When to Deploy the Parachute

You know, of course, that skydivers use parachutes, and that they deploy them at some point between the time they exit the plane and touch down on the ground, but do you know what happens in between? A whole lot! They’re falling past the clouds at 120 mph with no one to tell them when is the correct time to pull… so that leads to a lot of questions like when to open parachutes and how to know the altitudes! Here, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about when to deploy the parachute.

What Happens During Parachute Deployment?

parachute physics

If you’re going on a tandem skydive (strapped to an instructor), then your instructor will take care of everything, but it’s still fun to know what’s happening . If you’re doing the AFF program (student progression) or if you’re a licensed jumper (experienced skydiver) then you pull your own parachute.

On modern parachutes, parachute deployment begins by reaching back to pull a handle that is actually directly connected to a tiny parachute. The tiny parachute is called a pilot chute on student and experienced skydive gear, and referred to as a drogue on tandem skydive gear, but they do basically the same thing.

OK, so you grab the handle and physically throw out the pilot chute to catch the air. The pilot chute is connected to a bridle. When the pilot chute catches air it, in turn, pulls on the bridle which opens the container of the rig (essentially, the backpack) and extracts a deployment bag filled with the main parachute. The main parachute (which was folded nicely inside) comes out, catches air, opens up, and then you have a gorgeous deployed parachute over your head!

When to Deploy Parachute

Now you know the basics of how pulling the parachute works, but exactly when do you pull it? The answer varies. There are different requirements depending on if you’re a tandem skydiving student, an AFF student or an A-licensed skydiver, a B-licensed skydiver, or a C- and D-licensed skydiver.

Additionally, some people pull higher or lower depending on the type of parachute that they’re using or the discipline of skydive that they’re doing. For instance, on large group formation skydives where there are many people in close proximity to each other, skydivers will stagger their parachute opening altitudes to make sure that there is adequate horizontal separation.

The Lowest Altitude You Can Pull

What is the lowest altitude to open a parachute largely depends on your experience. Minimum opening altitudes for the students and different licensed skydivers are basic safety requirements (BSR) determined by the United States Parachute Association ( USPA ), which is an organization that plays a significant role in the regulations associated with skydiving.

The minimum opening altitude is the lowest altitude by which your parachute container should be opened. This is usually seconds after you pull your pilot chute, but people often pull above this recommended minimum. The minimum container altitudes for skydivers are:

Tandem skydivers5,000 ft Above Ground Level (AGL)
Students and A-Licensed Skydivers3,000 ft AGL
B-Licensed Skydivers2,500 ft AGL
C- and D-Licensed Skydivers2,500 ft AGL but waivable to 2,000 ft AGL

How Do You Know the Altitude?

wind speed

It’s important to be altitude aware and know when you should be pulling your parachute, but how do you know what altitude you’re at when in freefall? There are a couple of methods we use to know when the right time to pull is, but the primary tool is an altimeter. An altimeter is an instrument that tells your current altitude (height above the ground). You’ll often see an altimeter strapped to a skydiver’s hand or wrist, although they are sometimes worn on the chest. Both analog and digital altimeters are popular among skydivers.

An analog altimeter has the appearance of a clock face, numbered from 0 to 12,000 ft, with a yellow area that indicates the deployment altitude range and a red zone that shows that you are getting close to the ground. A digital altimeter displays the altitude as a graphic number on a little screen, and can often record data about your jump.

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Altimeters are essential for a skydive, and there’s a device that can be used in addition to an altimeter called an audible altimeter. The audible altimeter, also known as a dytter, is programmed prior to skydiving and worn inside a skydiving helmet. It makes a loud beep when passing through the preset altitudes. Dytters are super helpful because they will alert you of important altitudes if you get distracted, and are a great backup to visual altimeters.

As we’re falling through the sky, we need to know when to deploy the parachute – and, thankfully, like most other aspects of skydiving, we’ve got it down to a science! Come get sky high with us – book your tandem today!

Skydiving: When To Pull Your Parachute?

Moreover, you are probably wondering how you will know when to deploy your parachute! And how do you even deploy it? Don’t worry. Skydiving is a safe sport these days, and there are lots of modern tools and devices to help you open your parachute at the right time and in the right way. There are also fail-safes and backups to ensure you drift down to earth safely.

Let’s look at the different heights you can open your parachute and how you know which height is for you. We will look at the devices which help you open the parachute at the right time and the mechanics of how a parachute opens.

When should you open your parachute?

When should you open your parachute?

