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How do Skydivers Know When to Open the Parachute?


Skydiving—it’s a real rush! Picture it: the clouds are zipping by as jumpers descend down the background of a bright blue sky, the wind rushing up against them as they fall. Some of them coming down in groups, students with instructors, tandem skydivers, and some solo jumpers. Each person flying their body, maintaining stability, taking in everything around them—the world below stretching on expansive and full. With all of this going on and so many things to focus on, you may wonder how do skydivers know when to open the parachute? How could they possibly keep track of it all? Here at Skydive California, we like to provide inside information for inquiring minds. If you would like some exclusive information on how skydivers know when to open the parachute, just keep reading.

Specialized Equipment

Many sports have specialized equipment: baseball uses a bat and glove, soccer uses cleats and shin guards, rock climbing uses ropes, harnesses, and belay devices. Skydiving is no different.  In order to know when to open the parachute, skydivers must be altitude aware, or in simpler terms, skydivers must be aware of how high up they are/ how far away they are from the ground. If you have watched any skydiving videos or seen skydiving on the television or in a movie, you may have noticed skydivers sporting something that looks a lot like a fancy watch. In skydiving, this ‘fancy watch’ is the piece of gear that is used to determine altitude, and it is called an altimeter.  Altimeters function by using atmospheric/barometric pressure to determine altitude.

There are two primary types of altimeters used by skydivers: digital and analog.

Analog Visual Skydiving Altimeter

The analog visual altimeter looks very similar to a clock face and is marked from 0-12,000ft. The arrow on the altimeter points to the current altitude. Often, the face of the altimeter will be marked with yellow and red sections which mark the recommended deployment altitude and the emergency procedure decision altitude respectively.

how do skydivers know when to open the parachute alti 2 skydiving altimeter

Digital Visual Skydiving Altimeter

These neat little pieces of electronic innovation also operate using changes in barometric pressure. However, they indicate the current altitude with a digital number on a screen rather than with an arrow on a face. These tiny computers are often able to keep up with other things and may contain features that are able to record the speed reached on a skydive.

digital skydiving altimeter when do skydivers know how to open the parachute

Audible Altimeters: Another Piece of Important Equipment for Skydivers

In addition to the visual altimeters, a skydiver may also utilize an audible altimeter to help them know when to open the parachute. The audible altimeter, also known as a Dytter, is a small computer that jumpers can slide into their helmets. Before a skydive, a jumper will program the Dytter to emit a warning tone at preset altitudes. In this way, even if the jumper has gotten a little carried away with the fun of it all, there’s a back-up to remind them that it is time to open the parachute.

When Do Skydivers Open Their Parachute?

 It depends on what type of skydiver and license holder they are. Drop zones that are members of the United States Parachute Association adhere to certain basic safety recommendations. The United States Parachute Association provides minimum opening altitudes within the Skydiver Information Manual. These are the minimum altitudes above the ground that different levels of skydivers must open their parachutes. Keep in mind that these are minimums, and most drop zones set the altitudes that parachutes be deployed a bit higher.

  • Tandem Skydivers must open parachutes by 4,500AGL (Though, most open around 5,000-5,500 to allow you to enjoy the view)
  • Students and A License holders must open their parachutes by 3,000 feet AGL.
  • B-License jumpers must open their parachutes by 2,500 feet AGL.
  • C and D licensed skydivers must open parachutes by 2,500ft AGL (this is waiverable to 2,000ft AGL but no lower)

Skydiving is a sport that requires jumpers to be aware. After all, there is quite a lot going on. Thankfully, the jumpers at Skydive California are safety-focused and altitude aware. Now that you’ve learned how skydivers know when to open the parachute, why not come don a ‘fancy watch’ and give it a try yourself! You can leave it to the experts and let your tandem instructor open the parachute for you and go along for the ride! Live in Northern California? Then check out Skydive California for your first tandem skydive!

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