What is a rigger? And how Riggers keep Skydivers Safe? Riggers are parachute professionals, trained and licensed to pack and repair parachutes for military and civilian, recreational and sport skydiving purposes.

In the military, riggers are trained by their military branch around the world, to support their paratrooper forces and for aerial supply and equipment parachute delivery. In the civilian world, riggers are certified by national aviation authorities like the FAA (Federal Aviation Authorities) in the US. In most countries, there are at least 2 levels of rigger ratings, such as the senior and master levels in the United States.

The backup parachute (reserve)

As a recreational skydiver, we can rest assured that our backup parachute called a reserve, is packed and signed for by a licensed rigger. In the US, the FAA is the regulatory agency that requires the reserve parachute to be packed by a certified rigger. The rigger will then include a dated card that will stay inside a pocket in the container to be signed and dated at every 6-month reserve repack. Most skydive drop zones will require this proof of a current repack for all fun jumpers wanting to skydive at their facility. This ensures the highest level of safety, not only for the jumpers and those they share the sky with, but also for non-jumpers and observers on the ground.

How does it work?

To understand the important role riggers play in keeping skydivers and paratroopers safe, it helps to understand how a skydive rig and its 2 parachutes work.

A container is the backpack that holds the life-saving main parachute and reserve parachute. When the rig (container) is packed, there is a hackey or pull that the skydiver will “throw” while in freefall. (Military jumps may instead utilize a static line, which deploys the parachute immediately upon exit from the plane.) This releases the pilot chute, which is a small (12-18 inch) parachute designed to catch the wind. The pilot chute is attached to a cord or bridle that will then release a pin holding the container closed. Once the pin is released the bridle will continue to pull the main parachute out of its bag to fully inflate.

If for some reason the main parachute fails or has a malfunction, the skydiver will cut it away by way of a 3-ring system to eliminate entanglement, then pull his/her reserve handle, releasing the backup parachute and landing safely on the ground. After a reserve ride, there is usually a search party for the released main parachute and its bag.

Maintain and repair

Riggers help take care of, maintain and repair all the components of a skydive rig. Along with the biannual reserve repack, riggers can inspect the canopy material on the main as well, along with lines and attachment points. The container will be inspected, checking to make sure all pockets and attachment points are snug and secure, that the 3-ring system is configured and working correctly, and all handles, lines and toggles are in good shape.

The automatic activation devices (AAD)

The rigger can also install and monitor AADs or automatic activation devices, in skydive rigs. The AAD is a small computer installed in a rig that will activate the reserve deployment at a determined altitude if the fall rate exceeds a preset speed. For instance, if the skydiver is unable to pull their parachute manually, the computer will fire the reserve automatically. In cases where a skydiver may be unconscious, this is truly a lifesaving device. Some countries require all skydivers to have AADs in their rigs.

Rigger vs Master Rigger

According to Master Parachute Rigger, Marcelo Garcia:

Only a rigger can assemble an AAD, and only a Master Rigger can ‘install’.

The difference in the two words is critical:

assembly means the unit is placed in the existing pouch and channels already in the container

installation means the master rigger is actually sewing the pouch and channels in order to assemble an AAD,

so in a sense it is an alteration to the current configuration, pretty rare these days as all units come AAD ready from factory.

AAD is not mandatory, in fact AAD’s are not certificated component and the only thing the FAA can do about them is require the use and maintenance be in accordance to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Only a rigger can assemble an AAD, and only a Master Rigger can ‘install’.

The responsibility

Riggers take their responsibility very seriously, as can be read in the Rigger’s Pledge.

Bill Lee, who started as a Master Rigger with NASA, packing the shuttle ejection seats used in the first 3 Space Shuttle launches, says he’s been trying to “figure out” parachutes and how they work since before he was 8.

Lee says riggers live by the truth in that pledge – “I will be sure – always.

For every skydiver owing their rigger a chosen bottle of liquor for a life-saving reserve ride, that simple thank you can never express the gratitude it represents.

As you can see, riggers serve an incredibly important safety role in the sport and occupation of skydiving. They give us a sense of security as we go about throwing ourselves out of airplanes for the pure thrill of experiencing body flight or serving our countries by way of the skies.

Bill Lee, Master Parachute Rigger since 1984 with seat, back and chest ratings.

Bill Lee packing a fun jumper's rig. (Michelle Barrett photo)
Bill Lee packing a fun jumper’s rig. (Michelle Barrett photo)
Lee packing a tandem parachute rig. (Bill Lee photo.)
Lee packing a tandem parachute rig. (Bill Lee photo.)
Bill Lee working in his rigging loft with his favorite boss - his wife of 38 years, Suni
Bill Lee working in his rigging loft with his favorite boss – his wife of 38 years, Suni

Marcelo Garcia, Master Parachute Rigger, Course Director of the Parachute Rigging Institute and Designated Parachute Rigger Examiner for the Houston FSDO.

Garcia teaching the precise art of rigging. (Garcia photo)
Military Rigs (Garcia photo)
Military Rigs (Garcia photo)
Military parachute repacks can be exhausting! (Garcia photo)
Military parachute repacks can be exhausting! (Garcia photo)