Updated: Feb 12, 2019
I think most people would probably assume that a skydive is a skydive and it doesn't really matter where you go. The fact is that all Skydiving Centres or Dropzones are not the same and there is more that differentiates them than just price. Here we are going to educate you on some of the things you might look for in a Dropzone. In this article we are referring to Tandem Skydives; as they make up the lions share of jumps that happen each year for first timers. We are also not addressing the issue of safety record directly here, but know that Tandem Skydiving is the safest form of skydiving there is.
Altitude is how high you will jump from. How high you jump from equates to how much freefall time you will get. Most Dropzones will offer tandem skydives somewhere between 9000 and 13,000 feet. Be sure to find out ahead of time what altitude the Dropzone you are thinking of will take you. How high the Dropzone will take you will in most cases depend on one of two factors:
i) The aircraft
ii) Weather conditions
i) Aircraft: The type of aircraft that a DZ has is probably the single biggest influencer in how high they will take you on your skydive. As a general rule if the DZ has a single engine Cessna like a Cessna 182 they will operate in the 9000-10,500 foot range. The reason for this is the amount of power that the plane is able to generate to efficiently get you to a prescribed altitude. Yes the plane could climb higher, but it might take twice as long to climb another 3000 feet as the first 9000 took, which in turn could double the price of your skydive. As a general rule it should take about 20 minutes for a 182 to climb to 10,000 feet. Dropzones with turbine aircraft will as a rule take you higher. The standard for these type of aircraft is 12,500 - 13,000 feet. Where the Cessna 182 will hold 4 jumpers for a intimate scenic journey of 20 minutes to altitude, a turbine aircraft like a Twin Otter will zoom a group of up to 23 skydivers to 12,500 feet in about 15 minutes. Each 1000 feet of altitude equals about 5 seconds of freefall, so the difference between the big plane and little plane is about 12.5 seconds.
ii)Weather: Some days owning a DZ I feel like a farmer; I'm always watching the weather. Skydiving is required by federal law to operate by Visual Flight Rules. This means that when we exit the plane we need to be able to see where we are going, which is down. If there is a thick layer of cloud at 8000 feet then that will most likely mean that the plane is not permitted to go above it and your skydive will be from just under the cloud layer. So, although the DZ advertises that they will fly you to 10,000 feet you might be a bit lower if mother nature isn't cooperating. Ask in advance what their weather policy is. Good Dropzones will let you reschedule to a day with better weather. If you're already at the Dropzone, it might be worthwhile to try and wait the weather out. If it clears enough they will be able to get you to full altitude and the visuals with the clouds around, but not under, is amazing.
The professionalism and experience of the staff is probably the single most item that will affect your experience while at the Dropzone. Ideally it's good to see staff that are knowledgeable and helpful and go out of their way to make your adventure the best it can be. After all, the day you go skydiving is one of those days that will live with you forever and as you retell the story the staff will be a big part of it. The experience of the Tandem Instructor is also important. The more current their skydiving experience is as well as length of time in the sport will say a lot about how they will be able to deliver to you the best adventure possible.
Experience is one thing you can't get for nothing-Oscar Wilde
I've always felt that the quality of the staff reflects on the quality of the business and so it carries through every aspect. You want a Dropzone that returns your calls or emails and recognizes the value of your business. A great way to check out any business and how their staff treat their customers is to check out their reviews. Some of the great review sites out there are:
ii) Trip Advisor
Quality of Pictures and Video:
There must be almost as many different options for Pictures and Video as there are...I dunno something that there is a lot of ;-) I'll break it down the best I can and I'm not saying one is better than the other, but make sure that the Dropzone you choose is able to deliver the content you want the way you want.
Type of Photography and Video: There are really two options here and for some a hybrid.
Outside Video: Sometimes called ProCam has a separate skydiver jump with you with a videocamera and camera on his helmet. We call this guy the Videographer. This type of perspective is from about 6-10 feet away.
The exit from the plane looks great and so does the freefall
Catches the landing really well
It's a bit more expensive
Does not capture the parachute ride
On smaller planes like a Cessna 182 that only carry a max of 4 jumpers you won't be able to jump with your friends as the Videographer will take up a spot
Some people find jumping with someone in front of them distracting
The DZ might not have a videographer available on staff when your jump is scheduled
HandCam: This generally is a GoPro or similiar sport camera attached to the Tandem Instructors wrist. These cameras produce HD quality pictures and video.
Lower cost compared to Outside Video
Captures the freefall as well as the parachute ride
On smaller planes it means that friends can go on the same ride to altitude
Although it is wide angle, it won't capture as much in frame as Outside Video
Tandem Instructors are recommended to have 150 tandems before they can use a Handcam, If your instructor isn't experienced or comfortable with hand cams they might not offer this option.
Hybrid Video and Pictures: Some Dropzones are now offering a Hybrid video and picture packages which offers Video and Pictures from both Outside Video and Handcam. It's the best of both worlds.
Captures the best of Outside Video (Pro Cam) and Handcam
Two camera angles
It can be more expensive
On a smaller plane like a Cessna 182 it will mean that you won't be able to ride in the plane with your friend as the Videographer will take up the other spot.
Quantity of Pictures: This can also be wide ranging from you get 5 pictures in freefall to you get between 100-200 pictures and 40 of them will be of your freefall. It's a picture sharing kind of world, so ask before you go what the Dropzone you are thinking of does.
