Ziplining at camps and amusement parks follows strict safety procedures to keep the public safe. What if you decide to set up or have already set up a zipline in your backyard? Which safety measures will you take?
Without an operator, you will be solely responsible for whatever happens to your little ones. If you are unsure about the measures to take and what to check, don’t worry! There are some simple precautions you can take to make your backyard zipline safe and enjoyable for your family and all the neighborhood kids.
Here is everything we’re going to cover:
- Backyard zipline safety statistics
- Age appropriateness and weight capacity
- Trolley configuration
- Other safety features
- Surfaces below the zipline
- Maintenance tips
- How to teach safe maneuvering
- Parental supervision
Let’s get started.
Are Backyard Ziplines Safe For Your Kids?
There were nearly 17,000 non-fatal zipline-related injuries from 1997 – 2012 in the US, and most of these occurred in the last four years of that study (2009 – 2012).
Interestingly, a big chunk of these cases (45%) were patients aged 0 – 9 years old, which shows kids are the most vulnerable to getting hurt while enjoying an outdoor zipline.
It could be that they don’t have enough upper body strength to hold the trolley handles or that they lose grip after sudden braking at the end of the line.
The data also shows that the number of cases rose as ziplining gained in popularity, which means the injury cases may be higher as of now.
In a different case, the Consumer Product Safety Commission linked backyard zipline kits sold online with injuries due to design flaws in 2016.
One kit had the cable separating from the line, causing the rider to fall and get head injuries and bruises. Another had an issue with the trolley, which detached unexpectedly.
So, are ziplines safe for kids?
If you combine data from the two cases above, kids are at a greater risk of getting hurt. Most parents set up backyard ziplines for their children, so there is a high possibility of injuries.
However, our opinion is that ziplines for kids are just as safe as any other backyard playset equipment if you take the time to set it up correctly and implement the right safety measures.
That said, you can’t just set up the zipline and hope nothing goes wrong for decades to come. It is better to implement some basic safety precautions. Here are some of the things you should do.
Age Appropriateness and Weight Capacity of the Zipline
Backyard ziplines usually have a recommended age rating, stating the lower limit, such as 5+ or 8+. Toddlers and pre-school children, who are all below the age of five, should not ride the line because it won’t be safe.
However, since the lower age limit is not the same across all kits, ensure you adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions. If it is 8+, follow this strictly. Such a kit is only safe enough for school-age children and older.
There is no upper age limit because older kids and adults can hold themselves more safely when zip lining. Instead, manufacturers use a load limit, which shows how much weight the system can handle before breaking apart. It usually ranges from about 250 to 350 pounds.
Kids are not that heavy, so they are safe. However, if you want to join in the fun, ensure your weight is lower than the set limit.
Accidents can occur when braking because the stopping impact (inertia) can make your kids lose grip on the handles. Also, active braking systems, which require the rider to stop manually, are not as effective for kids because the excitement can make them forget to engage the brakes. They include systems like gloves and pads.
We recommend that part of your safety checklist includes looking at whether you have an effective passive braking system, which does not require any input from the rider.
Such brakes are speed reduction systems that ensure gradual stopping at the end of the line. They include spring, bungee, rubber stoppers, gravity system, and capture blocks.
Whichever you use, inspect the system before use. Try mounting a test load on the seat that is equivalent to the weight of your heaviest child and let it ride. If the stopping force is effective, you can check this off the list.
There are two trolley configuration types. The most basic one only has handles on which you hold and hang onto as you zipline. It is risky to use because the rider must have enough arm strength to grip the handles throughout the journey. We don’t recommend this setup.
The second configuration has swing or disc seats, and these offer a platform for the rider to sit comfortably during the ride. They hold all the weight, so there is no hanging.
However, this is still not the safest option. Picture this, what if your kid lets go of the handles? It is possible to overturn and fall to the ground.
If you can fit a harness to the trolley, the better it will be for safety purposes. Harnesses wrap around the body and are more effective at keeping the rider safe from falling. They are adjustable to create a snug fit and secure you firmly to the trolley.
Other Safety Features of the Zipline
You can’t be too careful when dealing with your kids’ safety, so make sure to check for these additional features.
Helmets are the last line of defense when it comes to protecting the head from injury. Ensure they are free from damage or cracks before letting your kids roll down the line. Also, strap them firmly on the top of their heads.
Lanyards help prevent falling, especially when using a trolley with or without a seat. They also act as backup safety features for harnesses because they attach the rider to the trolley, preventing accidents if the harness straps are accidentally released.
Screwed In Grips
Trolley rubber handles give a non-slip grip, but they won’t do you any good if they separate from the handlebars. Most ziplines come with screwed-in grips that remain fixed on the metal handles regardless of the weather conditions. Inspect them to make sure they are still intact every time before your kids roll down.
Soft Surface Below the Zipline
It does not hurt to add more safety features and if you are not convinced that the harness, seat, or lanyard are safe enough, make sure you have a soft surface below the zipline.
Try to set up your zipline over your grass or soft garden area with mulch or pine straw. If possible, avoid setting up your zipline over the hard concrete driveway, gravel, or other hard surfaces.
Generally, ziplines with galvanized equipment require little maintenance because they are weatherproof. However, anything can happen, so you should do a visual inspection to ascertain that everything is okay.
Those with steel hardware are more likely to rust, so check for wear & tear regularly, and find a way to fix any faults immediately. Also, oil or grease the pulleys regularly.
Teach Your Kids Safe Maneuvers and How To Zipline
When your kids are ziplining, there is only so much you can do because you won’t be up there with them. As such, you need to train them on how to zipline and show them safe maneuvers.
Teach them to keep their hands on the handles always. It can be tempting to let go and feel free like a bird or even take selfies, but the risks are not worth that kind of fun.
Let them know the importance of wearing a helmet, pair of gloves, and harness to maximize safety. Also, they should avoid loose-fitting clothing as it might get caught up with something along the path.
Lastly, they should be aware of the importance of taking turns. If you have more than one kid, or he (or she) brings friends over, it is crucial that they only jump off the platform after the other person has cleared off the other end. Otherwise, it can lead to high-speed collisions.
Kids can be disobedient at times, so even if they go against the agreement to always zipline when you are around, this training will help them be safe.
In most camps and amusement parks, children can only zipline under parental supervision, and it is wise to do the same at home. There are many variables at play here, so keeping an eye can help you detect any issues as they arise.
Even though backyard ziplines are fun, give an adrenaline rush, and even help with fitness, they can only be effective at doing all these if they are safe.
Kids are particularly prone to experiencing accidents when engaging in the sport, so you must take precautions to ensure your little ones do not get injured. If you follow our guide above, you will significantly reduce the chances of zipline-related injuries and make it safe for your kids and their neighborhood friends.
If you’re interested in purchasing a zipline, make sure to check out our zipline buying guide as well.