The biggest and most common question that a beginner or trainee will ask is… How Safe is Skydiving?
When someone is preparing to go skydiving for the first time, without a doubt, one of the most common concerns they have is the the level of safety involved in skydiving. We can’t blame them – jumping out of a plane is something the seems pretty dangerous to most people. Heck, some people are even afraid to simply board an airplane that they know they will stay aboard for the entirety of their flight. If some people deem flying in general to be unsafe, there will be almost no convincing them to go up in a small plane meant for skydiving, never mind trying to convince them to jump out of it.
While we feel that anyone who is that uncomfortable with the idea of skydiving might be better off avoiding it, we also feel it necessary to address the actual safety of skydiving, and most people would probably be surprised to find out that they engage in more risky behavior than skydiving on a daily basis.
Don’t believe us? Well, let’s take a look at the facts and numbers.
Have you ever…..?
Drove too fast on the highway? Drove in a rain or snow storm? Drove a car at all? Walked down the sidewalk? Walked across a parking lot? Went swimming?
If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, then you are quite the risk taker my friend! (Here are the stats.)
Did you know that most accidents and deaths happen at home?
It might not seem like it at the time, but all of those activities are all far more dangerous, and potentially more lethal than skydiving. We are willing to bet that you do all, or most of those things without even considering the risks that may arise from partaking in those activities. Don’t get us wrong, that’s a good thing! Life is too short to spend worrying about every little thing that might happen to you.
We will add one exception to our statements above though – skydiving is safer than all the things above because it is much more strictly regulated for safety’s sake. It simply has to be – if people were just hurling themselves out of moving planes unsupervised on a regular basis, then skydiving would probably be one of the most dangerous activities in the world – just like all of the above activities could be made instantly safer if there were thousands of regulations surrounding them to keep you safe. The point is, skydiving has the potential to be extremely dangerous, but because of all the rules and regulations in place, it can be undertaken in a very safe fashion.
Let’s take a look at the numbers
Each year, about 60 people die in skydiving accidents worldwide. That number might seem like a lot at first, and might even make you more apprehensive about jumping out of a plane, but it’s important to keep things in perspective.
Last year in the US, 34,080 people died as a result of motor vehicle accidents. Those are people who do something that you likely do on a daily basis – they just got in their car and started driving and that ended up being the last thing they ever did. Remember how we said that driving a car was a lot more dangerous than skydiving?
If that’s scared you off of driving, don’t think walking is all that much safer. In 2010, 4,280 pedestrians were killed in the US. Sure, it’s a lot less than those who were killed in motor vehicle accidents, but that’s still a huge number of people, and they were all just walking down the street minding their own business.
Guns and their regulations are always a popular debate in the US, but with 11,078 deaths caused by guns in the US in 2010, being around a gun (or not having a gun, depending on which side of the fence you stand on), could be considered to be way more dangerous than skydiving.
Another interesting thing to note, is that lowly number of 60 accounts for the average number of skydiving deaths worldwide. All the rest of those statistics are made up solely of people in the United States. Sure, we are the third most populous country in the world, but in reality we represent only a small percentage of the world’s citizens as a whole.
So if you’re still scared of skydiving, and now we’ve just scared you off of living in the US as well – don’t think so fast, because there are hidden dangers everywhere in the world. For example, 150 people are killed each year by falling coconuts.
Take a second to let that all sink in. The annual worldwide average of skydiving related deaths is 60 people. The annual worldwide average of falling coconut deaths is 150 people. That means you are 250% more likely to be killed by a rogue coconut in your lifetime, than you would by going skydiving.
Funny how all of a sudden a relaxing day at the beach starts to seem a lot less safe than jumping out of a plane!
Now for the big question: How can jumping out of a plane be so safe?
Very fair question, and we’ll be the first to admit, skydiving was not always this safe. You can bet the seat you’re sitting on that pioneers of skydiving suffered exponentially more losses than modern skydivers. Given that perfecting such a sport is all up to a matter of trial and error, and there is little room for error in skydiving, a lot of people gave up their lives to figure out how to make skydiving much more safe for curious people like you and me.
Early skydivers didn’t have all the fancy equipment that we have today. They also didn’t fully understand wind patterns or how to judge and calculate their landings – how could they? It’s not like there was a “Jumping Out of a Plane Handbook” back when someone got the idea to try it for the first time. The early pioneers had nothing but a simple parachute, and a mountain’s worth of courage.
