paragliding vs paramotoring safety and dangers

Paragliding VS Paramotoring safety: Which one is less risky?

I talk to many aspiring pilots who are struggling to decide between learning paragliding VS paramotoring, and safety is often the main concern. The two sports may look very similar, but they actually differ in more ways than first meets the eye.

Although they are both very fun, they both carry certain risks that all new pilots need to be aware of. But which one is the safest, and why?

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Paragliding VS Paramotoring safety

Paragliding

When student pilots learn to paraglide, they will be taken to the top of a hill in calm conditions for their first solo flight. They’ll launch from the top, and and slowly glide down to the bottom, hence the name top to bottom flights. These initial flights are taken in very low wind during very low thermal activity to ensure the safest flight possible.

Unfortunately, the calm conditions that we take our initial flights in will be useless for any pilot that wishes to stay aloft. In order to stay in the air for longer, a paraglider will either need strong wind to generate lift, or strong thermals to push the paraglider upwards.

Pilots will search for smooth laminar air at the launch site, and most will fly while there is at least some level of thermal activity. This ensures the pilot will achieve a good lengthy flight time, something paragliding pilots crave.

Paramotoring

When students learn to paramotor, their initial flights will also be taken in calm conditions. They can launch from a flat field or a hilltop, as with paragliding.

A paramotor is never dependant on wind or thermals, and there is enough thrust generated by the engine to launch from a flat field in zero wind conditions. Launching will always be easier with wind, but it’s not essential, nor is it required to stay aloft.

Pilots will usually fly early mornings before any thermal activity, or late evenings after the thermals have died down. Flying a paramotor during strong midday thermals is never recommended because of the risk it poses to pilots.

The safety of paragliding vs paramotoring

Paragliding

Paragliding VS Paramotoring safety paragliders

As we previously mentioned, a paraglider needs strong wind or thermals to stay aloft. Unfortunately both of these carry risks. We found out in my wing collapse article that strong wind poses a risk because of turbulence at low altitudes. For example, launching and flying downwind of any obstacle will cause dangerous turbulence known as rotor. This turbulence can easily cause a wing deflation called a wing collapse, and if this happens at low altitude it can be deadly.

I witnessed this for the first time during my paramotor training. An experienced pilot was ridge soaring, and only about 30 feet above the ground when the wing suddenly collapsed. It recovered quickly at about 15 feet, but quickly collapsed again, dumping the pilot onto the ground. Luckily he escaped with only a twisted ankle, but this is how many pilots have lost their lives.

Something else that can very easily collapse a paraglider, is a strong thermal. Fortunately, pilots can learn to recover their wing quickly by taking a SIV course. This is great when the collapse happens at altitude, but problems still arise when a collapse happens close to the ground. Even the most experienced of pilots are falling victim to low altitude collapses, with no chance of recovery.

Another danger that paragliding pilots face is themselves, as their keenness and yearning to fly can cause bad preflight decision making. Some pilots travel many miles to their closest launch site, only to find that the conditions are far from perfect. Not wanting to leave and return home without a flight, they’ll launch regardless, often putting themselves in serious danger.

paramotoring

Paragliding VS Paramotoring safety paramotors

If a paramotor is launched in turbulent air or thermic conditions, pilots take the same risks as paragliding pilots. Although, the constant forward motion that the engine provides, along with the extra wing loading, will make the wing slightly less prone to collapse.

Another danger that faces paramotorists is the propeller that spins just inches from the pilot. If the throttle gets jammed open before the pilot is strapped in, there is a big risk of an impact with the propeller. Read all about this and discover how to prevent this very common accident here.

Or find out which paramotor uses a unique device to prevent these injuries occurring here.

There’s also a risk of the brake handles getting sucked into the propeller, and spinning the paramotor out of control and into the ground. A more common problem is the risk of the throttle cable hitting the propeller. Read more about this in my separate article where we find out whether paramotoring is really as safe as they say by clicking here.

Paragliding VS Paramotoring: Which one is safer?

The thing that makes both of these sports safer, is the pilot’s ability to make good decisions. That includes choosing a good launch site free from turbulence and obstacles, and good judgement of weather conditions.

But with good training, paramotoring is still considered much safer than paragliding for many reasons.

