Flying your paramotor over water is risky business, and no matter how shallow the water, there's always a risk of drowning if your engine quits. Although it will always carry more risk than flying over dry land, there are ways of making it much safer.
In this post we'll look at equipment that you can use to increase your chances of survival if you end up in the water. You'll learn how to land the paramotor to give you the best chance of getting free of the harness, and to avoid being dragged under. And I'll give you some tips to help you avoid going for a swim in the first place.
Crossing a large body of water
If you need to cross a river, lake, or even smaller bodies of water like wetlands, then the safest way to do it is by maintaining enough height to glide to safety.
There's no telling when an engine will decide to quit, and our notoriously unreliable 2-stroke engines are the worst for it. I've had seemingly healthy engines stop dead with no warning, so never ever trust your engine.
If you're simply crossing the water then you have no reason to fly low, so get up to altitude before passing the shoreline. Stay at your "glide safe" altitude until you've passed the centre point of the water, or until you're sure you can make it to the other side without power.
Flying your paramotor low over water
There may be times when you need to fly low over water. This can largely be avoided, but things like low cloud or fog, or a low airspace ceiling may prevent you reaching your safe height. In this case you will need to be prepared for the crossing.
1. Fit a flotation device to your paramotor
Flotation devices will inflate on contact with water. They're easily attached to the paramotor's harness with velcro, and they come with with 2 small Co2 canisters that automatically inflate the device when required.
The best flotation devices are made by powerfloat (link to ebay), they fit any frame or harness and have the security of two flotation units. I've seen these in action and they are fantastic, you should never fly over water without one.
2. Wear a life vest
Your flotation device will remain attached to the paramotor after you're free. So it's also important to wear a life vest to keep you above water after you're free.
I remember a story of a pilot who came down into water and managed to get free. Unfortunately he wasn't wearing a life vest, and he drowned while trying to swim to shore.
You'll want a low profile vest so that it fits comfortably under your harness straps, and make sure it has manual inflation. An auto inflating vest may make it hard to get free of the harness, so be sure to buy manual inflation only.
A popular choice with pilots is the Revere Comfort Max. Its low profile design makes it perfect for paramotoring, and the easy to reach manual inflation pull chord makes it easy to inflate during a struggle. Check it out on Amazon here > Revere Comfort Max.
3. Unclip your harness
When you paramotor over water it's good practice to unclip one leg strap, your chest strap, and your lap strap (assuming your reserve isn't attached to it).
Unclipping these straps may seem quick easy enough to do normally, but when you're struggling in super cold water the straps will be under tension, and the clips will be very hard to release.
This won't only prevent a struggle, but you'll save valuable seconds needed to get yourself free of the harness.
Before you fly over water, sit in your paramotor harness on the ground, and practice removing the one remaining leg strap. Put tension on it, and try it in different positions until you can do it without thinking about it.
4. Know how to land on the water
The following is taken from my paramotoring ebook:
This is one landing you won't be able to practice, and you'll only have one chance to get it right. By landing correctly you'll prevent the lines tangling around you, which makes it hard to swim and stay afloat.
To avoid getting tangled in the lines, do not fully flare the wing on impact with the water, this keeps the wing flying, and causes it to overshoot you. As the wing hits the water, the cells will face down, this creates an air pocket to stop it sinking as fast.
If there is little of no wind, it's also best to land downwind. It'll be much faster, but it will also ensure the wing overshoots; the last thing you want is the wing falling down onto you.
At 50 ft unclip your one remaining leg strap. Take a few big breaths, and the instant your feet touch the water, jump out and away from the harness. Swim under and away from the paramotor and wing, and stay under the water, swimming as far as possible before surfacing, to avoid coming back up into the lines. Once surfaced, you should now inflate your life vest.
Water foot-dragging adds another degree of risk to flying your paramotor over water. If you've not mastered foot-dragging over land then it should never be attempted. If the prop hits the water, a loss of thrust will happen instantly, and you'll be face down in the water in a split second.
All of the previous section applies to water foot-dragging, but it should only be attempted over very shallow water. Be very careful if you've unclipped a leg strap, make sure the remaining strap is fully checked and up to the job. Remember that there's no back-up, so if it gives way you're falling out!
If you do end up in the water while foot-dragging, this is the point where you'll need to get that one remaining leg strap unclipped immediately. This is why it's so important to rehearse this situation on land as previously mentioned.
More tips for flying a paramotor over water
- Avoid moving water, especially surf, as your wing will fill with water almost immediately. Before you know it you'll be getting tossed around by the waves tied to what's basically become a huge bag of water.
- Never jump out of the paramotor before hitting the water. It's incredibly easy to misjudge your height when flying over water, what you think is 5 feet could easily be 25 feet.
- I mentioned earlier that you mustn't fully flare the wing, but you will need a small flare to level you out. Some pilots recommend not flaring, but if you don't flare at all you'll hit the water very hard, and risk injury. An injury would be a very bad thing in this situation.
- If you find yourself in the water then remove all of your clothes as soon as you're free. I've tried swimming in clothes and it's very difficult, I think even the best swimmers would struggle.
If any of my readers have landed in water I would love to hear from you in the comments below. Any comments will be added to the post to help others!
Thanks for checking out this post, you can find more tips to reduce your chances of a paramotoring accident HERE.