcome Book

Note: As I review this article written in the early 90's, I realize how much of it is still current. It was of course written with relative work (formation skydiving) in mind but certainly applies to other formation skydives as well. G.P. 2003

Nearly all of the large skydiving events and some of the larger drop zones now have on staff a number of individuals referred to as "load organizers". These organizers are available to jump with those jumpers who may not know anyone at the event or those who may not have a large number of jumps and who may be hesitant to ask someone to jump with them. Sometimes even very experienced jumpers may make use of the load organizers if they simply want to get on a load quickly or if their favorite jump partners are not available.

Even at your home drop zone there are probably one or more individuals that are considered good "load organizers". Certain people seem to be good at organizing a group of skydivers and doing the things required to produce skydives that are fun and successful. Usually these people have a large number of jumps and have jumped with many different types of people with various skill levels, and this is what makes them good organizers. They have seen many skydives that have worked well, but have also seen some that have not, and have been able to apply what they learned after the jump to plan a more successful one the next time. Another reason for their success is their ability to get others skydivers to listen and cooperate during the planning process, because other jumpers have confidence in their abilities to plan a successful skydive. Sometimes a local "personality" can be a very effective load organizer for this reason, due to their experience and familiarity, or even their notoriety!

When you are at a large skydiving event or large drop zone where you do not know very many people, you may feel like you or your friends need some formal organizational skills in the form of a load organizer to help you plan your skydive. However, with a little experience and common sense, anyone can learn to organize successful skydives. You may not be able to plan a 20-way right away, but you can start with a group of 6 to 8 jumpers and expect reasonable success if you keep in mind the basics.

For those of you who still do not care to organize a skydive, but would rather have someone else do it, there are some things you can learn to help the organizer better serve you. After all, you know your skills and techniques better than anyone else, and you can help everyone on your skydive by using your own judgement along with the advice of the load organizer. In this respect we can all be "load organizers" by effectively organizing and representing our own skills.

There are some basic techniques involved in organizing skydives that are fun and successful. The following is a list of some of the things that most successful skydives have in common, plus some additional things to help make your jumps more enjoyable when organizing yourself or others at a large skydiving event or drop zone.

Set a Proper Fall Rate:

First and foremost on the list of things that make up a good skydive is the proper fall rate. More skydives fail to work as expected because of fall rate than for any other reason. When a skydiver is having problems staying up or down with the rest of the group, all of their concentration is going toward solving that problem first, and none of it is going toward having fun and meeting the other challenges of the skydive. A proper fall rate means a fall rate appropriate for the size and skill levels of all of the jumpers combined. Something that all skydivers must do is to accurately estimate how fast they will fall compared to the people they are about to jump with, and to request or make the neccessary adjustments to their part in the skydive. One thing that a load organizer can do is to help make those decisions, especially for those jumpers with less experience, but do not be afraid to speak up if you feel begin to feel uncomfortable about your fall rate on a particular jump. A load organizer will appreciate all the help you can give them in this area. Adjustments to the fall rate that may be needed include position in the formation or on exit, jumpsuit size, whether or not to wear extra weight, or in the case of very inexperienced jumpers, maybe even some coaching on body position or encouragement to relax.

A note about jumpsuits: Most jumpers, unless they are very light and already wear weights, can benefit from having available to them an additional jumpsuit that allows them to fall a litle bit slower than usual. This is especially true at a large skydiving event where they will be jumping with people that have fall rates that are unfamiliar to them, or with less experienced jumpers whose fall rates are less predictable. A larger jumpsuit is certainly not the best way to adjust fall rates in a formation but it might just be neccessary for your success on certain jumps and it may save you a lot of frustration. If you have only one jumpsuit and it results in your falling faster than the average group you are jumping with, you will not have the ability to recover from going low on a formation, whether it be from your own mistake or from others falling slower than they should be falling. In that case the best thing that you could do for everyone involved is to find faster or more experienced people to jump with, or to volunteer to be in the base of the formation most of the time.

Keep it Simple:

Most skydivers are incredible optimists and plan to do far more on their skydives than they can possibly achieve. Many of them even seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of coming to the last point of their planned skydive and not knowing what to do from there. Usually however they never get to that last point, and this can happen for several reasons. There may be too many maneuvers to remember for the amount of time allotted to dirt-dive, or they may be too difficult. Some maneuvers might be too difficult for some of the less experienced jumpers who were put in a particular position. Someone may be nervous about how much they are expected to do on the jump and hurry so much they make a mistake. Fortunately these are all problems can can be prevented by keeping the skydive simple.

