As we head into the colder season for British skydiving, a lot of us will be heading for bluer skies in other countries, maybe to an organised boogie, a holiday with friends, or on a solo trip. Whatever you're doing and wherever you're going, there are things to think about that will make your holiday more successful, fun, and safe.
Depending on the country and dropzone you're going to, there will be different things to consider. For organised boogies, a lot of the work will be done for you but double check everything as if you were organising it all. The first step is to contact the dropzone and ask about their facilities, instructors/coaches/load organisers, and rental equipment (if you need it). The dropzone may also have some tips or local contacts to help with the usual holiday planning like flights, accommodation, and car hire. As well as these, it's important to ask about the dropzone and surrounding area, letting you plan for catering, eating out, and the type of cards they will accept or if you will need cash. Another rarely considered point (especially with smaller foreign dropzones) is the languages spoken by the staff and sports jumpers. It isn't usually a problem at bigger dropzones but might be at smaller operations and, no matter how good your Spanish / French / German, you're unlikely to know all the skydiving-specific words, so plan ahead! Lastly, if you need to rent equipment, make sure you find out what gear the dropzone has with plenty of notice; if they don't have something suitable for you, then you could rent a rig in the UK to take abroad.
Flying with your Gear
When planning to travel with your rig or other gear, the first thing is to check the airline rules and the experiences of other skydivers who've used them. For a lot of people, their initial thought is to put their rig in their hand luggage. While that can be the best option with some airlines (and hopefully removes the risk of them losing your expensive gear!), with others it isn't a good idea.
As your rig has a sealed reserve, it is essentially a backpack that the security are not allowed to open... A backpack usually containing an electronic device attached to an explosive charge used to fire a blade (not that you should say it so bluntly to security). When luggage is being tested, reserves are known to often trigger the X-ray scanner's trace explosives detection system, requiring further inspection. Though this is usually a quick process, you should be there to oversee everything.
To avoid any problems, it's important that you pack your rig with documents that explain what it is, the AAD and its use, and a note to state that they must not touch or open the container without you present. If you're taking your rig in your hand luggage, make sure you remove your hook knife and put it into the hold. Along with these directions, include all information about your departure and arrival locations, flight details, and a contact number so security can reach you.
Vigil and Cypres also provide X-ray cards that show security what your AAD should look like and explain the different components. These are available in hardcopy card format and can also be downloaded from Cypres or Vigil directly along with other useful travel documents and information.
As well as preparing for security, you also need to be careful of other risks to your equipment. Make sure your reserve handle is secured so it can't be accidentally knocked out of place (but ensure it's something you won't forget to remove at the other end!) and ensure your AAD is switched off. Package the rig inside your luggage so it's waterproof and safe from spills, and then in a hard case to protect it from knocks. TSA also recommend there is nothing else in the bag (either the hold or hand luggage) so you may want to consider getting additional luggage space for your gear.
Some airlines offer additional space for sports and camera equipment, either for free or (often a reduced) additional cost, so check with them and see if you can be clever about how you plan your luggage. For example, a camera helmet could go either as a piece of sports equipment, camera equipment, or into your normal luggage, depending on their policies and pricing.
When travelling abroad, there's often insurance that is mandatory at the foreign dropzone, either due to national regulations or the dropzones own policies so check with them before you purchase anything. Often the mandatory insurance is only third party, in a similar way to the BPA insurance - though you will still need it in some places where the BPA insurance won't cover you or if the dropzone require a specific insurance provider. In European countries, you can also use your E111 European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), though it may not cover all accidents.
Some dropzones also require personal accident cover and, even if they don't, it's a really good idea to take out an insurance policy. You can get cover for single trips or a multi-trip policy that usually runs for the year. Check that the insurance specifically covers skydiving and the amount of medical cover it will give you - the bills add up fast outside of the NHS! Also make sure that it includes repatriation to get you back home in case you need medical transport after an accident.
You can often bundle personal accident cover with gear insurance but otherwise there are equipment-only options. Your airline is likely to give you some compensation for lost luggage during your journey, but the amount and time taken to process the claim may vary, and it won't cover you during your trip. You might be able to claim under your contents insurance policy, depending on its rules about items away from the house. Alternatively, you can insure your equipment with a provider on its own. In any case, check the amount of coverage you're getting, any excess you will need to pay, and whether the insurance provider needs items to be named or described on the policy.
Keeping Yourself and Others Safe
If you trained and jump in the British system, BPA rules mean that the experienced jumpers always have responsibility for each other and any less experienced skydivers, with everyone checking each others' gear and one person taking responsibility for the plane load. This isn't the case in every country however, with many countries not having any mandatory checks of other people's gear or the position of jumpmaster. While it is obviously possible to skydive safely at these dropzones, there is a reason British skydiving has one of the lowest accident rates in the world and it is strongly recommended that you take the British practices with you, especially in making sure you get a flight line check and check your friends.
Another difference between countries is in the licence levels; the other main system is USPA and also uses licences A-D, but each licence refers to slightly different things including different focuses of training and different rules. For example a USPA 'A' licence includes much of what falls under the BPA FS1 sticker, and so an A licence jumper in the US will usually be permitted to jump with others.
Some dropzones will use other systems and all will have their own local rules, so speak to their Chief Instructor (CI), Dropzone Owner (DZO), or equivalent before travelling and upon arrival. They should explain these to you and give you a dropzone orientation, an introduction to their ticketing system, and check your kit and docs, so ask any questions at the same time.
Wherever you go, you should still give some respect to the system under which you were trained (most likely the BPA). If you are not allowed to do a certain jump type or use a particular type of equipment in the UK, then you are no safer doing it abroad, at a dropzone and in conditions with which you are unfamiliar.
When jumping in different conditions, as well as not trying your luck with equipment you can't use in the UK, you should also be careful with gear you might even be very used to jumping at home. Changes in altitude, temperature, and humidity affect air density, which changes how your canopy flies.
Make a checklist
There is a lot to consider to make your trip safe and enjoyable, so putting together a checklist of things to do can be very useful. The BPA have published a travel checklist that should provide a good starting point.