Your experience and license level determine the altitude at which you should pull your parachute. Drop zones and skydiving schools in the U.S. adhere to the United States Parachute Association (USPA) recommendations which supply clear guidelines on who should deploy their parachute when. The USPA detail the minimum altitudes they recommend for each level of skydiver. However, as these are minimums, you may be asked to open your parachute a little above the minimum height, based on your ability or your school or drop zone preferences. Despite the minimum height for tandem skydivers being 4,500 feet, it’s typical that the instructors will aim to open at 5,000 or even 5,500 feet.

Here are the USPA minimum heights for opening your parachute:

  • Tandem Skydivers = 4,500 Above Ground Level (AGL)
  • Students and A License holders = 3,000 feet AGL.
  • B License holders = 2,500 feet AGL.
  • C and D License holders = 2,000 to 2,500feet AGL (depending on the circumstances)

How do you know when to pull your parachute?

How do you know when to pull your parachute?

To know when to open your parachute, you need to know your altitude and how high above the ground you are. Don’t worry; no one is expecting a new skydiver to have any idea what height they are at during a freefall! Fortunately, there are modern gadgets that not only give you a precise reading of how high you are but can also be programmed to deploy your parachute when you hit your preferred or minimum height.

An altimeter is a tool that gives your altitude reading. Using barometric pressure, the altimeter provides you with the precise altitude as you fall. It comes in analog or digital and is just like a watch, worn on your wrist. The analog visual skydiving altimeter has a face very similar to an analog watch and reads from 0 to 12,000 feet. The hand on the analog face will point to the current altitude, with markers to warn you when you are reaching your ideal and minimum altitudes. Digital visual skydiving altimeters are very similar but use digital numbers rather than a clock face style reading. The digital altimeters can be set to alarm or vibrate when you hit certain stages of your fall. You can also get an audible altimeter (known as a Ditter) worn as an earpiece. It lets off warning sounds at preset altitude points.

There is also an automatic activation device (AAD). AADs will automatically open your parachute at preset altitudes. They are often used as a backup to make sure new skydivers have opened their parachutes by the minimum set altitude.

How do skydiving parachutes open?

How do skydiving parachutes open?

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Now you’re maybe wondering how the parachute opens. Here are the stages a parachute goes through when once it’s deployed:

  • At the chosen altitude, the skydiver reaches back to the deployment handle at the bottom of the container (the backpack holding the parachute). When pulled, it releases the drogue, which is a small pilot chute.
  • When the drogue pilot chute is released, it quickly opens and catches the air to inflate. By inflating, the drogue immediately pulls out the bridle (a long nylon webbing, around 8-10 feet long).
  • You may then hear a small ‘pop’ at the bridle pulls a pin that opens the container and releases the main canopy.
  • The tension lines open and help pull the parachute out of the deployment bag in an organized way.
  • The main canopy starts to unfold and catch the air, filling each ram-air foil with air, opening the parachute fully and quickly, but just slow enough so that it doesn’t yank or jerk the skydiver too hard or cause too much tension on the lines.

Once the parachute is open, the skydiver will quickly slow down to 10-20 MPH. There are two toggles that the skydiver can then reach up and grab. These toggles allow you to steer the parachute safely to the drop zone.

How high can you pull your parachute when skydiving?

Military skydivers leap from the plane, one by one

Military skydivers leap to freefall

We’ve talked about the minimum heights the USPA requires skydivers to deploy their parachute, but what is the maximum height you can open it?

The highest altitude a skydiver can jump in the U.S. without getting special permission is 18,000 feet. Bear in mind that you also want to be well clear of the aircraft before deploying. Some military will deploy their parachutes at high altitudes for tactical reasons. These are called HAHO (High Altitude, High Opening) and take a lot of skill, training, and specialist equipment to perform. Some military train to jump at heights up to 40,000 feet.

There are a few other factors to consider. The air pressure begins to decrease after 12,000 feet and above. And as you go above 15,000 feet, you need to consider the use of oxygen even during freefall. Deploying a parachute above 15,000 feet will certainly require oxygen equipment to stay conscious.

The temperature also decreases by roughly 2-3 degrees every 1,000 feet. It can already be pretty chilly on a 12,000-foot jump on a sunny day. Deploying a parachute above 10,000 feet would require some thermal clothing, so much higher than this has additional risks. And at more extreme heights, above 30,000 feet, there is radiation exposure.

In reality, few skydivers want to pull their parachute as high as possible as the freefall is usually the best bit!

How low can you pull your parachute when skydiving?

How low can you pull your parachute when skydiving?

The USPA minimum required heights are there for a reason, and at beginner level, or with an A or B license, you should always regard these as strict limits. It’s also worth noting that some sports canopies can take up to 800 feet to open fully.

