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The biggest reason that people don’t get into hang gliding is because they’re afraid it’s too risky and too dangerous. So is hang gliding safe?
I get it that some people are just afraid of heights and that’s why they never decide to start hang gliding, but many people just assume that it’s not safe. After all, you’re flying thousands of feet in the air with nothing but a hang glider and your own abilities to keep you afloat. What happens if you fall? What about unexpected weather? How safe can hang gliding be?
Hang gliding is a relatively safe activity compared to other extreme sports, with experienced pilots considering it a leisurely activity for the most part. According to relevant published statistics, hang gliding is safer than paragliding and slightly more dangerous (per flight) than skydiving.
Hang gliding is a sport that has been around for centuries. It is considered to be one of the safest forms of aviation, but like any other activity, there are risks involved. In this article, we will discuss the safety of hang gliding and how to avoid potential dangers. We will also talk about what happens if something goes wrong while you are flying and how to get back on track. Hang gliding is a thrilling experience, but it is important to remember that safety should always be your number one priority!
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How Safe Is Hang Gliding?
Hang gliding is widely considered to be one of the safest forms of aviation and one of the safest extreme sports out there. Most people even consider hang gliding a relaxing, leisurely activity. So it can't possibly be all that dangerous, right?
That’s not as straightforward of an answer as you might have been hoping for. Compared to sitting at home and watching TV, hang gliding is incredibly dangerous. Similarly when compared to another extreme aerial sport like BASE jumping, hang gliding is incredibly safe. There has to be a happy medium in there that we can take a look at, so that’s what we’ll aim for in this piece.
Bottom line: hang gliding is relatively safe, but how safe is it?
One of the big reasons that hang gliding is largely considered to be pretty safe is that the margin for error is much greater than with other forms of aviation or extreme sports. In other words, if you make a mistake while hang gliding, it is likely that you will be able to correct it. That’s not to say there are no risks to this sport, but it may be much safer than you were thinking.
Hang Gliding Safety Tips
Now that we have established that hang gliding is a relatively safe activity, let's take a look at some safety tips for beginners.
Check The Weather Before Flying
The most important thing you want to do before every single flight is to check the weather in the area you’ll be flying. You want to know if it’s going to rain, what the temperatures are like, wind speed and direction, and more.
All of this can affect the way your glider will fly and it’s essential that you know it’s even safe to fly in the first place. If the weather ever looks bad, don’t fly. It’s not worth it, just come back another day when it clears up.
Have The Right Equipment And Apparel
Always make sure that you are wearing the proper gear. This includes a helmet, goggles, and gloves at an absolute minimum. It is also important to dress in layers – this will help keep you warm in case the temperature drops due to unexpected weather or flying too high. That said, don’t overdress. This is one of the reason’s it’s so vital to check the weather before flying!
Fly In A Safe Area
This one might seem a bit obvious, but it’s certainly worth mentioning here — always fly in a safe area. Make sure that there are no obstacles or power lines below you, and be aware of the wind conditions before takeoff. Never fly through a dangerous zone just to test your skills or show off. One mistake could be devastating.
Have A Flying Buddy
If possible, never fly alone. It is important to have someone with you who can help if something goes wrong. If you have to make an emergency landing, for example, you could be stuck in the middle of nowhere with nobody on the lookout for you. Or in the event of an accident, it’s always better to have someone else there with you that can call for help and ensure you get any necessary treatment and medical attention.
Remember Your Lessons
Whenever you’re flying, always recall your lessons and any of the tips and tricks from your instructor. He or she knows what they are doing and likely passed on plenty of knowledge to you during your lessons. If something goes wrong, don’t panic. Think about your lessons and stay calm so that you can figure out the best way to correct the issue.
What Are The Risks Of Hang Gliding?