Planning fewer points is the easiest way to create a simple skydive. If you happen to finish all of the planned points, consider your skydive a success, and then use the remaining time to relax and analyze the group's fall rate and body positions. That information will be useful on later jumps. Simply releasing grips at that point will provide everyone with an opportunity to see just how well they are flying as a group. It is much more difficult than it seems.

Another way to keep your skydive simple is to plan easy to build formations. Formations where everyone is facing toward the middle are easiest to fly because everyone can watch each other and help compensate for what others are doing. Seeing the keys that signal formation changes are also much easier when facing in.

Do a Thorough Dirt-Dive:

There never seems to be enough time to dirt-dive as much as you should when you are at a large skydiving event. Everyone is in a hurry to make a lot of jumps and the dirt-dive always seems to get rushed. Remember, however, that this problem can be eliminated by getting your group together and completely organizing your jump, then manifesting the load when you are satisfied that you have practiced enough. Even if you decide to go ahead and manifest as the first step of your skydive you can still dirt-dive sufficiently to have a good skydive, but time may be limited, so you will have to do it effectively.

One of the most important aspects of dirt-diving is to show up on time and not to leave until everyone is present and you have gone through the skydive at least once. After that there may be time to do last-minute things before getting your gear on and going to the airplane, but even then, don't count on it. It is important to take your time while practicing, and there may be changes to work out that will take some time. If any single person has a question about where they are going or what they are doing, you should all take the time to practice again.

An important thing to accomplish early in the planning process is to be sure everyone is comfortable with their position and their responsibilities on the jump. If you have any doubts whatsoever about either your performance or someone else's, then let your group know. Maybe you are not the only one that feels that way and what might really be needed is to simplify the skydive or to move some people to different slots. Do not be afaid to speak up to the group or to the load organizer. If your skydive goes well your suggestions will be appreciated.

There may not be enough creepers for your whole group to use to practice the jump, but you can at least have everyone lay down and take grips on the initial formation. Sometimes this can provide some valuable information and will allow you to check for hard to reach grips. What looks good on paper or with the magnet-men may not be as practical as you thought.

At some point during the practice for a skydive everyone should be wearing their gear. Remember, when you are jumping with people that you do not know, their jumpsuit colors will not be familiar. If something happens on exit that places everyone in unexpected positions, it will be neccessary to find the person you are to dock on. A good time to do one last dirt dive is when everyone is geared up and waiting for the airplane. Take one last look at everyone's colors in case someone changed rigs or did not wear one during the earlier dirt dives.

Make a Good Exit:

Another important characteristic of a successful skydive is to make a good exit where everyone gets out of the airplane smoothly and at the same time. Getting off to a good start by doing a good exit builds everyone's confidence right away and helps prevent everyone from getting in a hurry from trying to make up the lost time that a poor exit would waste. The exit needs to be practiced as much as the formation itself, and although it cannot be physically practiced as realistically as a formation, it can at least be done many times, especially to get everyone used to the rhythm of the count. Make sure that the person giving the count has a loud voice and is in a position where others can hear it. If you think that hearing the count will be a problem for some, you will need to have those who can hear it well perform a very obvious rocking motion, and then trust the rock as the exit command. When you are at a large skydiving event or jumping an airplane you have never jumped before, you may be called upon to try some exit locations that you have never experienced before. Make sure you take advantage of this opportunity. Just because a particular exit looks difficult does not mean it is. Ask if anyone else has exited that particular airplane before in your position. Usually an experienced load organizer has performed these exits or similar ones.

Take Your Time:

Due to the limited amount of freefall time to work with and its exciting nature, skydiving easily lends itself to mistakes caused by hurrying. Because of this it is very difficult to convince everyone that slowing down and flying smoothly will result in a better skydive, but it always will. We must all strive for a relaxed pace. It is much better to take your time and build a small number of solid points rather than hurry to do more and wind up building fewer because of mistakes. A good way of helping your group understand the timing of the jump is to dirt-dive the skydive realistically and in real-time. This means walking the base out a long way from where the group lined up, and then taking the full amount of time that your freefall will occupy to complete the dirt-dive. Many jumpers rush the dirt-dive, and at the same time wind up practicing rushing the skydive. During the skydive, use any extra time that you may have to look around and observe the other jumpers. If you find that you are faster than other people in the formation you can fly very close but delay taking your grips, then try to dock on the formation when they dock.