While the adrenalin of the freefall is the highlight of a skydive, safety and risk limitation should always be paramount. The lower you deploy your parachute, the less time you have to assess and react if anything goes wrong. On the rare occasion that your main canopy doesn’t open, you may need to cut it away and deploy your reserve. It can take around 400 feet for a reserve parachute to deploy and inflate.

The U.S. military sometimes uses a HALO tactic (High Altitude, Low Opening), seeing highly trained skydivers deploying their parachutes as low as 400 feet. Some base jumpers are known to deploy parachutes at less than 200 feet! They use specially set up rigs and often remove the pilot chute, to limit the time it takes for the parachute to open. Bear in mind that this is incredibly dangerous and is a sport that has a high fatality rate. We advise sticking to the much safer sport of skydiving!

Parachuting vs Skydiving – The Differences Explained

One common comparison is between parachuting and skydiving. What’s the difference? Aren’t they both the same thing? Surely you can’t parachute without skydiving first?

In this guide I’ll quickly walk through what both these things are, and then how they compare. Afterwards, I’ll let you know which is better!

If that sounds good, let’s dive in.

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Parachuting Explained

Many people would describe parachuting as what happens after a skydive.

Parachuting is the act of gliding through the air underneath a canopy. This can be anything from a lovely ride under a large canopy, to testing out your king-sized bed sheet’s aerial capabilities.


‘Parachuting’ is simply whenever you’re in the air under a canopy.

Parachuting isn’t a sport itself, but it’s a part of many. Parachuting is often what happens after we’ve done something in the sky, and need to get back to ground.

Parachuting is involved in Skydiving, BASE Jumping, Paragliding (a different form of canopy), and any other sky-based sports.

Parachuting As An Activity

If you ask me, doing what’s called a ‘static-line skydive’ may as well be called parachuting.

This is where a student skydiver jumps out the plane with a cord which immediately pulls their parachute. This means they’re only falling for a quick second before their canopy is deployed and above their heads.

In this way, you could argue that static line skydiving IS purely parachuting. From the moment you leave the plane to the moment your feet touch the ground – you’re under a parachute.


Another parachute-focused sport is paragliding. This is where you use a much larger and more parabolic canopy to stay in the air for longer – even being able to ride upwards if you catch the right air currents.

Depending on who you ask, this is another pure form of parachuting. You often start by simply running down a steep hill with the canopy already above you.

Skydiving Explained

Just as the name implies, skydiving is the act of diving – or falling – through the sky unaided.

Skydiver speeding down to earth above clouds

Skydiving is whenever you’re falling from a floating object.

Normally started from a plane, this amazing experience can last for up to 90 seconds at standard altitudes. There’s about a thousand different things you can do during a skydive (including freestyling, formation jumping, surfing, wingsuiting, throwing weighted balls around, etc) – but parachuting is not one of them.

Parachuting is what happens after a skydive ends (which is why I argue a static line ‘skydive’ is less of a skydive and more of a parachute experience).

Which Is Better – Skydiving vs Parachuting

Let me first caveat this by saying both of these activities are incredible.

Skydiving is an ultimate thrill. You’re flying through the air, doing flips, tricks, and messing around with your friends. The whole world is below you – and you’re not attached to anything with an engine. It’s a magical experience that will never fail to put a huge smile on your face

Parachuting can be serene. While some skydivers find it boring, most find parachuting to also be a fantastic part of a skydive. After all the nerves, the adrenaline, the noise of the plane, the rush of the wind… it’s quiet.

There’s just you and your canopy, with the world below you. No noise other than the gentle flap of the air passing through your chute, and maybe the plane far off in the distance. It’s incredible peaceful, and it lets you truly take in the view. I’d even hesitate to call it a view – since you’re not just looking at it, you’re in it!

Different people like different things. If you love an adrenaline rush and are always seeking a thrill, skydiving will hands down become your favorite thing in the world. If you’re more spiritual and like to take things easy, then being under parachute may become the best part of a skydiving for you.

Personally, it honestly depends on the day. I love skydiving and the feeling you get with it. But as I write this right now, I incredibly miss that feeling of when your parachute opens, all the noise disappears, and you’re sitting in the sky full of smiles and relief.


I hope this quick little article has helped clear up any confusion you might have had around skydiving and parachuting!

Again – skydiving is a full sport in itself. Parachuting is a part of skydiving, as well as of many other sky based sports.

Both are incredible, and are sort of too different to compare. All I can say is that you should try both and see how you find them

Source https://skydivemonroe.com/blog/when-to-deploy-the-parachute/

Source https://skydivingplanet.com/skydiving-when-to-pull-your-parachute/

Source https://friendlyskydiver.com/parachuting-vs-skydiving/

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