Slowly over the years though, the practice got safer and safer. People started to realize what worked and what didn’t and what sort of safety equipment was essential to reducing deaths, as well as what sort of weather conditions would be unsuitable for a jump.
Another big aspect of it, was professional companies started to produce gear specifically meant for skydivers. Before then, lots of jumpers were using parachutes meant for lower altitudes that soldiers would use and deploy immediately after jumping, or sometimes even parachutes they had made on their own.
Of course, as these companies started to produce professional gear, safety regulations and standards were created that needed to be followed. You could’t just create a hacked together parachute anymore and expect to be allowed to jump with it. It needed to up to spec, pass inspection and be approved by a number of people before each and every jump. This alone greatly reduced the amount of deaths in skydiving.
Another thing that works to keep the amount of deaths in skydiving low, is the fact that 95% of first time jumpers will never make a solo jump. Almost all first timers will do a tandem jump with a certified Jumpmaster. A Jumpmaster is someone who skydives professionally – they’ve gone through the necessary steps to get certified and will have a minimum of 500 jumps under the belt. Most Jumpmasters easily have thousands or tens of thousands of jumps already, and likely feel more comfortable in the air than they do on the ground.
When you do a tandem jump with a Jumpmaster, there is very little to worry about in terms of your safety. The Jumpmaster will be strapped to your back with a harness, and will stay there for the entirety of your descent. They will be the ones wearing the parachute and they will also be the ones pulling the cord on the parachute at just the right moment.
If there are any problems or complications on the way down, they will be the ones to correct things on the fly. Scared that your parachute won’t deploy? They will know exactly how to correct that if it happens, and know instinctually what to do. Scared that the wind might blow you off into an area that you don’t really want to land in? They will be able to guide you down safely.
When you do a tandem jump with a Jumpmaster, all you need to worry about is enjoying the view – everything else is taken care of for you. It’s sort of like flying the plane you will end up jumping out of – you certainly wouldn’t want to be the person piloting the plane, but when someone else is controlling it and all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride, it all becomes so much easier.
That doesn’t mean you can’t safely jump solo though
Some people, usually the more adventurous types will skip the tandem jump entirely though, and decide they want to do their first, second, third or 39th jump on their own. Fair enough, jumping on your own puts you in control and the adrenaline boost you get is much higher than simply letting someone else drive for you.
This of course, will require a more rigorous training regimen. For a tandem jump, you will usually only need to be instructed on how to put on your gear properly and let your Jumpmaster do the rest. If you want to jump on your own, then get ready for close to a full day of training and learning.
Accelerated Free Fall (AFF) is the most popular way to get a person prepared for a solo jump. The training sessions might not be nearly as interesting as the actual jump itself, but you can bet they are so much more important.
Once it’s time to jump, you will still jump with an instructor, but they won’t be strapped to your back with a harness like with a tandem jump. Instead, they will jump by holding your hand or be attached to you with a sturdy, tear-resistant rope. This happens only until you deploy your parachute, at which point they will let go or release themselves and let you float down to the ground safely. There will also be a Jumpmaster on the ground who will be able to communicate with you via walkie talkie, to help guide you down to the ground safely, and correct any directional errors you might make as you glide down.
After a few successful AFF jumps, where you’ve demonstrated your ability to deploy your own chute at the correct altitude (usually around 6,000 feet), you will be ready for your first real solo jump. Sometimes a Jumpmaster will jump at the same time as you, but they won’t hold onto you or be attached to you in any way.
While you should be ready to handle anything the open air can throw at you at that point, you’ll still have an ace in the hole – your Automatic Activation Device (AAD). This is a device that will deploy your reserve parachute if you happen to pass the activation altitude while still at free fall speeds. While certainly not recommended to rely on completely, one could theoretically jump out of a plane and not do anything at all – letting autopilot take over to guide them to the ground. Thankfully, the need for this device is rare, and it is almost never used, but it’s great for peace of mind knowing that it’s there just in case you need it.
The elephant in the room – What about those 60 annual skydiving deaths?
Most people are probably assuming that those 60 annual deaths are from first time or beginner skydivers who did something wrong and plummeted to their deaths. Or they might be thinking they are from people who have gone skydiving once or twice and then decided to try a solo jump in the form of an Accelerated Free Fall.
They would be wrong though.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of skydiving deaths are from experienced skydivers and Jumpmasters who have been jumping out of planes for years. That isn’t to say that experience isn’t worth anything or that it’s all just a numbers game and a matter of odds until you have an accident – that’s not the case at all.