Type of distribution: How are you going to get your pictures and video after the skydive. Find the system that will work best for your situation. If you like editing your own videos getting the unedited footage might be best, while others prefer someone else to do that work for them. Also if you are travelling, it might not be handy to get your video back in a week or two. Here are some of the options I have seen:
Fully edited professional video with music delivered on a USB right after your jump and you take it with you
Fully edited professional video that is emailed to you or loaded to YouTube after a few days or more and pictures emailed
Raw footage unedited given to you on a SD card
Raw footage and pictures emailed to you or posted online
Posts to Social Media:
This will tell you a lot about the Dropzone you are thinking of. If they are proud of the work they do, they will share it on line as much as possible. Check out their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube channel for the quality of their work. Reviewing the pictures and video they produce will also give you a good idea as to what the views are like. A skydive is still fun without a view, but with a great view it is spectacular.
Amenities at the DZ:
Dropzones can vary from guys operating out of a tent next to a runway to multi million dollar facilities that have Wind Tunnels and a bar. The one to pick is the one that works best for your group. Whether everyone in your group is jumping or not, it's nice if they are comfortable. Here are a few amenities to look for:
Hours. Some Dropzones are part-time operations and only open weekends; whereas others are full-time dedicated Dropzones with full time staff. Make sure the one you choose works with your schedule
Washrooms, yes I've seem some DZ's require you to use the one down the street as they don't have one. Of course you don't need a washroom, until you need a washroom. ;-)
A comfortable waiting area. Sometimes we are waiting for the weather or DZ's are just running behind. If your waiting for an hour or two it's nice if they have a comfortable area to relax while you wait. That being said heat and or air conditioning is a nice to have as well.
Landing Area. Some Dropzones do not land in the same place where the plane takes off. If you're just jumping by yourself that might not be a big deal, but if your Aunt Martha that's 78 and in a wheelchair is coming to cheer you on, it would be nice if she didn't have to travel by van for 15 minutes to get to the landing area.
Wheel Chair accessible. If it's important to your group, check in advance.
Food. Either a restaurant on site or close by. Again if you are left waiting for a while it's good to have food
Shuttle. A shuttle to get your group to the DZ from a nearby city can be helpful
Souvenirs. It's always nice to have a memento to take with you to remember the experience
Facilities to handle Large Groups. It might be a bunch of people jumping together or maybe a Birthday Party. Having a facility that can handle a group is good for some.
Payment Method. Some Dropzones are cash only operations and some will accept everything. Know before you show up.
Refund/Bad Weather policy:
As I mentioned earlier Bad Weather can and does happen. How the Dropzone handles it is important to know in advance. Most Dropzones will not offer a refund if the weather is bad and definitely not if you just decide not to skydive. Most Dropzones on bad weather days will offer you the opportunity to re-book on another date. Some Dropzones will restrict when that date will be (eg. must be within the next year). If you decide not to jump, some Dropzones will allow you to transfer the credit to someone else. If you are travelling, this is probably the most important thing for you to ask before you book. Call the Dropzone and ask what their policy is for your situation before you make your reservation.
Most Dropzones sell Gift Cards or Gift Certificates. Again check with the Dropzone before you buy it. Some Dropzones GC's are only valid for a year and some will not allow them to be transferred to another person. Weather happens and people get busy and change their mind. Find out what their policy is ahead of time.
Here at Skydive Vancouver Island:
With all this being said and as this Blog is on the Skydive Vancouver Island site here is how we represent ourselves:
Aircraft: We have a Cessna 182 and most of our jumps are from 10,000 feet. We do have a special package to 12,500 feet that we offer on a limited basis. Our aircraft is maintained to a commercial operators level, which means it is very well looked after.
Weather: We will give you the option to wait to jump or reschedule if the weather is questionable. If the option is to jump from a slightly lower altitude, we will let you know before we go what's happening so you can make an informed decision
Staff: Our instructors all have Coach designations from the Coaching Association of Canada, Have a "C" Certificate of Proficiency from the Canadian Sport Parachuting Association, 1000 skydives, 500 Tandem Skydives, Minimum 5 years in the sport, Certification from the Tandem Manufacturer and a current medical. Our standards are higher than the industry. Our ground crew are exceptional and will make you feel at home. We invite you to see our reviews on:
Trip Advisor (We are the highest rated in BC and earned the 2016 Certificate of Excellence)
Video and Pictures: Ours are HD Quality and you can see examples of them on our Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter feeds. (and even this blog) We give you options of either Outside Video (Pro Cam) or Hand Cam or we will even combine the two for the same price of just the Outside Video (Pro Cam). Your video will be professionally edited with music and you will get it on a souvenir USB and a personalized Jump Certificate about 20 minutes after you finish your skydive
Amenities: Our Dropzone is located at the Qualicum Beach airport and we are open 7 days a week from March till October. We have a nice finished area with a lounge area and picnic area for you and your friends and family to take advantage of. For large groups we can offer a BBQ or even a private party room. We take off and land at the same location so it makes it easy for you to share your experience with everyone in your group whether they are jumping or not. There is a great restaurant at the airport called the Final Approach and the food there is spectacular. I am particularly fond of the Seafood Chowder every Friday. If you are in Nanaimo at a ferry terminal, we do have a shuttle that can pick you up. (some fees may apply). We accept pretty much every form of payment there is except Bitcoin.
Refunds and Bad Weather: We will do our best to accommodate you if the weather is bad to reschedule you. If it just can't be done we will offer a refund or a gift card.
Gift Cards: Gift Cards purchased from us have no expiry date. Gift Cards that you purchased or won through a silent auction, contest or other fundraiser do have an expiry date. If you purchased your Gift Card through Groupon or another re-seller they do have a use by date and afterwards there is a value equivalent to the price paid for the gift card that does not expire.
Thanks for reading our Blog and I hope that this helps you make an informed decision about where to do your Skydive. I hope it's the best experience of your life. We are constantly striving for improvement. If you have any other questions, please give us a call or send us an email. We love talking about Skydiving :-)
DZO (Drop Zone Owner)