Published: June 7, 2017
What Is a Parachute Rigger?
Simply speaking, a parachute rigger is a person who holds a professional certification in parachute packing and maintenance. There's at least one rigger on (or close to) every skydiving dropzone in the world, and it's their job to make sure that the fabric components of the skydiving operation--both tandem and sport--are ready for the challenge. There are some questions about this that come up occasionally, and we've decided to answer them here in one fell swoop. Ready to read a really rigging-related reference? Rightyho!
Can Just Anybody Pack A Parachute?
Well--yes and no.
First, you need to know that skydivers use a two-parachute system when we make a jump. This system locates both a main and reserve parachute inside one backpack-style "container." The Federal Aviation Administration determines the person who's qualified to pack them.
The main parachute--the primary of the two--may be packed by, well, indeed pretty much anyone. According to the FAA, either a certified parachute rigger, a person supervised by a certified parachute rigger, or the person who intends to use the parachute may pack the parachute. In the real world, many skydivers choose to pay freelance packing pros to pack their parachutes while they relax between jumps. (If a jumper chooses to do so, they take responsibility for the quality of the job that the packer performs--so they'd better choose carefully, right?)
The reserve parachute, however, is a totally different beast. At the end of the day, the main canopy is a toy; the reserve is the parachute. Owing to that important distinction, only an FAA-certified parachute rigger is allowed to pack any reserve, whether that be in a tandem system or a sport system. The reserve must be repacked every 180 days, without fail. If it hasn't been repacked according to that FAA-determined schedule, the system can't be used until the repack is completed and signed off.
Make no mistake: these rules are strictly enforced. Any civilian parachute that's intended for emergency deployment can only be packed, maintained, or altered by a person who holds an appropriate and current Parachute Rigger Certificate. In many cases, these folks are full-time professionals who live and work pretty much entirely within the orbit of the parachuting industry.
Where Did the Term "Rigger" Come From?
The first folks whose profession hinged on fabric and wind worked in the sailing industry. The term "rigger" in parachuting sprang from the fact. The term was first used in the 16th century, and it was the job title of a person who maintained the fabric and ropes on sailing ships. The moniker "rigger" was first used to describe parachute tradespeople in the early 1900s. It makes sense, right? Just like sails, parachutes constitute lifesaving fabric that has to be meticulously maintained by qualified professionals in order to function properly. So, as the parachuting industry evolved, watchful governments stepped in to regulate and license the folks who worked in this field. Ensuring parachutes' reliability protected jumpers pilots and the far-below public alike.
How Do You Get A Job As A Parachute Rigger?
You have to jump through some serious hoops. In the US, there are two levels of rigging Qualification: Senior and Master. (The fact that the first tier is called "Senior" should be a hint as to how tough this gig is.)
To earn a "senior" certification, a candidate has to demonstrate paperwork that proves she has packed a minimum of 20 reserve parachutes of just one of the several types. She must also demonstrate in practice her ability to properly complete certain kinds of maintenance and repair to a parachute. There's a battery of oral and practical tests to be done before the FAA issues the candidate a Temporary Parachute Rigger Certificate and an identifying seal that the new rigger will use to certify and identify her work.
Only then can the newly minted Senior Rigger dive into the big challenge: learning the trade through work experience. Often, this part is done under apprenticeship to a Master Rigger. The learner can expect it to take plenty of time to get sufficiently familiar with all the parachute materials, to collect the range of necessary tools and to achieve mastery in packing the myriad of sport parachuting systems. If her end goal is to earn that Master Rigger certification, she'll have to prove 3 years of experience as a Senior Rigger with a total of 200 pack jobs.
Sounds like a challenge, right? You're not wrong. At San Jose Skydiving Center, our riggers are a central part of our community, and we're glad to have such talented tradespeople on our team!
I highly recommend them.
» Ken K.