Each year three to five million people in the United States and its territories participate in parasailing, a recreational activity that is dependent on the skill of the parasail operator and condition of the equipment. Yet, there are no federal regulations or guidelines for training or certifying parasailing operators, no requirement for inspection of equipment, and no requirement to suspend operations during inclement weather conditions.
Towed by a boat and suspended 500 feet or more above the water, a parasailing participant is vulnerable to changing weather conditions. Even in ideal weather, failure of a weak towline or worn harness can result in serious injury and death. A July 1, 2014 report of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) cited accidents that occurred in Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina and the U.S. Virgin Islands that resulted in eight deaths and five injuries.
A boat captain is under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard, but when a parasail participant launches in the air, the Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for oversight. When a parasailer crashes ashore, the local police department gets involved. The resulting overlap makes it difficult for the agencies to police captains operating unsafe parasailing businesses.
NTSB Report Asks for Participation between Agencies
In its July report, the NTSB issued new safety recommendations to the United States Coast Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators that are aimed at improving safety for parasailing passengers and operators.
To the United States Coast Guard:
- Begin licensing boat captains who operate parasails and inspect their boats.
- Incorporate by reference ASTM International’s parasailing standards to govern all parasailing operations.
To the Federal Aviation Administration:
- Request assistance from the Coast Guard to enforce existing Federal Aviation Administration regulations applicable to parasailing operations.
- Take appropriate action to ensure that all existing regulations intended to separate parasailing and aircraft operations are in harmony and consistently applied nationwide to reduce the risk of midair collisions.
- Work with the Coast Guard to resolve conflicts between FAA aircraft right-of-way provisions over sailing vessels, and following existing international and inland navigation rules, give right-of-way to parasailing vessels due to their restricted ability to maneuver.
To the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators:
- Draft an act to be used as a framework for state legislation to reduce the risk associated with parasailing.
As the sport grows in popularity, so will the number of parasailing fatal and near-fatal accidents. According to Mark McCulloh, chair of the Parasail Safety Council and one of the sport’s pioneers, without regulation parasailing could go the way of bungee-jumping, an industry crushed by high liability insurance costs.