How to Get Your Skydiving License

The Definitive Guide to Achieving Solo Free Fall

Image Courtesy Pearl Islands Boogie

You're crouching in the open door of an airplane, 13,000 feet above the ground. The wind screams across your face. The harshness of the high-elevation sun makes you squint under the slight pinch of your plastic goggles. The thunder of the turbine reverberates in the metal handle you're white-knuckling as you wait, heart pounding, for a little green light to give you the go-ahead. The light flashes on. You unwrap your hand from the handle. You step into the void.

If this is your idea of a good time, get your skydiving license. You'll be in great company.

Choose a Training Facility

Chances are, you don't have access to your own plane and licensed skydiving instructors. That being the case, you'll need to find a drop zone ("DZ") that matches your needs and personality.

Your search for a DZ should begin with a visit to the DZ listing maintained by the United States Parachute Association (USPA). Though most of the DZs in North America (as well as many overseas operations) are USPA members, many are not. All USPA Group Member DZs have agreed to follow the USPA's list of Basic Safety Requirements (BSRs), to offer well-tested training methods, to employ only those instructors holding current ratings and to provide certain important safety equipment to its students.

You'll be spending a lot of time at your chosen DZ in the coming months. You will also, of course, be trusting that facility to act as your partner in your personal safety. If you're lucky enough to have more than one drop zone within a reasonable distance, it's a good idea to drop into each of them and check them out. Pay attention to how you feel when you're there. Take notes.

  • Do the staff and community of local skydivers make you feel welcome?
  • Does the equipment look like it's meticulously stored and maintained?
  • Is there a restaurant, or will you need to bring along food and drink when you arrive for your classes?
  • If you wanted to stay overnight after a long day of jumping, does the DZ have accommodation facilities to do so?
  • What skydiving training method—or method selection—does the drop zone offer? (I'll discuss the options in detail in a moment.)

Decide if You Want to Do a Tandem First

Many DZs, but not all, require new skydivers to do one jump as a tandem passenger before moving into a solo training program.

You're almost certainly familiar with the basic procedure of a tandem skydive, but here's the deal anyway. For a tandem jump, both the student and instructor harnesses are attached to the same parachute system. The instructor wears the parachute itself. During the plane ride to altitude, the instructor clips his passenger securely to the system at four separate attachment points. Upon exit from the aircraft, the pair freefalls together for approximately 30 to 50 seconds, depending on the altitude at which they leave the plane. At that point, the instructor deploys a single, large parachute. The instructor may, at his or her discretion, allow the student to deploy and/or control the parachute for part of the flight. (Here's an article that tells you what to expect from a tandem skydive at one specific DZ, just so you can wrap your head around it a little more holistically.

If you don't want to hitch up to someone, you're certainly not alone. Did you know that at many drop zones, you can do your very first jump as a non-tandem student?