Differences Between Skydiving and BASE Jumping

Differences Between Skydiving and BASE Jumping

Published: August 23, 2016

Okay, first off: Skydive Finger Lakes does not offer BASE jumping instruction. However, skydiving is the starting point of every BASE jumping career, and the more skydives you make, the longer and less-injury-prone that BASE jumping career is likely to be--so starting the skydiving chapter of your life at a great dropzone is a healthy first step in that direction.

Curious about the differences of skydiving vs BASE jumping? Let's review the basics.

BASE Is An Acronym

Wonder why the word "BASE" in "BASE jumping" is always capitalized? Like SCUBA, BASE is an acronym. It stands for the four objects most often used by BASE jumpers as "exit points": buildings, antennae (like radio antennae and power towers), spans ('bridges,' in normal-human-English parlance) and earth (very specifically, tall, vertical cliffs).

BASE Jumpers Have One Parachute. Skydivers Have Two.

BASE jumpers use a one-parachute system. It's a very simple fabric container (the backpack bit) that secures a single parachute inside it. It's not approved by any oversight organization--it's just the result of the several years of development that have passed since the sport was in its babyhood in the 1980s. It's a one-shot system, because a few seconds of freefall don't allow for the additional complication of a cutaway and reserve--there's simply not enough time for backup emergency procedures.

Skydivers, on the other hand, have a much more complicated, safety-rigorous system on their backs. A skydiving rig has a main parachute and a reserve parachute, as well as a recommended automatic activation device that deploys the reserve parachute in case the skydiver loses consciousness. All the systems are exhaustively tested before they're introduced to sport skydivers. All the systems in the air are overseen and approved by the FAA. All reserves are opened and repacked on a regular schedule by FAA-certified riggers. It's serious stuff, this.

BASE Jumpers Have Less Margin. WAY Less Margin.

BASE jumpers don't jump with altimeters (because the distance to the ground is quite obvious). They very often have scant seconds of freefall to establish proper body position and heading in dead air before they pull. They have to be overtly concerned with weather conditions, emotional conditions, physical conditions, equipment conditions and the multitude of other variables that intrude on their calm at the exit point.

Some BASE jumpers jump from illegal objects (which we certainly don't recommend), and thus have the additional concern of security guards and police officers on their minds. All BASE jumpers jump into public landing areas that have some combination of fences, power lines, animals, children, crowds, moving traffic and enforcement personnel. It's a madhouse out there--as opposed to the limited variable set of a dropzone landing area.

BASE is Thrilling. Don't Forget, However, Skydving Is Thrilling Too.

There is no argument that BASE jumping is a thrill. Plenty of smart BASE jumpers manage to survive to enjoy this thrill over and over and over again. Plenty of other smart BASE jumpers, however, do not.

When you set out on your airsports journey, take this advice*: Even though you might have been borne to the dropzone on a cloud of BASE dreams, don't get tunnel vision. BASE jumping is a beautiful sport with an incredible weight of emotional importance for its practitioners, but isn't really about fun. Skydiving, however, is some of the most emotionally intense out-and-out fun you're ever going to have. Let it be fun, and let the BASE jumping come slowly. Wait and work through the years, awaiting its engraved invitation. It'll come.

*This author has more than 300 BASE jumps on four continents, so it's not like you're listening to somebody making fart noises with their armpit, hey.

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» Lorie Perkins Skurka