Everything You Want to Know About Tandem Skydiving

Skydive Monterey Bay Complete Guide on Tandem Skydiving

About Tandem Skydiving

If you’re interested in skydiving near San Francisco but have no previous skydive experience that won’t limit you from having the ultimate first jump experience. With tandem skydiving, you can still do the world’s highest skydives, longest freefalls and enjoy a scenic parachute flight with the incredible California coastline and beaches beneath you on jump number one.

A tandem jump is a method of skydiving in which two jumpers share one parachute system. It pairs an experienced, specifically trained, and certified, tandem skydive instructor with a person without any skydiving licenses or credentials. Specifically, it was a system designed to enable almost anyone to experience all of the stages of a skydive with minimal training under the direct guidance and control of a highly experienced and skilled instructor.

Tandem skydiving has become the best introduction to the world of skydiving. It is a completely unique, adrenaline-packed experience at a reasonable cost, low risk profile and minimal time commitment. It is the perfect introduction for both those adventure seekers looking to experience the thrill of skydiving and those who might be interested in earning their solo skydive license.

Skydive Monterey Bay has developed this comprehensive guide that will answer most of the questions you might have about the tandem skydive process.

Tandem Skydiving Versus Other First Jump Methods

Tandem jumping provides many advantages as an introduction to the sport of skydiving. During a tandem jump, the student can experience a full-length freefall and parachute flight with minimal training and statistically low risk. A tandem student can be prepared for their skydive in as little as 10-15 minutes and complete a freefall and a parachute flight without solely bearing the burden of responsibility and stress that could inhibit your overall experience. Your role is to enjoy the experience, absorb all the sensations, and relish all the emotions and visuals while feeling assured attached to a highly experienced instructor.

The Downside of Solo First Jump Methods

Other first jump methods involve solo skydiving. A solo skydiver must be fully trained and knowledgeable on the gear operation, inflight safety procedures, freefall body positions, emergency procedures, parachute flight, and landing patterns. On a solo skydive, the jumper owns the responsibility for their safety. While the tandem student jumper is an active participant during a tandem jump, the instructor assumes the role of pilot in command.

Some of these first skydive methods do not include freefall during the jump. Static Line or Instructor Assisted Deployment were previously the most popular first jump methods. In these types of jumps, jumpers exit from a much lower altitude (3000-4000 feet above the ground) while the parachute is extracted as you leave the airplane. This method would be more appropriately described as a parachute jump. Both Static Line and Instructor Assisted Deployment require a full day of in-classroom study, ground training, and testing prior to jumping. For these reasons, they are viewed as an archaic training method by most skydiving centers.

The modern-day alternative for first solo jump option is the Accelerated Freefall (AFF) program. AFF is the best program to certify and license new skydivers. While some skydive centers offer it as a first jump option, it also requires a full day of ground and classroom training.

First Jump Solo Training For Skydive License
First Jump Solo Training For Skydive License

There are very specific objectives in AFF with requirements to achieve on each level and each stage of the skydive. Instead of just absorbing the experience in a reduced stress situation, you’ll be focused on task management, with the burden of safety resting upon yourself. In our 25-plus years of experience, this distracts from the simplicity of just enjoying your first ever skydive.

The Upsides of Tandem First Jump

Tandem jumping has made skydiving accessible to essentially anyone in reasonable physical condition and at least 18 years of age. It is the safest way to do your first skydive, enables you to do the most amount of skydiving skills, tricks, and experiences, can be done in less than half a day, is reasonably affordable, and provides the comfort of literally being connected to an experienced, trained and specifically certified professional with thousands of previous successful skydives. For these reasons, tandem skydiving has been adopted almost universally in the industry as the best first jump method.

How A Tandem Skydiving System Works

Tandem Harness System & Connection

The tandem instructor wears a tandem parachute system, specifically designed to support two attached people, both in freefall and during parachute flight. It is built with larger parachutes designed to support the load of two people. It has four, stainless steel, forged metal rings (stress tested to each withhold a minimum of 5000 pounds of tensile force) to connect the student harness to the tandem instructors skydive system.

