Every skydiver faces risks. Though they’re often exaggerated, about 1 jump in 100,000 leads to a fatality every year. Compare that to the risk of being in a fatal car crash within 25 miles of home, which is about 1 in 6,000.
The risk of minor to major injury varies by age, weight, gender, experience and other factors. But overall, for any novice jumper the risks are small. Small, but not zero. To improve your odds, there are many skills that are taught in classroom instruction and should be practiced in the air.
The first principle of safety in skydiving, as in anything else, is ‘Be Aware’. Skydiving often involves multiple people in close proximity. Instructors jump with students in AFF (accelerated free fall) training. Multiple skydivers of all levels jump close together in time and distance. It’s important at all times to know who is around you and what they’re doing.
Skydivers will often practice tracking, moving horizontally through the air in free fall, in order to achieve the proper separation before activating their parachutes. Once the canopy is flying, it’s even more important to be aware in order to avoid collisions and possible canopy collapse. Even if the chutes continue to operate normally, an in-air collision at 50 mph (80 kph) during gliding can be very serious.
Other things make a difference as well.
With practice, skydivers can learn to adjust their suits for optimal behavior. Where straps attach, how tight the chest strap is at deployment and other factors affect the skydive. A tight strap on a narrow-shouldered person affects how the canopy flies in a way different than a less-tight strap or one on a larger person.
Behavior after deployment matters as well, sometimes quite a bit. In a modern ram canopy rig, the cells inflate at a measured rate controlled, in part, by something called a slider. This is the rectangular piece of material threaded through the lines. Once it slides down toward your head you have multiple issues.
One is the distracting flapping noise it produces. That can lead some novice skydivers to pay too much attention to trying to stow it behind their heads. That can lead to winding up far from the intended landing point in the dropzone. With the horizontal speeds that modern ram canopy rigs can achieve, you can easily wind up miles away from where you should be. That can be more than just an inconvenience. It can be a safety hazard.
Elongating the chest strap is another simple example of behavior that can lead to the same result. Adjusting it helps transfer canopy control from your shoulders to your hips, leading to a better balance. But, taking too long to adjust it can lead to the same problem of being unaware of your fellow skydivers. It can result in a too-rapid landing if you do it too close to the ground. Or it can put you far away from the intended landing point.
Be aware, practice the needed skills, and you’ll be able to jump much more with a higher degree of safety.