What Are the Basic Requirements to Skydive?

A New Skydiver's Quick Guide to Skydiving's Ground-Level Requirements

Want to skydive? Meet just a few requirements, and you'll be in the air.
Image © Joel Strickland (varialfreefly.com)

It's true: anybody can jump out of a plane. However, not everyone should. While jumping is optional, landing is absolutely mandatory, and the skydiving industry has had many years to work out criteria to make sure everyone in the sky is as safe as possible. Here's your quick guide to the basic physical requirements of the sport.

How Old Do You Have to Be to Make a Skydive?

Many of the skydiving drop zones in the United States (and in various overseas locations) are members of the United States Parachute Association (USPA). As such, these facilities adhere to USPA’s Basic Safety Requirements as well as the safety guidelines set down by the parachute manufacturers. These “BSRs” require that any skydiver be at least 18 years old on the day of the jump, whether jumping alone or as tandem passengers.

Some American dropzones make exceptions for jumpers as young as 16, for example, West Tennessee Skydiving and Skydive Altas (in Nebraska). However, the practice has become somewhat less common following a skydiving accident during which a 16-year-old girl was injured. European drop zones are far more amenable to the idea.

Interesting note: there's no upper age limit, as long as the jumper is healthy.

What Are the Physical Requirements for Skydiving?

Remember: skydiving is a sport. While a tandem skydiving experience won’t require much of you, moving deeper into the sport will.

As a student skydiver, you’ll have to wear more than 30 pounds of equipment, be repeatedly jangled by opening shock, master bodyflight, maneuver your canopy, “run out” your share of landings and, if you land outside of the established landing area, hike back to the dropzone. (Ahem: Your liver will also probably take a beating.) You’ll also need to manage your weight within a narrow range in order not to fall outside your equipment’s narrow weight range. In short: For the best experience, you’ll want to be on top of your physical game.

Are There Weight Limits for Skydiving?

Tandem passengers who weigh more than the recommended limit put both themselves and the tandem master in danger of injury. Expect to step on a scale when you arrive for your tandem appointment to determine if you fall within the dropzone’s posted weight guidelines. If you don't, you won't jump. It’s nothing personal.

Huskier prospective sport skydivers have slightly more leeway, as they’re only putting themselves at physical risk. The dropzone needs to stay in the litigational “safety zone,” however, so limits remain in place.

The general consensus is that weight becomes a problem for new skydivers who clock in at over 220lbs and are not already athletes. Sedentary folks have a much harder time learning to skydive, as they struggle both to execute freefall maneuvers and to brush themselves off after a hard landing. (Sedentary skydivers also tend to have trouble executing a parachute landing fall correctly, which can save a jumper’s bones if the landing is exceptionally poor.)

Once a skydiver’s weight hits 230lbs, most reserve canopies are no longer legal for their use. At the 235-lb mark, most dropzones consider even athletic prospects to be too much of a liability, as the jumper will likely need to use converted tandem equipment in order to make a jump (or risk serious injury during the landing). For these reasons, non-height-weight-proportionate jumpers are often turned away.

Are There Additional Health Criteria You Must Meet in Order to Make a Skydive?

Even for a healthy person, skydiving places unique stresses on the body. Skydivers regularly experience 30-degree temperature differentials, big changes in atmospheric pressure and intense emotional stress, along with the bumps and bruises that go with the territory.

Declaring pre-existing medical conditions is a non-negotiable. Weak cardiovascular or pulmonary function, loss-of-consciousness illnesses, and respiratory frailties are a big deal in the sky. That being said, surprisingly few folks have conditions which actually preclude them from skydiving. A chat with your doctor won’t hurt.

Do You Have to be Fearless to Make a Skydive?

No, no, no, no, no. Not at all.

One of skydiving’s greatest benefits is its unique ability to teach you to manage fear. You’ll enter the sport as pretty much all of us do: scared stiff, pretty much. Later, you’ll look back on those early days and be amazed at how far you’ve come (and how learning to manage that fear has changed your life in multiple, beautiful ways).

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