(Published in the June 2006 issue of Skydiving Magazine.)
If the used skydiving gear you are buying isn't local or hasn't been serviced by your local rigger recently, a "pre-buy" inspection should be a condition of the final sale. Having an established rigger, rigging loft or drop zone owner act as the middle-man in all used gear purchases not only protects the buyer, but also the seller.
As the potential buyer, you want to know the used container, canopy or automatic opener is as advertised and is airworthy. You also want to make sure the container actually fits you.
Once you've determined a certain piece of used skydiving gear seems to be the right size, condition and price, you will want to make arrangements to have the items shipped to your rigger for a pre-buy inspection. If this involves a container, make sure you arrange to be there after delivery to make the most important determination: fit. If the container doesn't fit properly, it's not going to matter if it's airworthy or not. Harnesses can be modified or resized, but the cost of harness work can add hundreds of dollars to your used gear purchase.
Before shipping, the seller will want to know you have the money for the gear. The rigger, rigging loft or drop zone receiving the gear for the pre-buy inspection can hold a check, money order or credit card information as an escrow service, pending the pre-buy inspection. If the buyer is happy with the gear, payment can be sent to the buyer with the gear staying in possession of the rigger until payment has cleared. This protects the seller from a bum buyer running off with the gear without paying.
The details of who pays for shipping to the rigger (and who would pay for the shipping back if the gear doesn't fit or isn't what was expected) should be worked out beforehand. It should also be decided who pays for the inspection/rigging of the gear (usually the buyer).
If the gear is as advertised and fits, payment is sent. Once payment clears, the seller contacts the rigger or drop zone to release the gear to the buyer. If the gear isn't as advertised, or there is extra repair work that needs to be completed by the rigger, then a discussion has to take place to decide if the gear goes back to the seller or if a lower price is negotiated.
Most of the time if the seller agrees to a pre-buy inspection and the buyer agrees to an escrow service arrangement of payment, the deal goes smoothly. More than likely the gear will be as advertised and the payment will clear.
New skydivers should beware and shy away from a skydiver selling gear that won't agree to a pre-buy inspection. And above all else, ask your trusted instructor or rigger about any used (or new) gear deal before purchase.