1. As we’ve already mentioned, paramotors can be launched in zero wind with no thermal activity. During training, paramotorists are warned against flying in conditions that paragliding pilots long for, like strong wind or midday thermals. Pilots will tend to launch on calm mornings before any thermal activity, or in the evening after the thermals die off.

2. Paramotorists have that same urge to fly as paragliding pilots, but low wind is much easier to predict than the perfect paragliding conditions. This means that paramotorists rarely end up ‘parawaiting’ in a field (waiting for the wind to drop).

But parawaiting is a common sight at paragliding hills, and unfortunately some pilots will always launch before conditions become perfect. This is the reason that you will see experienced paragliding pilots landing in trees, on cars, and taking wing collapses at 30 feet above the ground on a daily basis.

3. As I mentioned earlier, paramotors have constant forward motion because of the engine, and a higher wing loading which helps to keep the wing inflated and moving forward.

A loss of forward motion can sometimes be a problem to paragliders during gusty or thermic conditions that pilots regularly fly in, and when accompanied by a loss of airspeed over the wing, can result in a sudden dive or a even a wing deflation.

This was the reason for the collapse that I witnessed during training. I also witnessed a big paraglider collapse during a Parafest event, as a pilot flew into rotor turbulence in strong wind.

The pilot came crashing down from about 30 feet, landing on top of a tent. About 2 minutes later, a paramotor flew down the exact same flight path. It certainly looked a little wobbly, but the wing remained solid throughout, and the pilot landed safely.

4. Engines give paramotorists the ability to climb to a safe altitude within seconds, even in zero wind. This places them above many dangers like rotor, and the extra height also gives pilots longer to react to any dangers. It also gives pilots more time to spot out landing options in the event of an engine failure.

Paragliding pilots often soar by using ridge lift, which is generated by strong wind blowing up a hill. This allows them to stay airborne, and is very often done at an altitude of no greater than 200 feet, and as low as they like. We very often see pilots skimming the hillside as they struggle to gain altitude. A drop in the wind speed with no altitude can lead to landings in undesirable spots, while low altitude wing collapses have lead to many pilots being killed.

Can paragliding be made safer?

Again, the pilots pre flight decision making plays a big part here. Pilots very often see low air time flights as a wasted journey to the hill. This is when they start to push their luck, and fly outside of the paragliders limits. And sometimes, the itch to fly overcomes a pilots true abilities and safety.

To make paragliding safer, pilots need to accept that they may have to go home without flying some days. If there is ever any doubt as to whether the conditions are safe to launch in, the pilot should not launch.

Pilots also need to understand what is going on with the weather higher up. They should check multiple forecasts, winds aloft, thermal predictions, etc. And if they plan on long flights, they should understand what might happen in the next few hours after launch.

Can paramotoring be made safer?

If the paramotor is launched in calm conditions, paramotoring can be much safer than driving your car to the field. The chance of a wing malfunction on a calm morning or evening is very low. Whilst flying, the main danger will be other aircraft.

Pilots should always be aware of their surroundings, maintain plenty of height, and never get complacent. They should also expect an engine failure at any moment. So always have a landing option, avoid flying low over water, trees, or unknown areas where power lines are present.

Paramotors and paragliders can be difficult for other pilots to see. So pilots can make themselves more visible to other aircraft by fitting an anti collision light to their cages or helmets. Read about why we’re so difficult to spot, and find out the best anti collision lights here.

To avoid accidents involving the propeller, engines should always be started after strapping into the harness. All other paramotoring safety issues are addressed here.

Paragliding VS Paramotoring safety: The decider

So we’ve looked at the main dangers of both sports, and come to the conclusion that paramotoring may be safer. But this is only because of the conditions that they are able to fly in. If a paramotor pilot launches in stronger conditions, they can expect the same dangers as paragliding, and statistically the death rate is almost the same.

If you choose to learn paramotoring because of this conclusion, there’s one thing you should remember.. The safety of the sport is ultimately up to you, the pilot. Good decisions make safer flights, remember that, and get it right every time.

As a paramotorist, you will occasionally get to the field and discover the conditions aren’t ideal. Never let the eagerness to fly push you into making risky decisions. Either wait it out, or go home and wait for the next flying window by using forecasts like Windfinder or XC Weather

If you enjoyed Paragliding VS Paramotoring safety you’ll love these:

Find out why paramotors & paragliders may not show up on radar, and why we may be invisible to ATC and fast jets here.