Hang gliding is a popular activity, but remember that it’s not without its risks. The main risks associated with hang gliding are:
- Falling out of the sky
- Losing control of the glider
- Crashing into objects or terrain
- Running into adverse weather
While this might seem like a generalized list, these three things really do encompass just about everything bad that can happen while hang gliding. If you can mitigate these four risks as much as possible, your hang gliding experiences will be much safer!
How Can You Avoid These Risks?
There are several things you can do to avoid these risks, or at least lessen the chance running into them:
- Make sure you have proper training and experience before attempting to go hang gliding on your own
- Always check the weather conditions before flying. Hang gliding in bad weather can be extremely dangerous.
- Make sure you are wearing appropriate safety gear, including a helmet and goggles.
- Stay aware of your surroundings at all times. Make sure there are no obstacles or hazards in your path before taking off or landing.
- Never try to do stunts or maneuvers that are beyond your skill level.
Most of these are a reminder of the important hang gliding safety tips from above because I really want to drive these home. In general, they’re all pretty simple to do. So if you pay attention while flying and follow these tips, you will be much safer along the way!
Is Hang Gliding Safer Than Other Similar Sports?
I’ll preface this by saying we have in-depth articles here on the site making these direct comparisons, so be sure to check those out for more detailed information. But here’s a brief overview of the safety of hang gliding compared to other sports.
Hang Gliding vs Skydiving
Although we started this article comparing hang gliding to other activities in a general sense, let's take a deeper look at how it compares to skydiving in terms of safety. If you look around online, you might see some information about how hang gliding is significantly safer than skydiving, with some pages claiming that it’s even ten times safer.
But we’re here to discuss the facts. When you look at the statistics reported by the relevant agencies, the numbers might actually surprise you. Hang gliding statistics are reported by the United States Paragliding and Hang Gliding Association (USHPA), and skydiving statistics are reported by the United States Parachute Association (USPA).
According to USPA, the fatality rate of skydiving has been hovering around 0.40 fatalities per 100,000 jumps for the past few years. This means that there are roughly four fatalities per every one million jumps in the US. That’s actually much lower than I was expecting and arguably lower than
Over the last decade, USHPA has reported, on average, about 3.5 fatalities per year. Over the same period, the number of hang gliding members for the organization has been between 3,000 and 4,000. That said, we can estimate that roughly 1 in every 1,000 hang gliding USPHA members die each year.
There’s a big caveat to all of this, though! The skydiving numbers are per jump and the hang gliding numbers are reported per year. So the numbers cannot be directly compared, we’d need to estimate how many times each USHPA member goes on a flight throughout the year to get a better comparison.
Since this is impossible, we’re going to make some conservative estimates to get an idea. Let’s say an avid hang gliding pilot will go on at least 4 flights per month 8 months out of the year. This means at least 32 flights per year, per USHPA member. Many members do multiple flights per week, some go a couple months in between. So this is just an estimate!
With that in mind, the numbers come out to about 1 fatality for every 32,000 hang gliding flights. If we compare this to the skydiving statistics, you can see that hang gliding is actually quite a bit more dangerous than skydiving in terms of fatalities.
Hang Gliding vs Paragliding
Since we really took a deep dive into the statistics above when comparing skydiving and hang gliding, much of the leg work is already done so I won’t repeat myself again and again. For hang gliding, we’ll use the same numbers as above, but let’s compare those to paragliding fatalities instead of skydiving.
Thankfully, paragliding and hang gliding numbers are both reported by USHPA, so we don’t need to make any estimates in order to compare them directly to one another. According to the organization, there were an average of about 5.9 paragliding deaths per year over the same period of time that the hang gliding numbers were reported.
So that must mean that paragliding is much more dangerous than hang gliding, right?
Not quite. We also have to look at the number of paragliding members, which fluctuated between 4,000 and 5,000 during this timeframe. This means that, on average, 1 in about every 760 members suffered a fatal accident. If we assume that members of each sport fly roughly the same number of times during the year, we can conclude that hang gliding is actually safer than paragliding.