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Right of Way Rules for Paraglider Pilots in The Bay Area

San Fransisco Bay Area Paragliding Right of Way Rules

When we’re paragliding here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we’re hardly ever alone. On a busy day at Mussel Rock there can be as many as 40 other paragliders in the air. To keep yourself and others safe, it’s important to follow right of way rules. This article is applicable for pilots flying in the Bay Area and anywhere else in the United States. In other countries, there may be slight variations to the rules.

On the Ridge

The paraglider pilot with the ridge on the right has the right of way. This is easy to remember because the three Rs rhymes. If you’d like to overtake a slower paraglider on the same ridge at about the same height, you do so on the ridge side. Having said that, it’s a good idea to make sure that the pilot of the slower glider knows what you’re doing. The slow pilot might drift towards the ridge and put you in a situation without many options. If the lift band is narrow, most pilots will do this intentionally before making a turn in the opposite direction.

In Clear Air

When flying in clear air well away from a ridge, a different set of rules apply. If two pilots are on a converging course, the pilot on the right has the right of way. It’s very similar to driving right of way rules when two cars arrive at a stop sign at the exact same time. What if both pilots are flying directly at each other? In this instance, both pilots need to make a turn to the right.

In a Thermal

When you’re coring a thermal with your vario beeping happy noises and you’re focusing on staying in the lift and thinking about where to go next, the last thing you want to do is worry about dodging other pilots in the same thermal. If you’re joining a thermal with other pilots, you must turn in the same direction as everyone else. If you find a thermal and you’re the only one in it, you’re the leader of the thermal and everyone will fly in the same direction. Having said that, this rule is often thrown out in competitions when the organizers simply tell you the direction you should be turning in all thermals.

Without thermal rules, this wouldn’t be possible.

At Different Altitudes

If you’re on a collision course with a glider that’s at a different altitude than you, the pilot that’s lower has the right of way. This is because they may need the lift more than you. Additionally, they may not be able to see you through their paraglider. If one pilot is only slightly lower than the other, it’s best not to assume that the lower glider will give way.

San Francisco Bay Area Paragliders Fly Down a Ridge

The blue paraglider has the right of way

Common Sense and Courtesy

This is the most important rule. All rules are meant to be broken! If you’re in a special circumstance where it’s safer or courteous to break the right of way rules, make the smart choice and break the rules. If someone is struggling to climb with their left wingtip almost touching the ridge and you’re higher with the ridge on the right, you’re in a circumstance where someone has to break the right of way rules. Let the struggling pilot find the lift they’re desperately seeking. If it’s obvious that someone isn’t paying attention, it may also be an appropriate time to break the rules. If you’re in a narrow lift band and a faster pilot want to pass a slow pilot, it may not be safe to pin yourself in between the ridge and another pilot. Break the rules!

These are the five essential right of way rules that every pilot in the San Francisco Bay Area needs to know to stay safe. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.