All About Parachute Deployment Altitude

All About Parachute Deployment Altitude

Published: July 1, 2017

All About Parachute Deployment Altitude

When Do You Pull the Parachute?

When you pull the parachute for your skydive depends--like most things in this life--on who "you" are.

That might sound like an unnecessarily philosophical way of answering the question, but nothing could be truer. "Pulling the parachute" (or, in skydiver parlance, "parachute deployment") can happen at any number of altitudes, depending on the jumper's intention and/or assessment of the conditions he or she observes. Lean in; we'll explain a little more thoroughly.

On some skydives, we take our sweet time.

On a skydive during which the goal is to focus on flying our bodies in freefall, skydivers often choose to wait to deploy until the last safe moments. Though we make our own decisions about what feels appropriate for the conditions of the jump and our unique skill levels, we look to the United States Parachute Association for wisdom. The USPA's Skydiver's Information Manual includes minimum opening altitudes in their Basic Safety Requirements to help with the decision making.

Within those Basic Safety Requirements, the USPA breaks down the minimum opening altitudes by license level. For new A-license holders, that's 3,000' above the ground; for slightly more experienced B-license holders, 2,500'. The most experienced skydiving license holders, C's and D's, can choose to pull by as low as 2,000' above the ground in certain circumstances. Lower deployment than that is not recommended.

On some skydives, we deploy our parachute early to allow a safety margin.

If we're participating in a sport skydive that has included significant horizontal movement (for example, a wingsuit jump, or a jump during which strong upper winds have pushed us hard enough to noticeably change our position), we can sometimes end up farther from the landing area than we anticipated. In a case like that, we decide as a group, often via a combination of gestures and hand signals, to deploy early so that we can safely fly our parachutes back to the landing.

Sometimes, we don't wait at all.

There are certain skydives during which the most fun, the most productive thing to do is "pull right out the door." That means that we exit the aircraft, make sure that we're falling in a stable configuration and that we're safely clear of the plane and deploy the parachute right then and there. We do this for several reasons: if we're giving or receiving coaching for "canopy flight" (flying the skydiving parachute); if we're joining up with friends to fly our parachutes in formation to explore the Canopy Relative Work discipline (a.k.a. "CReW"); if we've decided to do a special cross-country flight back to the dropzone from a significant distance; if we're getting to know a new parachute, or if we're simply stoked at the idea of flying some fabric for a much longer time than we normally would on a freefall-centric jump.

Sometimes, we're flying for two.

On a tandem skydive, the parameters are understandably very different. Tandem instructors might deploy somewhat higher in a situation where safety requires it, but deploy much higher up, as a rule, than sport skydivers. When doing a tandem jump at San Jose Skydiving Center, you can expect an open parachute by 5,500 feet. That altitude is higher than licensed jumpers in order to keep the experience as margin-padded as possible. Keeping that margin in place is just one of the many elements that make tandem skydiving safer today than it has ever been--and SJSC is proud to be a contributing part of that sterling track record!

So: When do you pull the parachute, you ask? Well, you pull the parachute when you learn to skydive here with us at the San Jose Skydiving Center. What are you waiting for, anyway?!