Basic Rigging Knowledge for Every Aerialist Big and Small

By Ava Kapelczak

As a junior aerialist have you ever given a thought to the rigging that you are hanging on in your facility? What about when you visit a new facility to train? If you haven’t it is definitely time to start!

I have been an aerialist for about five years with my mom being my main coach. As you can imagine having a busy aerial circus instructor for a mom I spend a lot of time in the gym and get to visit new gyms and aerial facilities often and have had the opportunity to perform and train on many different aerial apparatuses and rigging setups. I myself am lucky to have a mom that is knowledgeable about the safety precautions, things to look for and questions to ask but for parents and guardians that have no idea and for aerialists that may be traveling without their coaches here are some key things to look for…

A general inspection every aerialist should make a habit of is inspecting your apparatus and rigging system. Depending on your setup this includes your apparatus, its welds, spansets, ropes, fabric, cables, clamps, carabiners, swivels, attachment to the beam, pulleys, and most importantly where it is all tied off. These should all look well maintained without imperfections and appear to be 100% safe. You should take the opportunity to ask your instructor or facility manager/owner to show you how they inspect, how their rigging system works and what is their tie off procedure is. As a junior aerialist because of liability most facilities won’t allow you to rig and tie off your own apparatus but you should take a moment to ask. They would be pleased to show and even more proud that you have asked and have an interest to learn.

But what if this is your first time at this facility or your first time trying your hand at aerial at all…

A visual assessment of the space when you first walk in is always a great first step.

Taking a look at what type of beams they are hanging on?

If the apparatuses are permanently affixed to the ceiling or on a pulley system?

Are they rigged from a cable or a rope?

If the cables look clean and without any imperfections or ropes are properly cared for, without any frays and have used the proper rigging rope?

The quality of the apparatuses and welds, if any, and how they are stored?

Having done your basic visual assessment, a great opportunity to ask about their safe rigging practices could be when you first inquire through email, over the phone, or better yet when signing the waiver.

I have done a bit of research and found some great as well as respectful questions to ask in no particular order:

Who is responsible for the maintenance of the space, rigging and apparatuses and how often? Do they keep a log of their daily apparatus checks? What is the load capacity of their beam or structure?

**This is how much weight and force the beam/structure can take and it also lets you know if they have had it inspected 😉

What is the Safety Factor Ratio they used in their rigging system?

This answer may stump them but the answer should be around 10:1 and absolutely no less than 8:1 (3-5:1 is the Safety Factor Ratio for stage lighting and industrial static rigging) and as aerialists we are definitely not static when training and performing!

***The Safety Factor Ratio is a literal safety net that factors in a general weight of an aerialist and all of the equipment they are flying on plus the potential force of a high impact drop, wear, tear and abuse of all the different pieces of equipment, anything that may have been improperly installed and anything unforeseen happening.

It all sounds complicated and nerve racking, I know, especially when all you want to do is fly and forget about all the daily complications of life, but by just taking the time to ask these basic questions and performing daily general inspections you and your loved ones will feel more at ease with how you are taking responsibility of your own safety.

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