Tandem Skydiver Exiting the Aircraft

You'd have to be living under a rock to have never heard of skydiving. This activity is on nearly every thrill-seeker's bucket list. For those who've experienced it, 'jumping from a perfectly good airplane' is one of the most exciting things they've ever done.

While the base concept of skydiving is widely known and understood, there are many questions to be answered before a first jump.

In this article we touch on all the core principles of the sport. The goal of this article is to give you a basic understanding of skydiving, what it is, and how to get started!

This article does have some skydiving specific terminology throughout it. We've explained things as we go here, but if you'd like to learn more, check out the skydiving glossary.

What is Skydiving & How Does it Work?

At it's most basic definition, skydiving is the act of jumping from an airplane. There is a TON that goes into this simple to describe act.

In the sections below, we will take a look at all the pieces that come together to make a successful skydive.

Understanding the Types of Skydiving

There are many types of skydiving out there. They all share the common requirements of riding an airplane up to altitude, jumping from that plane, and using a parachute to land safely on the ground.

Lets cover the two core types of skydiving that you need to know about:

Tandem Skydiving

Tandem Skydivers

This is hands down the most common type of skydiving for a first time experience. Tandem skydiving is exactly as it sounds: two passengers make a jump under a single parachute.

During a tandem, an experienced instructor wears a parachute system that is large enough to support the weight of two people. A passenger wears a harness and is attached to the front of the instructor or tandem master. The passenger is not responsible for any of the actions required to get safely to the ground.

This creates a fantastic opportunity to safely introduce a first time jumper to the sport of skydiving with minimal upfront training. The passenger is simply along for the ride and can enjoy both freefall and canopy time.

Solo Skydiving

Solo Skydiver

This type of skydiving is when a person skydives with a personal parachute system. The freefall and canopy portions may be near or even touching other people. This type of skydiving requires the jumper to be trained to some degree on the freefall and canopy portions of a jump.

Within solo skydiving you will find various disciplines that change the approach. The differences often lie in the orientation you fall through the sky, the equipment you use, people you jump with, and the goals associated with your jump.

We will dig into skydiving disciplines in a separate article.

How Old Do You Have to Be to Jump?

The universal age for skydiving participation is 18 years old. At this age you're legally responsible for yourself and can sign the required skydiving waiver. While this age requirement is common at most dropzones, there are some that allow younger jumpers. These dropzones are usually located outside of the USA.

You'll find a few locations that allow jumpers from 16 and up. There are some that do tandems with even younger. These instances are the exception - not the rule. If you're planning on doing a skydive yourself, or buying a jump as a gift, it's best to assume you'll need to be 18.

Parachute Equipment Overview

A complete parachute containerIt is easy to imagine why skydiving is an equipment related sport.

Skydivers often say: you don't need a parachute to skydive... You only need a parachute to skydive more than once.

All joking aside, a parachute system or 'rig' that a skydiver wears is a carefully designed piece of equipment. Parachutes may vary in size, shape and design depending on their application. At it's core, skydiving equipment all shares the same fundamental pieces.

Lets dive into an overview of all the parts that make up a modern parachute system:


The container is the shell that holds a skydiver's parachutes. This system is comprised of two main parts: a harness, and compartments for your main and reserve parachutes.

There are many additional pieces that the container holds. These pieces include handles that control the function of the two parachutes, cutaway assist devices, and an automatic opener.

Main Parachute

The main parachute sits in the lower portion of your container and is closed by a set of flaps held together with a pin.

This parachute is connected to the container using a three ring system that can be released with a cutaway handle. This allows for a jumper to cut away their main parachute incase of an emergency.

The main parachute can be packed by the skydiver or a qualified parachute packer. Packing this parachute can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes.

Reserve Parachute

The reserve parachute sits in the upper portion of the container. It is also contained by several flaps held together with a pin. This parachute is connected to the container more permanently and cannot be cut away.

The reserve parachute is carefully packed by a rated parachute rigger every 6 months. This parachute is carefully inspected and meticulously cared for.

Automatic Activation Device

For an added level of safety, parachute systems are equipped with an automatic activation device, or AAD. This device can sense when a skydiver is in freefall at too low an altitude.

If triggered, the AAD will automatically open the reserve parachute to save the skydiver's life.

The Skydiving Process

Skydiver Landing their Parachute

Now that you understand the core types of skydiving and the required equipment, lets take a look at the process. This storyline will take you through the steps associated with a standard skydive.

Gearing Up

Before your jump time, you'll need to prepare by gearing up. You'll grab your parachute or tandem harness, jumpsuit, and goggles. Once you've put all your gear on, you'll double check that everything is secure and wait for your jump time.

Loading the Plane & Riding to Altitude

Next, you'll head to the airplane and load up. You'll take a seat and put on your seatbelt for the ride to altitude. The plane will then climb to jump altitude - usually 10,000 - 15,000 ft above the ground.


Before you reach full altitude, you'll prepare your equipment and make final equipment checks. The plane will level out, slow for jump run, and skydivers will begin jumping.

As you exit, you'll leave the plane and enter the amazing world of freefall.


As you leave the plane, you'll enter an entirely new world. Supported by the rush of the wind you enter the freefall portion of the skydive.

You'll be in freefall for some amount of time depending on the altitude you jumped from and the speed at which you fall. Most jumps from standard jump altitudes of about 13,500 feet AGL enjoy roughly 45-60 seconds of freefall.

Opening the Parachute

As you near the end of your time in freefall, you'll open the main parachute. The parachute will be opened several thousand feet above the ground. This gives you plenty of time to enjoy flying under an open parachute.

Canopy & Landing

You'll soar through the sky surrounded by breathtaking views. The canopy constantly descends and as you near the ground, you'll prepare for landing. By flaring the parachute, you'll come to a soft landing, usually at a landing area on the dropzone.


From here, you'll head back to the equipment area and drop your equipment off.

Are You Ready to Jump?

Here at Skydiving Source, we keep an up-to-date database of skydiving facilities, or dropzones. Head over to the skydiving location database to find a dropzone near you!

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