The student wears a tandem harness with four connection clips that the instructor attaches to the tandem system (one of each shoulder and one on each side of the hips). The student harness is fully adjustable with leg straps, chest and belly bands, and side and lateral connections to ensure a safe and comfortable adjustment for freefall, parachute flight, and landing.

Tandem Skydive Pair Connected Prior To Exit over Bay Area
Tandem Skydive Pair Connected Prior To Exit

The tandem instructor is positioned behind the student to ensure that the instructor can access all of the parachute controls and to facilitate a good parachute opening. The connection clips are on the back of the student harness. In the aircraft, the student typically sits in front of the instructor with their back to the instructor’s chest. The harness allows for the required amount of movement and flexibility both during freefall and parachute flight, while of course, ensuring the student is safely secured.

Freefall & Parachute Flight Procedures

Once the tandem pair exits the aircraft, the instructor will deploy a small parachute called the drogue chute (aka “drogue”). The drogue allows the tandem pair to fall at relatively the same speed as a solo skydiver or about 120 mph.

Tandem Skydive Pair Shortly After Exit With Drogue Parachute Deployed over Skydive Monterey Bay
Tandem Skydive Pair After Exiting Monterey Bay King Air

At around 5000 feet above the ground, the instructor will open the parachute. Since tandem skydive opening altitudes are regulated the amount of your parachute flight time will be consistent at any given skydive center. Therefore, freefall time is dependent on the exit altitude. That’s why every Skydive Monterey Bay jump has about 60% more freefall than any other California skydive center.

For skydiving tandem, parachutes are considerably larger with a more rectangular design than solo sport parachutes. Tandem skydive parachutes are typically three to four times larger than parachutes designed for solo jumpers to support the additional load. Parachutes are very controllable with the ability to turn in either direction, brake, or speed up. Skydivers often use the wind to help glide back to the landing area, but the parachutes generally have a forward speed of about 20 mph in zero wind conditions. That range of controllability, understanding the winds, and a high level of experience, means your instructor will likely land at, or very close to, the intended landing area. If conditions allow, your instructor may even provide you the opportunity to fly the parachute.

Tandem Skydive System Safety Features

Every skydive system is equipped with both a main and reserve parachute. Statistically, a parachute malfunction happens about one out of every thousand skydives. Most of those happen on high performance, solo parachutes. Instructors are thoroughly trained, and as a practice, repeatedly rehearse the corrective procedures. With so much preparation and practice, parachute malfunctions are often perceived as minor inconveniences. Most of our team have had a handful of malfunctions during their skydive careers. For the super rare of tandem students who experience a malfunction on their jump, many are not even fully aware that the instructor has already released the main parachute and opened the reserve.

Read Caitlin M.‘s review of Skydive Monterey Bay on Yelp

Tandem skydive systems also have numerous additional safety features. One of the most advanced skydive safety redundancy systems is an onboard computer that monitors speed and altitude. This Automatic Activation Device allows the parachute to automatically open at a set altitude should the instructor be incapable of doing so.

Monitoring altitude is a critical task for safe skydiving. After thousands of skydives, jumpers get quite proficient at eyeballing altitudes. But of course, no skydiver would rely on only visual cues. Instructors and licensed skydivers use both visual and audible altimeters to determine altitude. Most use at least one of each while skydiving.

Tandem Skydive Instructors Regularly Check Altitude Using Visual Altimeters
Tandem Skydive Instructors Regularly Check Altitude Using Visual Altimeters

Tandem Skydiving Process

Booking & Reservations

Booking your jump is the first step. If you have any nervousness, anxiety, fear, or phobias that have prevented you from skydiving previously the best thing you can do is simply lock in a date for your jump. Making the commitment, thinking about the skydive and simply showing up on the day will ultimately be the most anxious parts of the whole process.

