The Salary of Skydiving Tandem Instructors (and How to Earn More)

A skydiving tandem pair wearing blue jumpsuits in freefall, set against a backdrop of a blue sky scattered with white clouds. In the upper part is a small image of a white plane, likely the one they jumped out from.
Become a Skydiving Instructor and Skydive for Free

Once you become a skydiving “D” license holder, you can apply to be a tandem instructor and make a living by jumping out of planes. But what is the salary of a skydiving tandem instructor?

The average salary of a freelance instructor ranges from $20,000 to $40,000 per year depending on the number of jumps. A full-time skydiving tandem instructor is paid around $50,000 per year. Salaries vary widely depending on the location, certifications,  skillset, number of jumps, and years in the profession.

Jumping out of a plane at the height of 10,000-15,000 ft while being strapped to tandem students not only is exciting but can also support you financially. Becoming a tandem instructor will allow a person to do what they love—skydiving—and get paid per jump at the same time!

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Per-Jump Salary and Annual Salary of a Skydiving Tandem Instructor

Skydiving instructors are paid around $25 and $40 per jump, depending on their location. The reputation of the skydive center also matters since busy dropzones usually offer higher rates for qualified instructors.

If the skydiving company pays instructors on a per jump basis, the instructor should also look for a busy dropzone because he will be able to perform more jumps there than at idle dropzones. 

Skydiving companies can gain a reputation by locating themselves in beautiful landscapes and by emphasizing customers’ comfort and fun. Skydiving centers that offer specialized jumps such as HALO jumps or tandem jumps with overweight guests will also attract more customers.

On average, a tandem instructor can earn $50,000 or more if they work full-time, and the salary tends to increase based on the instructor’s certifications, advancement, skillset, number of jumps, and years in the profession. For example, tandem instructors that perform jumps with overweight students are likely to earn more. 

The location of the skydiving center also matters a lot – country- and state-wise. According to, the average salary of a full-time tandem instructor in California is $50,095, with most of the salaries ranging between $45,743 to $58,926. 

For example, cities such as Alviso, Campbell, Los Gatos, Milpitas, Mountain View, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, and San Jose provide the highest average salary for tandem instructors (around $58,926 per year) while other cities in California will offer much lower salaries. This is because the skydiving centers in the aforementioned cities cater to both local and international skydivers.

Freelance tandem instructors will often be paid more per hour because they will be hired on a flexible and part-time basis. A busy freelance instructor can earn around $20,000 to $40,000 per year when he jumps extensively in his free time or during weekends.

Other Income Opportunities for Skydiving Tandem Instructors

Aside from assisting student jumpers during a tandem jump or during “Accelerated Free Fall” courses, instructors can also add more skills and certifications that allow them to work as a videographer during tandem jumps and solo skydives. 

Another way for additional income is to become a certified parachute rigger who repackages reserve parachutes every 180 days. According to, the average salary of a parachute packer is approximately $19.64 an hour, which is equivalent to $3,404 per month. 

Some skydiving centers also hire parachute riggers on a parachute basis (often freelance) and pay between $10-15 for each parachute that they packed. This is a good way to earn some extra money during your wait time for the next jump.

Tandem instructors can also advance in their careers by becoming trainers for future skydiving instructors and by consulting bigger companies about aviation and working under pressure. This will also give tandem instructors the skills to start their own skydiving business someday.

Finally, experienced tandem instructors also go on international travels to attend different skydiving competitions and work as coaches for competitive skydivers. However, this is quite a competitive track and the tandem instructor needs to have a lot of experience to succeed. 

Requirements and Training Needed to Become a Skydiving Tandem Instructor 

Before you can earn money by doing what you love, you need to become a certified tandem instructor. Skydiving tandem instructors do not need to have a high school or college diploma. Rather, they need to show that they have the necessary experience and attitudes to jump with students. 

In order to earn their certificate as licensed tandem instructors, they need to complete a specialized training program and they need to be rated by the United States Parachute Association (USPA). Here are the requirements for tandem instructors in one glance: 

  • 18 years old or older
  • Attended the Tandem Training Course
  • Completed a minimum of 500 jumps (logbook required)
  • Skydiving “D” license holder or foreign equivalent
  • Minimum of 3 years in the sport
  • FAA class 3 medical certificate or foreign equivalent
  • Hold an Instructional or USPA Coach Rating
  • Had at least 50 jumps within the last 12 months
  • Accumulated at least 3 hours of freefall time

The requirements are relatively straightforward except for the tandem training course which includes training by the USPA and by the equipment manufacturer. The tandem course consists of at least three phases and will take 3 to 4 days to complete depending on the weather conditions. 