Overcome your fear of flying and paramotoring here.

Find out what the difference is between paragliding and paramotoring so you can decide which one to pursue

Discover what paramotoring is really like from long time pilots point of view here.

Find out exactly how much paramotoring will cost to learn and the running costs for a whole year here.

Check out my review of the paramotor and engine that I’m currently flying, the Parajet V3 Moster here.

GO TO PARAMOTOR PLANET HOME PAGE

Comments

  1. I disagree. 1 learned to paraglide in smooth laminar air. Got hundreds of hours of airtime, ground handling skills, active piloting skills, learned a ton about wind and weather, decision making, etc. In the mountains i spent some years doing mellow morning/evening hike and flys is butter smooth/safe air. The idea that these are two completely different sports is complete nonsense. Knowing how to fly a paraglider is a basic fundamental and not learning bad habits with the throttle is important. Adding the motor is really easy and non stressful if you can already fly well. If you look at the motor community right now. Things are not good! The bar got set really low and we’re seeing a record number of accidents.

  2. Great article! Just one little thing… Being “parked” doesn’t mean anything in the air. Your ground speed doesn’t have any effect on a wing in flight. Of course if you’re parked then there are high winds and rotor is more of an issue but your relative speed to the ground is meaningless and has nothing to do with a wing collapsing.

    1. Author

      Hi Leland, thanks for the input. I understand what you’re saying, and I realise ground speed isn’t important to achieve flight. The lack of airspeed over the wing during a sudden drop in wind speed can be a problem, and the resulting stall / dive close to the ground could be lethal.

  3. Hi. I have been doing paragliding for many years, mostly ridge soaring but also XC. Last year I bought both motor and new wing for paramotor, and I tried to fly at the same places I used to ridge soar, with wind 10-12 knots. It feels less stable, especially when gaining height and over 100 meter over the ground (or sea). It seems that both the motor forward push and the propeller (served as a sail), causing pilot instability, even if the wing is stable. what is the reason that the gusts should never exceed 5 knots, and why it is more vulnerable to wind changes or thermics compared to paraglider. Thank you for your article and response.

    1. Another question – in paragliding, when the wind is strong, one has to activate the speed system to penetrate the wind, but it is more vulnerable to collapse. should setting the trimmers all open (to gain speed, e.g. from 37 kph to 45 kph), makes it also more vulnerable to collapse and not recommended in turbulent conditions. Thanks again.

  4. Very interesting article, as many others on your website!I’m reading almost all of them, thank you! 🙂

    I’m looking forward to learn paramotoring soon, and a couple of paraglider pilots told me I’d better do a paragliding course first, as it would make it easier to learn paramotoring… thanks to the wing management I would learn.
    What do you think about it?

    Obviously that would also represent an extra cost to be added to the paramotor course…is it really worth?

    Thanks!

    1. Author

      Hi Fabrizio, thanks for checking out the site! I answer your question in this post

      Taking a separate paragliding course as well as a paramotoring course really isn’t necessary in my opinion. If you do your research and find a quality paramotoring school, you will spend plenty of time learning how to ground handle the wing. During my course I spent 2 days in the field doing nothing but ground handling, this is long enough to teach you all you need to know. Although a few days of training won’t be long enough to become an expert in wing management, you can continue honing your ground handling skills outside of training in your own time, and at no extra cost.

      One benefit to taking a paragliding course would be the opportunity to perfect your takeoffs and landings with no risk to equipment. Fortunately for me, my paramotoring school had a paragliding hill, so I got to do top to bottom flights, and a little paragliding, and I think this is far better than being thrown in at the deep end, and having to take your first flight with a powerful motor and lots of extra weight to deal with.

      All of the best schools will have a hill where you can do some paragliding before adding the engine. If you can find a school that offers this option you will learn certain things much quicker. I never had a problem with landing like so many pilots do, and I think the few top to bottoms that I did definitely gave me an advantage.

      I hope this helps, good luck with your decision.

    2. Great article mate. I initially wanted to do paragliding as it looks fun and safe, but wing collapse does seem an issue..

      I am leaning toward paramotor now. I have only flown a plane before but this seems a good way to get into the sky. Cheers!

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