Thanks to beautiful California weather, we’re able to jump almost every day of the year at Skydive Monterey Bay. You can make your booking online at skydivemontereybay.com or by calling our office at 831-384-3483. Whether you reserve online or via phone, you’ll be able to select the date, time, and jump option that works best for you. We recommend booking the world’s highest tandem skydive! We’re the only skydive center that jumps from 18,000’ every flight!

We do require a deposit of $50 per person, at least 48 hours prior to the jump date to secure your booking. We have limited same day spaces, so the booking secures your space on one of the flights. The deposit amount will be deducted from the total jump price, which will be payable on the day of the jump.

Rescheduling & Changes

In the event of scheduling conflicts, you may reschedule your skydive up to 24 hours prior to the jump without penalty. Any no shows or changes less than 24 hours prior to the jump will result in the loss of your deposit.

If the weather is not looking favorable for skydiving, we may reschedule jumps for another day. Should we do so, we’ll notify you as soon as practical and assist rescheduling at no additional cost. Weather forecasts are often incorrect. Sometimes conditions look positive for the day, but the Monterey Bay area can experience rapid weather pattern changes.

If inclement weather develops in the middle of the jump day, we may need to reschedule the day’s remaining jump operations and reschedule your jump. Please bear in mind that we most definitely want to take you skydiving but safety is the absolute critical factor. Full details on our rescheduling and cancellation policies are available in our Terms & Conditions section.

Skydive Check-In on Jump Day

Skydive Monterey Bay is located at the Marina Municipal Airport at 721 Neeson Road, Ste 1. Please ensure that you arrive at, or before, the time specified on the day of your jump. We want you to feel comfortable and ready without having to rush to stay on schedule. Failure to arrive on time could result in missing your flight and cause delays for all other jumpers.

Once you arrive at the skydive center, we’ll take you through the check-in process which involves completing a risk and liability waiver, reviewing jump altitude options, video and picture package options, and payment. We accept Visa, MasterCard, Debit, and cash.

Tandem Skydive Training

After completing check-in, you will be given an orientation, view the tandem skydiving equipment and process video. After viewing the video, a Skydive Monterey Bay staff member will provide a briefing on logistics, timing, and next steps prior to training.

Behind the scenes, our team will assign instructors to each student. Your instructor will locate you in the waiting area and begin training. Our instructors typically jump with several people during the day, so you’ll be in a small group with other tandem skydivers that will be jumping with same instructor. That means when training begins your friend will be training with another instructor. Even though you’ve been separated for training, you will most likely be on the same flight. Your instructor will advise you on your flight number.

Tandem skydive training is very simple. Your instructor will brief you on the operational logistics, in-aircraft procedures, body position in freefall, and landing techniques. This process typically takes 10-15 minutes. The briefing helps to maximize the enjoyment of your jump and make it as easy and stress-free as possible.

The Tandem Jump

The skydive itself consists of the aircraft flight, exit, freefall, parachute flight and landing. Each tandem jump passenger is paired with a certified professional tandem instructor for every stage of the tandem jump.

Aircraft Flight

Your instructor will guide you to the aircraft for your flight and assist in seating you in the proper position. You will be sitting facing the back of the aircraft with your back to your instructor so that they can properly connect your tandem passenger harness. During the flight you will be secured by seatbelt to your harness or attached to your tandem instructor’s skydive system.

Skydive Monterey Bay operates a beautiful jump plane. Our Super King Air 200 has the capacity for up to 21 jumpers. It is the fastest skydiving airplane in the world, enabling us to do the World’s Highest Tandem Skydives every day. It’s a quick 7-9 minute flight to 18,000 feet; just long enough to take in the beautiful Bay area views of Monterey and Santa Cruz but not too long for too much anxiety to build up.

Approximately halfway up to exit altitude, your instructor will review the key points of your skydive and finish any remaining harness adjustments. About one minute prior to exit, your tandem instructor will help adjust your googles for freefall. And then, it’s go time! 