The reason for these deaths, is simply because these experienced skydivers get cocky. They try maneuvers in the air that are way beyond their abilities. They might push fate by waiting way too long to deploy their chute and before they know it, it’s too late. Or they don’t pay attention to, or disregard the current day’s weather and jump when wind conditions aren’t appropriate.
The main thing to remember here, is almost every skydiving death is preventable. While they are still very low in numbers, that number could very well be in the single digits annually, or even zero, provided that everyone jumped in a safe manner and didn’t take unnecessary risks.
Of course, with the adrenaline junkie crowd, they will always be pushing the limits to the max, and unfortunately that sometimes ends in tragic results for them.
Another important thing to remember, is that even though the majority of deaths happen with experienced skydivers and Jumpmasters performing risky maneuvers, that won’t ever happen to you in a tandem jump. A Jumpmaster has way too much to keep track of when jumping with a new skydiver and will never partake in risky maneuvers and will never perform a tandem jump on a day when the weather isn’t suited for it.
That isn’t to say that they won’t push the limits when jumping solo, but they understand the full risks of having someone else’s life in their hands when doing a tandem jump.
How to ensure your first skydiving experience goes smoothly and safely
By this point, you should already be aware of the fact that skydiving is MUCH safer than you probably once thought it to be. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still take certain precautionary measures to ensure your safety.
The first and most important thing to keep in mind, is that you need to jump with a company that is trustworthy. If you are jumping in the United States, then it would be almost unheard of for a skydiving company to be practicing without the proper licenses and certifications or training for their Jumpmasters. Still, it doesn’t hurt to call ahead and ask, and they won’t be offended if you ask to see proof of their certification.
Some people like to travel outside of the US and do their jumps in less developed countries, both for the reduced costs and for the sometimes amazingly breathtaking landscapes that can be viewed from above. While most facilities should be safe, keep in mind that when traveling to developing countries, their standards for safety might be a whole lot different than what you’re used to at home. If something doesn’t feel right about the company before you attempt to make a jump, don’t do it. You don’t want to become a statistic, and jumping with a company that you don’t feel comfortable with is just dangerous.
You should also show up for your jump in loose, comfortable, warm clothes. Your skydiving equipment will admittedly not be very comfortable, so you can counter that a bit by wearing loose-fitting clothes that won’t constrict you any more than the equipment will. Long pants and long sleeve shirts are recommended, because you’re going to be pretty high up, and it does get a bit chilly up there, especially when it’s already fairly cold on the ground. Sure, you might be having too much fun to notice how cold it is, but bringing an extra layer is easy enough to do and will help you enjoy the whole experience a lot more.
As for footwear, make sure you wear close-toed shoes that can be laced or strapped up tightly. Open-toed shoes, sandals or loose-fitting shoes will not be permitted. You will be free-falling so fast (~120 mph) that anything less than a tight fitting shoe has the potential to come right off you. A flying shoe not only can easily hit other divers, but it will be projected towards the ground at a lethal velocity, creating a hazard for anyone who is standing below.
Also, make sure to avoid any alcoholic beverages before your jump. It should go without saying, but you’d be surprised at just how many people think skydiving would make a great activity for a bachelor party or similar, and show up at the drop zone with their buddies already half in the bag. Drop zones will and regularly do turn people away who have been drinking, so save the beers for once you are safely back on the ground again.
Are you ready to start skydiving?
We bet you weren’t thinking that skydiving was much safer than driving (statistically you’re more likely to have an accident on the way to drop zone), but one only needs to take a look at the numbers to see the reality behind skydiving safety. Being skydiving enthusiasts ourselves, we hope that we have been able to put your fears to rest, and will be able to be more confident as you board the plane with a parachute on for the first time.
Of course, skydiving isn’t for everyone, and if you’re still scared to death at the thought of it, you’d be better off waiting until it all starts to seem more plausible to you. Even for people who get up in the plane feeling super confident, they often need a push from their Jumpmaster to actually make the leap from the moving plane – it starts to become a lot more real when you’re all that way up, looking down at the ground below.
Immediately after jumping though, most people instantly fall in love with the feeling of free-falling, and once they hit the ground, they can’t wait to get back up there and do it again.
The first jump is always going to be the most difficult, and the most intimidating, but hopefully we’ve been able to provide enough information here to calm your fears and make that first jump a reality.