The Newbie’s Guide to Skydiving


By José Calvo

If you have ever thought about skydiving, you might think the hardest thing you have to do is squeeze your eyes shut and step out of the plane. However, there is much more to skydiving than making the leap with a few metres of parachute strapped to your back.

The sport of skydiving has a whole range of training methods, each with its own proponents who claim that their method is superior. To a beginner the jargon and acronyms can seem a little overwhelming. This guide explains the different metods used to teach one of the most daring activities in the history of sport so that you can choose the one that is best for you.

Tandem Skydiving

Tandem skydiving is the most common way for beginners to get started in this thrilling sport. During a tandem dive the student is connected to an instructor by a harness. The secure attachment allows the student to enjoy the sensation of freefall, while the instructor takes charge of vital activities such as opening the chute and performing a safe landing.

Preparation for the jump takes as little as 15 minutes. This is followed by an ascent to approximately 10,000ft for the jump, where the student will experience around 30 seconds of freefall. At 5,000ft a large parachute is deployed by the instructor.

A funny tandem skydiving video

The Static Line Training Method (RAPS)

In the RAPS (Ram-Air Progression System) course, a static line is a cord attached to a student’s pilot chute. The other end is attached to the aircraft so that when the student jumps, the taut line causes the pilot chute to open, followed by the main canopy. The jumper’s weight causes the binding that joins the pilot chute and static line to break.

Although students still need to learn to adopt and maintain the correct body position while jumping, the static line method takes the responsibility for opening their own chute away from them. For this reason, those learning to skydive using a static line have to make many more jumps before they are experienced enough to solo freefall. Static line progression takes students through a category system that ranges from one to 10.

This training method is also used by professional BASE jumpers and parachutist Marines, where the jumps are made from much lower altitudes.

An RAPS video

The Accelerated Freefall Course (AFF)

In the skydiving world the letters AFF stand for accelerated freefall. Canadians refer to AFF as progressive freefall. It is known as ‘accelerated’ (or ‘progressive’), as AFF is the fastest way students can reach the holy grail of being able to perform a solo freefall

With most AFF training programmes two instructors will accompany students on the first three jumps. This is reduced to one when students master the stable position – this is where the mid-air body resembles a rotated letter C.

In the early stages of training, the instructors will physically hold the student until their parachute is deployed. This happens at around 6,000ft above ground level (AGL). It is reduced to 5,000ft AGL as students become more experienced.

Once students demonstrate the ability to release their own chute, they can begin to learn the flying skills needed to manoeuvre in freefall without outside assistance.

There are eight levels under the AFF scheme in the UK. The eighth of these forms part of the British Parachute Association’s requirements. When level three of the AFF programme has been achieved, instructors will allow students to freefall for a certain period of time before releasing them. Students then have full responsibility for releasing their own chutes at the appropriate time.

As an extra safety measure, if students cannot deploy their own chutes, and the instructor is unable to assist them, then a back-up system known as an Automatic Activation Device (AAD) comes into play. When a student falls to a certain altitude at freefall speed, the AAD automatically fires the reserve chute.


Lead image by thepartycow

Every week we hand-pick the best deals from around the web and deliver you up to 80% off your favorite brands like Patagonia, North Face, and Arc'teryx

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.