How Many Parachutes Do you Jump With On A Tandem Skydive?

March 27, 2024


Skydiving gear is often a source of mystery for those who are new to the sport. “How many parachutes does a skydiver have?” is one of the most common questions people ask about skydiving equipment, and the answer may surprise you. Skydivers actually jump with two parachutes: a main and a reserve parachute, also known as a backup parachute. But there’s more to, “How many parachutes do you jump with?” than a simple number. 


Decades of research and development have gone into building the most efficient and effective parachute system the sport has ever seen. Most skydiving rigs are even equipped with a computer that will automatically deploy the reserve parachute in an emergency! 


Read on for a detailed answer to the question, “Do you have 2 parachutes when skydiving?"


Tandem Parachute Jumps: How Many Parachutes Are Involved?


Tandem skydiving is the most common and is statistically the safest way to make a first jump. Being securely attached to a professional instructor means that a first-time tandem skydiver can rely on the instructor’s expertise to handle all of the important parts of the jump. And if anything goes wrong, a seasoned pro will be there to work through the issue. Including in the unlikely event of needing to use the reserve parachute. 


Tandem skydiving rigs are equipped with more parachutes than any other type of skydiving equipment. There are a total of three parachutes onboard every single tandem jump:


  • The Drogue


The drogue parachute is often overlooked as a member of the parachute family. But this little guy does some of the most important work of any parachute in the industry. The drogue is a small, circular parachute that is deployed immediately after the tandem pair exits the airplane and works to keep the student/instructor combo falling at a safe and controlled freefall speed. Without the drogue, tandem skydivers would reach freefall speeds that would result in extremely painful openings when the main parachute gets deployed. Say no to whiplash! 


  • The Main


The main parachute is the crown jewel of any skydiver’s kit. Jump after jump, the main spreads its wings and glides safely to the ground. Main parachutes are made of colorful nylon and are often customized to display the skydiver’s or the dropzone’s favorite colors. These parachutes are rectangular and function exactly like the wing of an airplane by inflating, becoming rigid, and producing lift. 


  • The Reserve


The reserve is a skydiver’s best friend that they hope to never meet. The reserve parachute lies in wait, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. Reserve parachutes work in a very similar way to main parachutes, but are slightly more square in shape and fly a bit slower. They are made to open extremely quickly and consistently and fly in a docile manner. If you have to use your reserve parachute, it means you’ve already been through a stressful situation. You want something that will reliably open and deliver you to the ground safely. 


Tandem skydiving is one of the most highly regulated aspects of the sport. The airplanes, pilots, instructors, and gear used in tandem jumps are meticulously maintained, regularly inspected, and highly trained. The nature of tandem skydiving means that the gear is more complicated and involved than most other skydiving equipment. Every effort is made to keep that gear working the way it’s supposed to so that instructors can give their passengers one of the most memorable experiences of their lives and get them safely to the ground. 



The Evolution of Dual Parachute Systems in Skydiving


Skydiving gear has come a LONG WAY since the beginning of the sport. In the early years, sport jumpers would use leftover military equipment that they would cut and alter themselves to experiment with! Nowadays, technological advances are made through an extremely measured process of research and testing and are subject to stringent regulation. 


But nothing in this world is perfect, and that includes parachutes. How many parachutes are needed for a safe jump? Well, technically speaking, one parachute is the lowest number of parachutes you can use to have the option of landing safely. But if you want to increase those odds, increasing the number of parachutes is a good idea. 


Skydivers know that the longer they jump with a particular parachute, the more likely it is they will have an issue with their main. So, all skydiving rigs are equipped with a dual parachute system. The United States Parachute Association (USPA) mandates that a skydiving rig must be equipped with two parachutes for a skydiver to exit an airplane. It’s an insurance policy that skydivers wouldn’t leave the plane without. 


Wondering what are the odds of a parachute not opening? According to USPA statistics, approximately 1 in 1,000 jumps will experience some type of parachute malfunction. That sounds low, and it is! Someone going skydiving for the first time is very unlikely to encounter an issue with the main parachute. But for skydivers who jump hundreds (or even thousands) of times a year, the likelihood of a malfunction becomes more probable. 


Having a reserve parachute means that when a malfunction happens, the skydiver can cut away their problematic main and have a perfectly good backup parachute just waiting to be deployed. And that backup parachute is taken care of like the royalty that it is. Reserve parachutes are required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to be inspected and repacked by an FAA-certified rigger every 180 days – regardless of whether it has been used or not. So you can rest assured that the reserve parachute is prepped and ready to do its job. 


Saving Lives: The Automatic Activation Device


We’ve answered the question, “Do skydivers have backup parachutes?” But how about, “Do parachutes have a backup?" Is there a backup for the backup? There is! It’s a little piece of equipment that has revolutionized safety culture in skydiving. 


An Automatic Activation Device (ADD) is a small computer that sits in the reserve parachute compartment and can automatically deploy the reserve parachute should the skydiver fail to do so for any reason. AADs are equipped with technology that measures speed and altitude and can tell if a skydiver is falling too fast through a dangerously low altitude. The computer will then trigger a device that automatically deploys the reserve parachute so that the skydiver can slow down before landing. 


AADs have saved thousands of lives since they were invented and are an integral part of any skydiver’s safety equipment. They come in handy in the event of medical emergencies, loss of consciousness, or extreme distraction. Of course, AADs are meant to be an absolute last resort and should never be relied upon as an acceptable means of parachute deployment. 


No one ever hopes to need their AAD, but if they do, they sure are happy they have it! 



What Happens if Your Second Parachute Fails?


It stands to reason that if one parachute can fail, so can the second one. While this is a possibility, it’s an extremely remote one. Reserve parachutes are constructed and packed in such a way that they are almost guaranteed to work every single time. They are the last hope, after all, and every care is taken to make sure they can do their job. 


But what happens in that extremely unlikely scenario that you cut away your main parachute and you’re faced with a second malfunction on your reserve? Could another jumper swoop down and scoop you up as they deploy their own main? Can 2 people survive with 1 parachute?


While this Hollywood action-style stunt sounds pretty cool, it’s not exactly feasible. The best thing to do if the reserve parachute also fails is to focus on trying to correct the issue. There is no third parachute, so doing everything you can to get the reserve to fly correctly is going to be your best chance of avoiding injury. Skydivers go through extensive emergency procedure training and are well equipped to problem solve in even the least likely situations. 


Are you ready to spread your wings and fly our parachutes? Come jump with us and feel the freedom of soaring for yourself! Blue skies.