For many people, skydiving for the first time is a life-changing experience. Those incredible, brief moments of plummeting free-fall and the languid descent that follows can alter your perspective and give you unique insights about both yourself and the world. People who have experienced skydiving love sharing their stories with their friends, showing off their bravery, courage, and newfound enlightenment.
How old do I have to be to go skydiving? Unfortunately, skydiving isn’t an option for people of all ages. In the United States, you cannot go skydiving if you are less than 18. This is a hard legal limit that’s enforced strictly at all skydiving venues. If you’re not 18, you can’t skydive. No exceptions.
Luckily, skydivers almost always claim that the experience was worth the wait. But why does this age limit exist? In this article, we’ll examine the legal reasons for the age limit, discuss the risks associated with skydiving, and talk about why various workarounds that let minors participate in other activities don’t work here.
Why Do You Have To Be 18 To Go Skydiving?
There are two major factors that keep minors from being allowed to skydive.
The first reason has to do with legal liability. When you go skydiving, you need to sign a waiver that protects the skydiving company from certain types of lawsuits in the event of a mishap. Skydiving is very safe if done correctly. Things can and do go wrong, however, especially when you add in unexpected variables like weather, other planes, and the other passengers on the trip. Your skydiving instructor, pilot, and fellow passengers have no idea what you’re going to do once you’re up in the air.
These waivers are legally binding contracts that can be used in court to prove that you, the skydiver, understood that skydiving is a risky activity before you jumped. The skydiving center’s insurance mandates that the center gets a waiver from each and every person who skydives. It’s completely mandatory, and a skydiving company that lets even a single person jump without a waiver would likely get closed down the minute their insurance or a regulatory agency found out about it.
In the US, courts usually require a person to be 18 to enter into a contract. There are some contracts that minors can enter into in some jurisdictions under very special conditions. Skydiving waivers do not fall into this category. If you’re not 18, you cannot sign this particular waiver. No amount of pleading, parental permission, or evidence that you’re really mature for your age will change this.
The second reason for how old you have to be to go skydiving has to do with the companies and organizations that surround skydiving centers. These groups have all separately set 18 as the minimum age for skydiving for a number of reasons.
First, the companies that produce skydiving equip[ment have set a minimum age of 18 for any tandem skydiving gear. These companies (United Parachute Technologies and Strong Enterprises) make virtually all of the harnesses, parachutes, and other equipment that’s used during a skydive. If a skydiving center allowed anyone under 18 to skydive, they’d be using the equipment in a way that wasn’t consistent with the manufacturer’s specifications. This would open them up to a great deal of legal liability and probably get the center closed down.
Second, the USPA, or United States Parachute Association, also enforces 18 as the minimum age to skydive. The USPA isn’t an official government agency, but it still oversees the operation of skydiving centers, creates regulations, and issues licenses for skydivers. Think of it like the NFL – just because the NFL isn’t part of the government doesn’t mean that they can’t penalize Tom Brady for not blowing up his footballs. Just like the NFL has the ability to set the rules for how football is played, the USPA has the ability to set the rules for how skydiving is performed. According to their rules, you have to be 18.
Are There Alternatives To Skydiving For Minors?
If you’re not 18, the best alternative to traditional skydiving is something called indoor skydiving. Indoor skydiving involves using skydiving equipment, like a parachute or a wingsuit, in a vertical wind tunnel. In other words, instead of falling out of a plane, you’ll be flying over a giant fan that continually pushes air upwards. Because indoor skydiving eliminates many of the risks associated with traditional outdoor skydiving, it doesn’t carry the same strict regulations about how old its participants have to be.
The minimum age for indoor skydiving varies by venue, but most locations will let minors above a certain age participate with parental consent. Some centers allow children as young as 3 to enjoy indoor skydiving. Be sure to check out the specific policies of centers near you as you consider your options.
Indoor skydiving is a great gateway activity for anyone who’s nervous about going skydiving from a plane outdoors. Unlike traditional skydiving, indoor skydivers don’t get very high off the ground and are safe in an enclosed space the whole time. Even if you tumble out of control, you’ll fall onto a trampoline-like net and stay safe from injury.
Even though it’s safe and you don’t go very high, skydivers compare indoor skydiving to its outdoor counterpart very favorably. The experience of being supported by the wind as you fall (or float) is incredibly similar across both activities. Many serious skydivers regularly make use of indoor skydiving centers to practice controlling their descent or perform stunts in a safe environment.
How Dangerous Is Skydiving?
The USPA keeps meticulous records about skydives, logging both successful jumps and jumps where accidents happen. Tandem skydiving, or skydiving with an instructor, has a very good safety record. According to the USPA, there’s an average of 1 fatality per 500,000 tandem jumps – or, to put it another way, skydiving fatalities are about two in a million. The odds of suffering a skydiving fatality are lower than the odds of being fatally struck by lightning.
There are forms of skydiving with far less impressive safety records. Wingsuit jumping, for example, has an estimated 1 death per 500 jumps. When you go skydiving for the first time, you won’t be allowed to even attempt any of these more dangerous forms of skydiving. Instead, the center will insist that you go on a tandem jump and complete a great deal of on-the-ground training before you start jumping solo, doing stunts, or trying tricky landings. Tandem jumps are carefully planned and executed to make skydiving as safe as possible. It’s not until you start removing some of these precautions that skydiving becomes dangerous.
Is Skydiving Worth The Wait?
Many skydivers report that their first jump was a life-changing experience. The fundamental act of falling freely into the wind provides a unique sensation that’s difficult to replicate (outside of indoor skydiving). Additionally, the perspective of looking down from several thousand feet with nothing supporting you can change how you think about life, the world, and your place within it. This isn’t to say that you’re guaranteed to find enlightenment or become a totally different person after you skydive, but rather that many people do report that their outlook on life changes substantially after their skydive. Some people don’t subscribe to any of that and simply think that the activity is fun.
Lots of 16 and 17-year-olds all over the US can’t wait to go skydiving for the first time. Because of this, many skydiving schools and centers offer discounted birthday packages for these young adults and their families. If you’re eager to experience skydiving, give your local center a call and tell them when you’re turning 18. They might be able to give you a great package deal.
Usually, people who skydive claim the experience was worth the wait. Don’t feel too bad if your friends get to go skydiving a few weeks, months, or even years before you turn 18. We’ll still have planes and parachutes when you’re legally able to skydive. You’ll get to experience the same activity. It’ll just be a little bit later.
Why Minors Can’t Skydive In The US
In the United States, you have to be 18 to skydive. There are multiple reasons for this. First, 18 is how old you have to be in order to sign a legally binding contract. Skydiving schools and centers require anyone who skydives to sign a waiver. These waivers are contracts that state that you understand the risks involved in skydiving, keeping the skydiving center safe from certain types of lawsuits. If you’re not 18, you can’t sign this waiver. Additionally, the USPA, the organization that governs skydiving, won’t let anyone skydive unless they’re 18. Finally, the companies that make skydiving equipment also won’t let people who aren’t 18 use their equipment. All three of these are hard limits that won’t be moved in any circumstances. If you’re not 18, you can’t go skydiving, period.
If you’re not 18 yet, don’t worry! Not only do some skydiving schools offer discounted packages for people turning 18, but you can also skip the wait and experience indoor skydiving at a location near you. Indoor skydiving is safe, fun, and doesn’t have any national age limits. It’s not quite the same as traditional skydiving, but you’ll get a similar feeling as you glide above a column of air. Once you turn 18, you can use your indoor skydiving experience to make skydiving from a plane even more fun.