Tandem Skydiving Exit 

Once we’ve reached the jump altitude and drop point, skydivers will begin exiting the aircraft. You and your instructor will make your way to the door, typically in a somewhat crouched position. You will be standing on the edge of the airplane for just a couple of seconds while your tandem instructor makes final checks and prepares to jump.

Tandem Freefall Backflip Gainer Exit From Airplane Near San Francisco
Tandem Freefall Backflip Gainer Exit From Airplane

The exit process happens faster than most people expect. Unloading our aircraft happens quite rapidly with only about ten seconds between tandem jumpers’ exits. This enables safe separation between skydive groups, but also means that you will not see your friend in freefall during their tandem jump. As an added positive, this means you really don’t have a lot of time to think or worry about jumping. It all seems to happen so fast you’ll barely have time to process any nervousness that you may have.

Tandem Skydive Freefall

By manipulating our body position, we can control our movements and position in freefall, ranging from turning, to moving forward and backward, to speeding up and slowing down. If you’re a thrill-seeking adventurer that wants to squeeze every drop of adrenaline out of the experience, we can do back flips or front flips after exiting the aircraft and turns and spins during the remainder of the freefall. Or, if you’re looking for a more peaceful, zen ride or are prone to motion sickness let your instructor know that too. It’s your skydive and we have the experience to help make it whatever kind of skydive you want. Our instructors never forget to spend some of the incredibly long, 90-second freefall facing the beautiful Pacific Ocean for those incredible oceanside, Monterey Bay beach views.

Tandem Freefalling Over Skydive Monterey Bay Near San Jose
Tandem Freefalling Over Skydive Monterey Bay

We won’t attempt to describe the sensations you’ll feel during your first skydive. Articulating the entire experience properly is a difficult proposition. Almost everyone says you have to experience it for yourself to understand. One of the reasons Skydive Monterey Bay is the best place to skydive in California is because you’ll have the longest amount of time in the experience if you do the World’s Highest Tandem Skydive from 18,000 feet. It’s quite common to get some sensory overload during the first part of the skydive so every second counts! Our jumps almost double the number of freefall seconds compared to most other skydive centers.

Parachute Opening & Flight

Parachutes have become extremely advanced in their design, allowing for highly maneuverable stable flight with typically soft, reliable openings.

During a tandem skydive, the parachute is typically deployed at about 5000 feet above the ground. With freefall speeds normally around 120mph, the parachutes are designed to gradually decelerate the fall rate before fully opening to ensure a smooth, soft opening. Tandem parachutes usually take between seven to twelve seconds to open covering between 500-1200 feet of altitude.

When the parachute begins to open, you’ll transition from a belly to earth orientation to a head-up or vertical orientation. The weightlessness of freefall will be replaced with some weighted, g-force feelings while you’re suspended in the harness. It’s a much slower, more chill sensation providing you with the opportunity to slow down the heart rate, take in the scenery, and process the sensations from freefall.

Parachute Flying Body Position
Typical body position during parachute flight.

A tandem parachute flight is actually the longest portion of the skydive, lasting between three to eight minutes. The length of the flight depends on the suspended weight under the parachute and flying style. If you want the rollercoaster type ride, ask to do turns and spirals. To enjoy the Bay Area and beach views as long as possible, ask your instructor for a nice, easy descent with minimal turns.

Parachute Landing

All good things must come to an end and a tandem skydive is no exception. Tandem parachute landings are typically quite smooth and soft. For most tandem landings, the student will be instructed to lift their legs up and in front of them prior to landing. This technique will be practiced during your parachute descent.

Lifting Legs Up For Landing
Lifting Legs Up For Landing

By raising your legs, the intention is to have the instructor’s feet touch down first to act as landing gear. In no wind or low wind conditions you may slide on your bottom during landing. On high wind days, conditions might be conducive for a stand-up landing. Conditions change on every skydive so take instruction from your tandem instructor as you approach for landing.

