Parachuting vs. Skydiving: What's the Difference?

Parachuting vs. Skydiving: What's the Difference?

Published: August 7, 2017

Parachuting? Skydiving? They're nearly interchangeable terms. After all, the sport's major organization in America is called the "United States Parachute Association," not the "United States Skydiving Association." (Their one-liner mission statement: "The United States Parachute Association [USPA] is a voluntary non-profit membership organization of individuals who enjoy and support the sport of skydiving."

As flippity-floppity as the two terms may be, there are subtle definitional differences. To put it plainly: When someone leaves an aircraft and immediately deploys a parachute without any freefall, it's debatable whether that is technically a skydive, but it's definitely a parachute jump. If someone gets some freefall time from any aircraft, that's definitely a skydive.

Oftentimes, the word "parachuting" is used in the context of work and "skydiving" is used in the context of play. To wit: smokejumpers and Navy SEALS "parachute;" weekend warriors and international sporting competitors "skydive." This is likely due to the fact that parachuting only made its way from publicity stunt (and job-description) status to sport in the middle of the 20th century. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word "skydiving" wasn't even put into use until 1956. "Parachuting," on the other hand, was first used in 1784. (How 'bout 'dat.)

Other facts about the history of parachuting/skydiving that you might be interested in knowing:

  • The very first parachute jump using a "frameless" parachute (without any stiffening material) was made by André-Jacque Garnerin. A landmark balloonist, André-Jacque studied physics as a young man before being drafted into the French army in service against the French Revolution. While in uniform, the unlucky scientist was captured and held as prisoner in Buda (now Budapest, Hungary) for three whole years. When he got back, he immediately apprenticed himself to ballooning-pioneer-cum-professor Jacques Charles and spent significant amounts of time toodling around over Paris. He made that first parachute descent into the City of Light in 1797. He jumped from the basket at a height of about 3,200 feet and lived to tell the tale. (Now that is faith in one's handiwork.)
  • André-Jacque's hometown of Paris was where most of the world's first landmark human flights were researched and made (including the first attempted wingsuit BASE jump, which did not go so well.)
  • The oldest civilian parachute club in the world is The Irish Parachute Club. It was founded in 1956 (Yep! The same year the word "skydiving" was coined) by Freddie Bond, and is located in Clonbullogue, County Offaly. The fact that the weather is terrible for skydiving in Ireland most of the time didn't matter a mite to those hardcore gingers, apparently.

You say tomato and I say tomato, right? Heck--there's no need to get strung up over terminology. Everyone at any dropzone will understand what you mean if you use either term.

So what are you waiting for? Come out and enrich your skydiving (or parachuting, as it were) vocabulary. We're waiting to help!

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