The first day covers ground training and theoretical training such as methods to calm panicking students down. The second day is usually dedicated to more practical activities including  evaluation jumps. On the third and fourth day, instructor candidates will complete more jumps –  this time with a tandem passenger. In order to pass the course, they need to perform at least 10 jumps with experienced skydivers as their passengers.

Sometimes the other requirements also seem to be a challenge. If you want to learn more about the requirements and best practices to become a tandem instructor make sure to check out this article.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Skydiving Tandem Instructor

In total, tandem instructors are likely to have spent between $18,525 – 30,950 on skydiving before they earn money with skydiving. These costs include the costs of learning skydiving, equipment costs, lift fees, and the tandem instructor course costs. 

Type Lower RangeUpper Range 
Learning Skydiving (AFF course + license costs)$3,400$4,700
Lift fees (to complete 475 jumps) $11,875$14,250
Equipment costs $2,000$10,000
Tandem instructor course (including health certificate, USPA ratings, etc.) $1,250$2,000
Total costs$18,525$30,950
An Overview of the Costs to Become a Tandem Instructor

In other words, skydiving instructors need to work 6 – 12 months just to recover the upfront costs that they paid to learn skydiving. As you can see, the salary of skydiving instructors is not very high and no one should become a skydiving instructor just because of the money. 

However, if you love skydiving, skydiving instructors have a lot of benefits that “compensate” them beyond the money.

Job Benefits of a Skydiving Tandem Instructor 

Becoming a skydiving tandem instructor can be a long and expensive process; however, it also has benefits that you won’t get on a regular office job or any other jobs related to sports. I have listed down a summary of the perks of being a tandem instructor.

  • Free skydives – The standard lift for a solo skydive is between $25 and $30 each. Being a tandem instructor will allow you to skydive for free, daily. You can have a minimum of 12 skydives on a busy day.
  • Not tied up to an office desk – You will not be a desk-bound office worker. In skydiving, your office is the entire skydiving facility, the airplane, and most of all the sky.
  • Skydiving is very open to travel – You can work anywhere you want since most major cities in the US have skydiving centers. Many instructors also work in other countries during the off-peak season. You will be able to explore the beautiful and majestic views of skydiving centers around the world.
  • Workload management – You have the freedom to decide whether you want to be a freelance or full-time tandem instructor.
  • Physical benefit – Skydiving is a good workout. Instead of going to the gym, skydiving can burn around 284 calories per hour. A full-day shift can burn more than 2,000 calories. It will also strengthen your core muscles and improve your flexibility.
  • Emotional and mental benefits – The body produces several hormones during strenuous activity. These “good and happy hormones” will give you emotional and mental stability. You will be able to make good decisions while under pressure.

Responsibilities of a Skydiving Tandem Instructor

Skydiving tandem instructors have a lot of fun during their work, however, their job also comes with high responsibilities. Tandem instructors are responsible for the safety of the tandem student before, during, and after skydiving.

They prepare the tandem students before the jump by conducting a safety briefing, providing safety reminders, and assisting them when boarding the aircraft.

During the jump, tandem instructors need to make sure to maintain a stable belly-to-earth position and achieve the correct “banana” arch for a smooth parachute opening. This can sometimes be difficult specifically when students make unclever movements and panic. 

Even if a tandem student makes every mistake that one can make, it will still be the responsibility of the tandem instructor to bring him down safely.

In case of an emergency, tandem instructors are responsible for fixing any malfunction in a matter of seconds. They will also decide if it’s the right time to cut away from the main parachute and deploy the reserve parachute. Overall, they are responsible for the safety of the tandem students until the skydiving activity is over.

Tandem instructors are also responsible to ensure a safe landing on the ground. It is important to remind the tandem students that they will need to lift their legs and point their toes towards the sky to avoid any injuries. Once on the ground, the instructors are responsible to remove the harness from the tandem students and bring the parachutes to the packing area.

Some skydiving companies also demand from their instructors to ensure a fun ride for the students. While it is understandable that skydiving companies want to keep their customers happy, the fund often depends more on the student himself and the weather conditions. So in my opinion, tandem instructors are not responsible for the fun and comfortability of the customers. 

That being said, skydiving comes with a lot of responsibilities and only offers a decent salary. However, it is quite common that people with high responsibilities do not get paid a lot.

Firefighters, for example, bear many responsibilities but only get paid an average of $47,000 per year but their job is far more important than that of a business manager (and it is also more dangerous compared to skydiving). 

At the end of the day, you will be able to pursue your passion for skydiving and provide for yourself and your family.

Enjoy your freefall!

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Kai Schmidt

Hi, I'm Kai. The first time I jumped out of an airplane and experienced free fall was one of the most amazing moments of my life. For me, skydiving does not only stand for freedom and independence but being present in the moment and being respectful to others and oneself. Now I want to share what I’ve learned with you.

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