Once you’re back on the ground, you will be unclipped from your instructor’s tandem skydiving system. Take a moment to enjoy the blissful neurochemicals flooding your body, take pride in checking off that big bucket list item, overcoming your fear, or simply accomplishing something that less than one percent of people have ever done.

Visual & Sensory Expectations

On your first skydive, or even your first few, you’ll experience a lot of new visual and sensory stimuli. Some of these are important to acknowledge for prejump preparations and to manage expectations.


During freefall, you’re exposing yourself to a new dimension to which you’ve had very limited previous experience, and most certainly never quite like this before. You’ll be exploring a truly three-dimensional world for the first time. It’s experienced completely differently relative to a rollercoaster or standing on the edge of a cliff because you’ll be passing through space the fastest you ever have and outside of any encasement such as an airplane.

Tandem Skydiver Freefalling Over Monterey Bay
Tandem Skydiver Freefalling Over Monterey Bay

That means that you’ll literally be seeing things in a way that you never have before. And that’s pretty damn cool! Add to that, you’re going jumping over one of the nicest, most scenic places to skydive in California. Our landing area is closer to the beach than any other central California skydive center, with views of the entire Monterey Bay area. On clear days, there are incredible views of Carmel By the Sea, Big Sur, Santa Cruz, and even San Francisco. Imagine how beautiful those locations are, and then imagine the visuals of those places as you fall upside down at 120 mph from 18,000 feet! Spoiler alert: the visuals are insane!


“Is breathing difficult during freefall” is often a question that is asked by first-time jumpers. The perceived sensation of not being able to breathe is not a pleasant one and still one that often concerns first time jumpers. From a physiological standpoint, it is no more difficult to breathe during a 120mph freefall descent from 18,000 feet than it is to be standing on the ground.

The primary reason people perceive difficulty breathing during freefall is because of the wind speed. During a tandem skydive, freefall speed is generally around 120 mph. While the sensation is strong, it does not impact our ability to breathe. Experienced skydivers and instructors do not have difficulty breathing, nor would you have a hard time breathing if you put your head out of the car window driving down the freeway. It seems difficult because you’re also experiencing and reacting to feelings of nervousness, anxiety or fear. Often faced with these feelings our first reaction is to tense up. In the process, we may tend to hold our breathe. It’s an instinctual reaction. Understanding this and consciously breathing (sometimes we say to scream to force exhalation and inhalation) will almost immediately remove this sensation.

The other reason people believe breathing during freefall could be challenging is thinner air at higher altitudes. Although the percentage of oxygen in the air always remains the same, it is true that oxygen molecules are father apart at higher altitudes. So, there are less oxygen molecules per volume, and effectively, over long periods of time your body feels tired and less energetic because your circulatory system is receiving less oxygen. These effects, however, take time to occur.

You might think that the world’s highest tandem jumps would make you susceptible to effects of thinner air. However, Skydive Monterey Bay flies an extremely fast climbing jump airplane. The amount of time we spend at high altitudes (where hypoxia can occur) is only a few minutes. As a result, the effects of high altitude, thin oxygen air does not apply.


Weather conditions, specifically temperature, vary at jump altitude versus on the ground. It typically decreases about two to three degrees every thousand feet of elevation. Given that Skydive Monterey Bay tandem jumps are between 5000-8000 feet higher than most other skydiving centers in California, there can be a difference between ground and exit altitude temperatures.

While freefall skydiving conditions in Monterey Bay are generally quite nice even in the winter, the extreme altitude does mean that it can occasionally get crisp. We recommend you prepare like you’re hiking a high elevation mountain by wearing (or at least bringing) multiple layers of clothes to ensure that you’ll be warm and comfortable. It’s better to have layers and not need them. We recommend and prefer that you bring your own gloves, though we do have additional pairs should you forget to bring your own.

Generally speaking, it’s mostly always comfortable in freefall. Even on the odd occasion when it does get brisk, it’s also important to remember that temperatures increase rapidly as you freefall through lower altitudes. First skydive adrenaline can also mask some sensory inputs such as temperature.

