The True Requirements For Skydiving Tandem Instructors

A skydiving tandem pair wearing white and turquoise suits in mid-jump, exiting a small blue and white airplane flying against a backdrop of clear blue sky.
Become a Skydiving Tandem Instructor and Jump for Free

Skydiving is a recreational sport for most people but it can also be a profession for some extreme athletes or tandem instructors. Before someone can take passengers and become a tandem instructor, he must complete his tandem license. But what are the requirements and relevant courses for a tandem license?

To get a skydiving tandem instructor license, skydivers must be at least 18 years old and need to complete the following license requirements: 

  • Completion of the tandem training course 
  • Performed a minimum of 500 skydives (logbook required) 
  • Hold a skydiving “D” license (or foreign equivalent)
  • Minimum of 3 years in the sport
  • “FAA class 3” medical certificate (or foreign equivalent)
  • Hold a USPA instructional rating
  • Performed at least 50 skydives in the past 12 months 

Once all requirements are completed and you can get your tandem instructor license and earn money with your passion. However, the requirements are not always straightforward, I’ll explain them in detail in the following (including some tips that help to pass each requirement with ease). 

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The Requirements for a Skydiving Tandem Instructor License

The main responsibility of the tandem instructor is to guarantee the safety of his “passenger” before, during, and after the skydive. He must always be able to do so even if the weather conditions changed or if the student panics during the skydive. He must also be able to resolve any potential parachute malfunction within seconds.

Tandem Instructors Need to Have Completed a Minimum of 500 Skydives (Logbook Required)

Skydivers will only qualify as a tandem instructor if they have completed at least a minimum of 500 jumps throughout their skydiving career. The reason behind that is to make sure that they are fully exposed to the sport and have a solid experience of different conditions.

When someone performed 500 skydives, the regulator (FAA) can be ensured that he has been exposed to many different circumstances and has the necessary skills to deploy the parachute, to steer the canopy, and to land safely. Even though tandem instructor candidates will be tested for their skills, having performed many jumps is always a great indicator of someone’s experience. 

It is therefore important for novice skydivers who aspire to become a tandem instructor to always log their skydives. Some people do not log their skydives regularly because they already completed their targeted skydiving license and do not plan to take an instructor’s license.

It is also quite annoying to always log the jump date, location, exit altitude, length of freefall, type of jump, distance from landing, and skydiving equipment. However, from time to time some people change their minds about this, and it can be frustrating if they did not log their skydivers properly in the past. 

Tandem Instructors Need to Have Practiced Skydiving at Least for Three Years

You have to be active in skydiving for at least 3 years to be eligible for the tandem instructor exam. Similar to the 500 jumps, this minimum duration guarantees your experience and that you already had your fair share of resolving skydiving malfunctions and jumping in different weather conditions. 

Some people might think that it is redundant to have a minimum duration in the sport and a minimum number of jumps performed. In my opinion, the minimum duration is a very important pillar of the tandem skydiving experience, because our mind needs time to process our experience and learnings. We learn more when jumping three times a day for four days in a row than performing 12 jumps in one day. 

Not having the minimum duration in the sport would also open the requirements for certain loopholes. In 2006, Jay Strokes, 50 years old, set the world record for the most number of jumps in one day. He was able to complete 640 skydives in 24 hours. 

Jay was obviously already experienced but theoretically, it would be possible for newbies to do something similar. I would not have trusted my first tandem instructor if he had just picked skydiving up 3 months before our skydive. 

I rather trust an instructor who jumped at least 3 times per week and for 52 weeks per year. He would then be able to accumulate 156 jumps per year – enough to accumulate the 500 jumps in 3 years. In reality, most skydiving instructors practiced skydiving as a hobby for 5-10 years before making the instructor license. 

Tandem Instructors Need to Hold a Skydiving “D” License or a Foreign Equivalent

The “D” license is the most advanced and highest skydiving license. Skydivers must complete a minimum of 500 jumps, accumulate a total of 3 hours of freefall, and pass the USPA “D” license written exam.

They also need to demonstrate their advanced skills by completing at least one of the following jumps:

  • make two-night jumps with a freefall of at least 20 seconds, or 
  • land on seven feet target for at least 50 jumps, or
  • participate in a canopy formation of a 3-stack or larger, or
  • complete an intentional water jump, or 
  • perform at least 100 formation skydives (25 of which must involve at least eight skydivers)

Once passed, “D” license holders can exercise all privileges of A-C license holders and apply for all USPA instructional ratings including tandem ratings and pro ratings. They are also be allowed to jump into stadiums. 

Tandem Instructors Need to Complete the Tandem Training Course

The tandem training courses are normally conducted by the companies that manufacturer the tandem equipment. Once you complete a course with one manufacturer you are also only allowed to jump with that specific equipment. 

The manufacturers use slightly different systems for their harnesses and parachutes so it makes sense that tandem instructors complete a course for each system (although it sounds a little bit weird). This also means that you need to complete a UPT course to jump with a Sigma or Vector tandem system and a Strong tandem course to jump with a Strong tandem rig.

The courses normally take 2-4 days depending on the weather conditions. Every candidate needs to perform 5 evaluation tandem jumps with a TRC Examiner and 5 additional tandem jumps with an experienced jumper who has at least 100 jumps. It will cost around $425 plus the equipment rental. 