Be Safe:

Basic relative work safety is something we must all strive for when jumping in large groups, and there are a few things that a load organizer can remind everyone of during the dirt-dive. First and foremost is the need to skydive smoothly and slowly enough not to collide with anyone in freefall hard enough to hurt them. Some of the less experienced jumpers may feel pressured into trying to hurry to their position in the formation and therefore be overly aggressive. Aggressiveness is good up to a point, but basically, the closer you are to a formation, the slower you should be flying. It is far better to fly well and to not make it to your slot in the formation than to make it to your slot at a high closing speed and take out the formation.

A suitable break-off altitude needs to be chosen by the group according to its size, and everyone needs to look around a great deal while tracking to see if other jumpers are indeed tracking further away from them rather than tracking under them. This needs to be followed by a good wave-off before pulling while checking above you. If a formation has trouble building and the fall rates become varied, it is possible for jumpers to become very spread out both horizontally and vertically. If this happens you will need to take a very good look around. If you go low on a formation and it is obvious that you will not make it back up, you have no choice but to track away as far as you can, and to start doing it as soon as you know you won't make it back up.

After opening, the most important things to watch for is the large number of canopies that will be in the air at once, not only from your load, but from anyone else on your airplane. If you all plan to land near the same area to debrief, make sure that you watch for others in this area when landing.

Although head and foot protection are optional with experienced jumpers, there are good reasons to wear them when at a large skydiving event. Having something on your head is a good idea because an even slightly less-than-perfect exit with a large group can cause some firm contact between your head and someone else's body. Also, those normally conservative and capable jumpers while doing 4-ways back at their home drop zones can become excited and hurried missiles when faced with a more challenging position or exit. Foot protection is also a good idea since the larger airplanes you may be jumping at a large event will provide a greater variety of exit points, and you may land somewhere other than back at the airport in the grass.

Show up for the Debrief:

One of the most difficult and frustrating things about being a load organizer is trying to get everyone on your skydive to show up for the post-dive debriefing. It seems that everyone wants to land back by their personal area and promises to show up after they have packed. This arrangement seldom works and is discouraging to those who show up first and have to wait. The best plan for getting everyone to show up for the debriefing is to select a general area in which the group will land and then debrief immediately. Those who wish to can start packing within sight of the landing area and can stop when they see that the others are all present.

Some jumpers simply fail to show up for the debriefing at all for various reasons. Some are unhappy with the performance of someone in their group, and some may feel resonsible for a problem with the skydive. Unfortunately, some jumpers even think that a post-dive debriefing is not all that important. None of these is a good reason to skip the debriefing! Anyone who makes a mistake on a skydive can learn from it if they have an open mind and are able to take advice from the load organizer or other jumpers in the group. Remember that problems on skydives can also be caused by many things that are not the fault of an individual jumper. Maybe all that is needed is a few simple changes in the arrangement of the skydive in order to produce success. If you don't show up for the debriefing you will never know.

Have FUN!

Remember, when you are jumping with people you may not know, there is an incredible number of variables that exist. Not all of your skydives will build as large as you planned or turn as many points as you had hoped. Take it easy, slow down, smile at your friends in freefall, and HAVE FUN!

Here are some miscellaneous tips for planning formations:

If you are planning a large formation that includes a wide variety of skill levels, put the less experienced jumpers closer to the base in the lineup even if they are docking further outside the formation than the more experienced jumpers behind them. A more experienced jumper with better diving skills will simply pass them up, and at the same time enjoy a good swoop, while the less experienced jumpers will not have to go so far and can take their time.

Moderate differences in fall rate can be used to your advantage when organizing larger formations. For example, if you know that someone tends to fall slower than most of the others they can be confidently placed on the outside of the formation where they may have to deal with a formation that has slowed down while building.

Keep the base people in the base throughout the skydive. Hopefully the jumpers in the base have been selected because of their faster fall rate, and it does not make sense to have slower falling jumpers that were on the outside of the formation come to the middle and be in the base on any subsequent points.

Very large people are capable of falling fast even when they are wearing what appears to be a large jumpsuit. Their suit will look big compared to the jumpsuit of a small person, so don't get too excited when you see a big jumpsuit. Some of these larger jumpers actually wind up with jumpsuits that are smaller than ideal, which makes their fall rate faster than average even with their big suit.

Don't forget to consider planning some jumps that are practical only out of certain airplanes, such as tube-dives.