Time Dilation

One of the sensations you’ll most likely experience during your skydive is time dilation. Your ability to accurately sense the passing of time becomes challenged. This happens because the part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, that processes this function also controls self-awareness. In times of real or perceived danger, the brain shuts down the prefrontal cortex and directs cognitive processing to parts of the brain responsible for heightening senses, reactions, and decision making.

While preparation, relaxation and breathing will help to manage nervousness, a first-time jumper’s brain may perceive danger prior to or during your jump. This is neither good nor bad but simply helps to explain why your 90-second freefall maybe felt quicker (imagine what that’s like doing a standard 45-60 second jump). We love doing the world’s highest tandem jumps because it gives you the most opportunity to acclimate to freefall and process all of its amazing sensations and visuals.

Nervousness & Fear

It’s completely common to experience some fear and trepidation about your first skydive. You are jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, 18,000 feet above the ground after all. In fact, the most common statement we hear from people just prior to their jump is that they simultaneously feel nervous and excited.

Fear is a psychological response to perceived danger. The by-product of fear is the amazing and blissful neurochemicals that the brain releases. This is the adrenaline or dopamine high you feel after landing from your jump.

Experiencing fear on your first jump is completely normal and fine. The key is to understand and accept that you’ll experience this sensation while ensuring it does not reach a debilitating level. Reading articles like this about the tandem skydiving process, visiting a skydiving center and watching other people do their first jump, researching skydiving safety statistics, using relaxation and breathing technique during the jump and simply a willingness to push beyond your comfort zone will help overcome fear and unlock an incredible new experience. 

Tandem Skydiving Safety

Potential new skydivers often ask, “is skydiving safe or are there real dangers involved?” The answer is yes, and yes. Just like any other extreme sport, you run the risk of injury or worse. Let’s also put this in perspective. You carry the same ultimate risk going on a hike, playing a “traditional” sport, or driving down the freeway. We’re very good at what we do, we hire very talented instructors, maintain our gear and skydive airplane extremely well, and make prudent and safe decisions (to which our safety record will attest) but accidents do happen. We cannot guarantee your safety and you’ll need to accept that if you want to try skydiving.

Now the positive stuff! Statistically speaking skydiving is a very safe activity, and tandem skydiving is even safer on an order of magnitude. For every 1,000,000 tandem skydives, there are approximately three fatalities. That’s a rate of 0.003%. Do some homework and compare those odds against mountain biking, hiking, skiing and snowboarding, and even marathon running (you’re going to be shocked at how dangerous those activities are!).

Tandem Skydiving Prices, Options & Booking  

If you’ve read this much about tandem skydiving, then you’re almost certainly ready to jump!

Unlike any other skydive center in California, we do the World’s Highest Tandem skydives from 18,000 feet above the ground every day. Skydive Monterey Bay also offers lower altitude skydives (that are still higher than almost any other skydive center near San Francisco), as well as a variety of video and picture packages.

Skydiving prices in California typically range between $150 and $350. At Skydive Monterey Bay you’ll be able to choose from three jump altitudes, starting at $179 per person, with our 18,000-foot skydive priced at $279 per person. When you consider the cost per 1000 feet of freefalling, this is the highest value skydive in California.

Skydive Monterey Bay Skydiving Packages

Our skydive media packages provide multiple options for pictures and video. We offer an instructor’s hand-mounted media package, which delivers a selfie-style perspective. We also offer dedicated camera flyers that provide a much broader perspective and captures incredible ocean and beach views. To get your best Bay Area skydiving pictures captured, double down and get a combined package.

Now that you have a good understanding of tandem skydiving, the next thing you should do is book your tandem skydive adventure! You can book online at skydivemoneterybay.com anytime or call us at 831-384-3483 between 8am-5pm every day. You have a whole lot to gain once you experience for yourself what others are too afraid to attempt! After all, only seldom few dare to dream.

If you have more questions about your first jump or skydiving in general, please call us or read our Frequently Asked Questions.

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