If someone has already completed a course with a different manufacturer they only need to book a cross-training which costs around $250.

Tandem Instructors Need to Have an FAA Class 3 Medical Certificate (or Foreign Equivalent)

Tandem instructor candidates must hold an FAA class 3 medical certificate or foreign equivalent issued by an Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs). The certificate ensures that the potential tandem instructor has the required physical and mental fitness to perform tandem jumps. 

This includes being in a good health, having a 20/40 vision or better (with or without glasses), and being able to hear normally on a conversational level. The medical certificate can only be given by an Aviation Medical Examiner and not by regular doctors. To find the nearest AME in your area, you can check it on the FAA’s website

The certificate also needs to be renewed every 60 months for instructors under 40 and every 24 months for instructors over 40. The cost of the medical exam and certificate varies from $75 to $150 depending on the location, the examiner, and the required health checks 

Tandem Instructors Need to Hold Any USPA Instructional Rating

The USPA Instructional Rating consists of USPA Coach Rating, USPA Instructor Rating, USPA Instructor Examiner Rating. To apply skydivers have to complete at least a minimum of 100 jumps and hold a skydiving “B” license. 

USPA Coach Rating will allow you to teach first-time jumpers as well as train students for group skydiving skills. However, you still need to work under the supervision of an instructor. This is also the most common rating that tandem instructors receive, however, they can also complete one of the advanced ones. 

USPA Instructor Rating requires a higher level of experience compared to the coach rating. It can be earned in each of the four disciplines: Accelerated Freefall Instructor (AFF), Instructor-Assisted Deployment Instructor (IAD), Static-Line Instructor, and Tandem Instructor. If someone receives the instructor rating, he can teach the first-time jumpers from their first jump until they achieve the USPA “A” license. 

USPA Instructor Examiner Rating is the highest level of the Instructional Rating. It can be earned in the following five disciplines: Coach Examiner, Accelerated Freefall Instructor Examiner, Instructor-Assisted Deployment Instructor Examiner, Static-Line Instructor Examiner, and Tandem Instructor Examiner. They are eligible to train new coaches and instructors. 

Tandem Instructors Need to Have Made at Least 50 Jumps in the Last Year

Tandem instructor candidates also must have completed at least 50 jumps in the last 12 months. This serves as proof that they are active skydivers and are still up to date with their knowledge.

It also proves that they are resilient and can perform multiple jumps per day. At many dropzones, tandem instructors are expected to perform at least 10 jumps a day.

Cost of the Skydiving Tandem Course/Certification

Skydiving is an expensive sport and receiving the tandem license costs between $1,250 – 2,000 just for the certificate (excluding equipment costs, the inherent costs of your own AFF course, and the cost of performing the 500 jumps). However, if someone receives the tandem license it is a great way to combine his passion with earning money. 

One can also make a solid living when working full-time or creating additional income when working part-time. The average income for a full-time instructor is $50,000 a year and between $20,000- 40,000 for part-time instructors

If you want to learn more about the average salaries of tandem instructors check out this post.

Here is the cost breakdown of the Tandem Instructor Course and Certification:

Types of Course/CertificationCost
Tandem Training Course$425 + Equipment Rent
Cross-Training (Per Manufacturer’s Tandem System)$250 + Equipment Rent
FAA Class 3 Medical Certificate$75 to $150
USPA Coach Rating$100 – Coach Pre-Course
$295 – Course Fee
USPA Instructor Rating$650 to $750 (Depending on the number of candidates)
USPA Instructor Examiner Rating$500
An Overview of the Course Costs

If you add the costs of learning to it, a tandem license becomes much more expensive. Each jump costs at least $25-30 depending on the dropzone and excluding potential rental costs. 

Completing the AFF course and receiving the skydiving “A” license will also cost between $2,800 and $3,800. If you add the remaining 475 jumps (25 jumps are included in the AFF course fees), you end up between $11,875 and $14,250 just for lift fees. 

If you look at the figures just remind yourself that you do it for fun and not for the money. 

How the USPA Tandem Training Course Is Structured

The USPA Tandem Training Course can be completed within 2-4 days depending on the weather. It is composed of three phases that are called Instructional, Practical Application, Vector and Sigma Ratings.

Phase 1 – Instructional 

The instructional phase (Day 1) consists of 6-8 hours of classroom and ground training such as equipment orientation, passenger harness, student briefing, ground preparations, in-aircraft procedure, exits, drogue fall/freefall, canopy controls, landings, and emergency procedure.

Phase 2 – Practical Application 

Phase 2 (Day 2) will be about practical applications wherein the candidates will perform 5 jumps under the close supervision of an evaluator. They need to incorporate the different procedures that they have learned during the ground training.

Phase 3 – Vector and Sigma Ratings

Phase 3 (Day 3-4) will be about the Vector and Sigma ratings which include additional 6-8 hours of classroom or ground training. The candidates are also required to accumulate a total of 25 tandem jumps after phase 3 to receive their full license. They are already allowed to jump with customers, however, they will be “on probation” for the 25 jumps. 

Once all three phases and the probation jumps are completed, you now become a certified Tandem Instructor. You can already start taking passengers and skydive full-time while making a living for yourself.

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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