Ever asked yourself what the best jobs in the world might be?
I’m sure high-end CEO’s or luxury chef positions are up there, but so too are skydiving instructors.
These guys and gals get paid money to jump out of planes and have the time of their lives! What’s not to love when the view from the office is 12,000ft up?
Aside from being able to make endless jokes about their job (“it has it’s ups and downs”), skydiving instructors are generally pretty happy in their work. If you’re curious about the steps you need to join them, then you’re in the right place.
Below is every step you need to take to go from a newbie jumper to a licensed instructor.
If that sounds good, then let’s dive in.
Note: This article is based around becoming an instructor in the USA, but generally it’s the same journey anywhere in the world.
Step 1: Jump!
Requirements: A positive attitude!
It turns out that before you can teach something, you need to have experience in it!
The first step is to take your first skydive. Yes – I wasn’t kidding. This really is a zero-to-hero style list.
Step 2: Get Your Skydiving A & B Licenses.
Requirements: 25 & 50 jumps
Once you’ve flown through the air with the grace of a gazelle, it’s time to get licensed. Your first 25 jumps or so will be a journey towards getting your skydiving license.
This is the passport you need to transition from student jumps to working towards real goals in skydiving. Be that wingsuit jumps, jumping at unique airfields, or learning to be a coach.
Step 3: Become A Skydiving Coach
Requirements: 100 Jumps + a B License
Once you’ve got your B License and 100 jumps under your belt, you can start working towards becoming a skydiving coach.
This is the first rung of the ‘being paid to skydive’ ladder. You’ll help coach students alongside instructors, and generally get your first taste of being on the business side of skydiving.
Skydiving Coach Courses are typically a 3 day course. 1 day spent in the classroom on theory, with the other 2 days on jump practicing. Courses tend to be evaluated using 2 evaluation jumps plus ground tests to make sure you’re capable of teaching the sport at a good level.
Step 4: Get Qualified to Teach AFF
Requirements: 200 Skydives + Coaching Rating
In skydiving, 200 skydives is like the sweet-spot of maturation. It’s sort of like turning 21. It unlocks all the cool stuff (wingsuits, skydiving with a board, etc) – and also being able to teach Accelerated Free Fall (AFF).
However, if you’ve been a coach for less than a year, the requirement jumps up to 500 jumps to account for the relative lack of teaching experience. You also tend to need 6 hours of freefall time logged.
Before the course, there’s some pre-requisites you need to complete on an AFF proficiency card you can get. This involves:
- Assisting in two AFF first-jump courses
- Observe AFF ground preps in all categories
- Assist in two Cat C + Cat D AFF ground preps
- Teach freefall stability and basic freefall maneuvers
- Prepare an effective flight canopy plan and provide radio instructions to students
- Pass the AFF Instructor Final Examination theory test
After all that’s done, you can only then go get qualified to teach AFF fully! The AFF course typically runs for 5 or 6 days. As before this is 1 day in the class room, and the other days practicing the theory.
The course makes sure you’re ready to cover things like hard exits, docking to students, stopping spins, and generally making sure out-of-control students are brought back to safety.
You then need to pass a couple of evaluation jumps and a written exam. This is one of the pricier courses, normally coming out to around $750.
Step 5: Get Qualified For Tandem Jumps
Alright – it’s been a heck of a journey and we’re at the last step!
I’ve not listed the requirements for this step above, because there’s quite a few. To start your qualification process for tandem jumps, you need:
- 500 jumps
- 3+ years in skydiving
- 50 jumps in the last year
- FAA Class 3 Medical Certificate
- 4+ hours freefall time logged
Once you’ve got that pretty huge list all sorted, you can finally take your tandem rating course. These cost around $1.5k-2k, and are a pretty rigorous course to make sure you’ve fully capable to fly with a scared student attached to you.
The course typically lasts around a week – which will familiarize you will with things like the tandem equipment, exists, drogue freefall, canopy flight and landing with a student. (All with your instructor strapped in front of you – no pressure!)
As well as learning to handle all sorts of tricky situations (bad exits, freefall spinning, delayed drogue deployments), it’s canopy flight which can be the most tricky to master. If you’re used to a smaller canopy, a huge tandem parachute will fly much straighter and slower than your normal kit. This sounds easy, but it often leads to completely overshooting your landing locations. Flying students into trees is typically frowned upon.
You can read more details about the course on the USPA website here.
Are You Suited To Be A Tandem Instructor?
While getting paid to skydive is almost a too-good-to-be-true type of deal, it’s not all fun and games.
Before you start down this path, try to be sure you’ll really be suited to being a tandem instructor. Here’s a few of the “not so fun” responsibilities that come with the jump:
- Inspecting & maintaining your gear
- Chitchatting with nervous students
- Briefing students on the jump and landing procedures
- Managing student anxiety in the plane
- Canopy flight is significantly different to your main chute.
Being a tandem instructor means you’re also playing a significant part in someones life! No-one will ever forget their first skydive, so it’s up to you to make sure that students are having the best time possible. A positive, upbeat, friendly attitude is just as important as excellent canopy handling and landing skills.
I hope this quick guide has given you a little bit of insight into how skydiving instructors got to where they are.
It’s a huge journey, built step by step with tons of experience and regulations along the way. Despite how relaxed and fun-loving your skydiving instructors may seem, they all will have had to go through this rigorous amount of training and testing to get to where they are!
If you’re a newbie jumper reading up on skydiving, be sure to check out the related articles below. I’m doing my best to try and cover all topics to help out beginner jumpers.
Thanks for reading, and happy jumping!