Smooth Sailing?

Surrounded on three sides by magnificent waterways, the Florida peninsula offers a great variety of water activities, including fishing, sailboating, windsurfing, paddleboarding, canoeing, and snorkeling. One of the more unique recreational choices is parasailing, where a giant parachute lifts you hundreds of feet in the air, as you take in beautiful views. But what begins as a peaceful ride can end very badly.

At its most basic level, parasailing consist of harnessing yourself to a huge nylon object that uses the power of the wind to pull you in one direction while a boat motor tries to pull you in the opposite direction. The only thing connecting you to the boat while these forces battle is the “towline” – a long rope made of strands that are constantly exposed to saltwater and sunlight, which weaken them a little with every use. In fact, most cases of injury or death associated with parasailing occur when the towline breaks. In a 2011 Marine Safety Alert, the U.S. Coast Guard stated that failures occurred significantly below the rated towline strengths due to a variety of reasons, including cyclic loading, long-term exposure to environmental elements, the presence of knots, and overloading. It’s important to realize that as wind speeds double, the load on the line can quadruple, leading to serious strain.

Other common reasons for parasailing accidents include:

  • Failure to account for weather-related risks such as heavy winds or tropical storms
  • Failure to use proper safety equipment
  • Failure to give adequate instruction
  • Flying parasailers too close to shore
  • Flying more than 600 feet above the water
  • Inability to escape/evacuate from the harness following an unplanned water landing
  • Using inexperienced boat captains or crews
  • Using faulty, damaged or unmaintained equipment.

Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board completed its first large-scale investigative report into parasailing safety and found the industry to be "largely unregulated with serious accidents frequently caused by faulty equipment." Parasailing accidents often result in catastrophic injuries such as back and spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, head injuries, broken bones and even wrongful death.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, from 2001 to 2012, six people died and 18 were injured in 19 parasailing accidents in Florida alone. For example, a woman was killed in 2010 in Clearwater Beach when her towline failed in high winds and her chute’s inflated canopy dragged her across the beach into the pole of a volleyball net. A man drowned in 2011 in Longboat Key after the boat pulling him lost power and he landed in the water. In 2012, a woman in Pompano Beach fell 450 feet after her harness failed, which prompted Florida to try a third time to institute parasailing regulation.

Although that bill failed, a fourth try yielded passage of the White-Miskell Act, which took effect last July and is enforced largely by the Coast Guard. The law requires parasail operators to carry certain levels of liability insurance and to have weather monitoring equipment on board. Commercial parasailing is not allowed during sustained winds of more than 20 miles per hour or higher, if wind gusts are 15 miles per hour higher than the sustained wind speed, if the wind speed during gusts exceeds 25 miles per hour, if rain or heavy fog reduces visibility by less than a half mile, or if a known lightning storm is within 7 miles of the parasailing area. Unfortunately, the bill neither addresses maintaining the equipment nor sets any standards for regulating training or inspections.

If you have any questions about this topic or believe that a parasail owner/operator is responsible for your injuries, the attorneys at Stabinski Law can help. For 45 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families throughout South Florida. We offer risk-free consultations and work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf. Feel free to contact us by calling 305-643-3100 or filling out a free case evaluation form.

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