With POV style cameras having become an integral part of our sport, we’re also seeing more and more instances where these cameras are actually contributing to safety in a very negative way.
Most countries have a sensible minimum experience demand of 200 jumps (or more) before use of any type of camera is allowed, and not without reason. In skydiving and basejumping there are many examples of dangerous situations, and even deadly accidents where a pilot chute or other part of the gear wrapping around a camera was the main factor leading to a fatal outcome.
Like all things in life, prevention is better than dealing with the trouble in high stress situations afterward.
Do note that cameras can influence our actions and decision-making structure in a negative way as well, though for this article we’ll only focus on the gear-related side of things. This brings us to a short article on action camera placement.
With body mounts, chest placement seems to be the safest option, keeping the camera away from any potential risers, bridle or other part of the gear that could snag it on opening. Do keep in mind that when combining basejumping with aerials (flips and rolls before opening) this does become another factor to be aware of. A chest-mount that’s normally of no added danger can suddenly become a very big snag-point when throwing the pilot chute prematurely or late during a backflip off an object. If those kind of actions are part of your routine, it is worth avoiding placing the camera there (or anywhere).
A camera mounted on the foot must always be treated with caution. The right foot should never have any object mounted, as that’s an obvious point right in the path of a pilot chute and bridle during deployment. The left foot can be a relatively safe position to mount a camera, but be aware that during pilot chute hesitations the PC does bounce all over the body, and can still snag any protruding object. Body mounts can also change aerodynamics in ways that actually influence how you fly, by inducing slight turns or even leading to instability. So if you use any type of body mounted camera, make sure it’s tight against your frame, and not protruding outward too far.
The most common place where cameras are mounted is the helmet, either on the front or top.
Side mounts are also commonly seen, but in general are less advisable as risers do pass there on deployment.
Right-side mounted cameras can cause a big risk for the pilot chute during (non-wingsuit) deployments, and it’s especially important to try and avoid this setup.
It’s advisable to use one of the many low-profile mounts available on the market today, that limit how much of the camera is exposed.
Another good solution with POV/Action cameras is to mount the camera upside down on the forehead.
This, particularly for wingsuit flying) almost fully eliminates chances of getting any pilot chute, lines or bridle caught behind the mount.
Especially for wingsuit flying we’re seeing back-facing camera mounts become more and more popular.
Aside from asking yourself, wether a 2.5 minute static view of your rig is really what the world needs, note that during pilot chute hesitations, they have been known to bounce up and down the body in the burble, and sometimes all the way up to the helmet, so any camera sticking out on top, or further down the back of the helmet will present a good snag hazard there on both a skydive and basejump. As a safety rule, try to not have a camera mounted past the center point/middle of the helmet.
Especially for skydiving, this creates a big safety issue. During a normal deployment the aforementioned risks of a PC dancing around in the burble and catching it is always present, but it’s during a cutaway and subsequent reserve deployment that the real risk shows up. A big thing to think about is body orientation. Where during normal flight, a backfacing camera is nice and flush against the body, presenting a very small snag hazard, it’s during the upright orientation of a cutaway that the camera is suddenly right in the part of the deploying reserve pilot chute.
Sadly there are even fatal examples of camera gear snagging part of the reserve on opening, but a good graphic example can be seen in this picture from a cutaway by Turkish Skydiver/Basejumper Mesut Turan.
After a cutaway from a malfunctioning main canopy with line twists, the reserve pilot chute and subsequent parachute deployment both grazed the rear facing camera, delaying the opening, and getting hung up on the mount. Thankfully the high speed ripped the mount off the socket. At lower altitude or freefall speed, it could have ended different.
Helmet ‘Unicorn’ Mounts
Another increasingly popular mounting position is the reversed helmet angle. The camera is mounted on a long bar in front, looking back at the person. It’s sometimes also called a ‘unicorn’ mount, or even more extreme, ‘death sticks’. It provides a fun ‘bobble head’ view of a jump, but do be aware that this setup can lead to entanglement with the risers in the event of line twists. Even without entanglement, the mount limits the ability to pull your head through the risers, in case of a line twist behind your neck.
During an accidental rough deployment it could also lead to high forces being transferred directly to your neck, resulting in injury or worse.
Camera Quick Release
Even when a camera is mounted in the best way possible, account for the unthinkable. When you do get in a situation where part of your gear snags a camera, it’s worth not counting on the camera itself to simply rip off. Forces, especially at low speeds, might not always be strong enough to separate the camera from your body or helmet, so it’s worth considering some form of cutaway/release. This release can be made for either just the camera itself, or the complete helmet or mount. Some cutaways use a force reduction system, similar to a 3-ring setup on a skydiving rig, to make release under high stress possible. Make sure you test any cutaway setup under actual simulated load, and practice use every once in a while to stay current on it’s operation.
No video is worth dying for. Keep that in mind when trying to setup those cameras to shoot your skydives and/or basejumps. There are many great, safe solutions available for safe(r) mounting, as well as lots of knowledge within the community. Use those resources to make practicing and documenting our sport in as safe a way as possible.
written by Jarno Cordia