Is Parasailing Safe?
Although parasailing is considered an “adventure” activity, it is incredibly safe. In fact, parasailing is safer than many activities we do every day, including driving, hiking, and even riding an elevator.
However, just because it is so safe doesn’t mean that there haven’t been parasailing injuries and fatalities and doesn’t mean that there aren’t some hazards associated with parasailing.
Is parasailing safe? Today we are taking a closer look at the risks of parasailing, along with tips to help improve parasail safety.
Parasailing Safety Statistics
According to data gathered by The Parasail Safety Council, as of 2012, there had been 170 million parasail rides in the US, and only 1,895 injuries and 79 fatalities. Of the injuries recorded, 1,365 minor injuries did not require hospitalization.
According to their research, parasailing is an incredibly safe activity, with minimal chances of accidents and injuries.
In fact, in 2001, the US Coast Guard stated that parasailing accidents were so infrequent that they didn’t merit intervention. However, since 2012, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of parasailers and parasailing boat operators, and no more recent research into safety and the frequency of accidents.
The risks of parasailing are low, although better tracking and reporting of incidents is needed.
According to the NTSB, almost all parasailing injuries and fatalities occur due to one of the following conditions.
The Tow Rope Breaks
Classified as “equipment failure,” a broken tow rope separates the parasailing passenger from the boat.
Parasails are not steered or guided by the passenger. So, when the tow rope breaks, the passenger is at the mercy of the wind, and they may be blown some distance before falling in the water.
When a parasailing passenger falls into the water, there is some risk that they may be entangled in the sail or harness and be unable to free themselves and float or swim to safety.
However, underlying these conditions is the fact that almost all parasailing accidents and incidents took place when people were parasailing in high winds.
High winds place unusual strain on the rope and sail and are the underlying cause of most parasailing accidents.
More rarely, parasailing accidents may be caused by other factors. These include operator errors or different types of equipment failure, such as a harness breaking or winch malfunction. But, again, these incidents are exceedingly rare, counting for only a handful of parasailing accidents over the past 20 years.
Parasailing Safety Guidelines
Unfortunately, there is little to no regulation and oversight of parasailing operations and safety regulations. In the United States, the Coast Guard certifies boat captains and marine employers but does not have special regulations or guidelines for parasailing boats or commercial parasail operators.
Interestingly, the FAA is responsible for the safety and regulation of parasails themselves, as air vehicles. However, neither agency specifically regulates commercial parasail operations.
Few states have adopted legislation specific to the safety and operation of parasailing boats.
For example, Florida has laws requiring commercial operators to carry liability insurance and require inspection and approval of parasailing equipment and procedures. On the other hand, Hawaii has general rules and regulations governing the commercial operation of boats but no regulations specific to parasailing.
Because there is a general lack of regulation and oversight, it is always a good idea for parasailers to be attentive to potential safety hazards and use caution before taking to the skies.
Personal Parasail Safety Advice
Whether you are a new or an experienced parasailer, it’s always best to take care of your safety by following these guidelines. In addition, here are some safety tips to help you choose whether parasailing is suitable for you and your family.
Before You Decide
Before deciding whether parasailing is safe for you, here are a few things to know before deciding whether parasailing is safe for you.
Be Fit and Well
While parasailing is safe and fun for kids as young as 5, here are a few things to be aware of.
- In an emergency, the crew on the boat will communicate with hand signals. You should be able to see and understand these hand signals and respond appropriately. However, if a child is too young or a person’s vision is too poor to communicate with hand signals, then parasailing may not be safe for you.
- You usually need to weigh at least 100 pounds. For most parasail harnesses to work correctly, the passenger must weigh at least 100 pounds. People who weigh less than 100 pounds should choose tandem parasail rides, where they ride with another passenger to achieve the weight guidelines.
- You need to weigh less than 450 pounds. Most parasail harnesses are only for people up to 450 pounds. If you are at or over the weight limit, parasailing may be unsafe for you.
Ask About Your Health Concerns and Conditions
Although parasailing is safe and fun, even for seniors and people with disabilities, ask your operator whether parasailing is right for you if you have a health condition. For example, you may need adaptive equipment or fly at a lower altitude or other accommodation.
You Should Be Able to Swim, or At Least Float Independently
The most common emergency landing in parasailing is to land the rider gently on the water. All parasailing passengers should be wearing flotation devices. The ability to swim will also be to your advantage.
You Should Have a Good “Head” For Heights
If you are afraid of heights, parasailing is not for you. Likewise, if you panic easily or have other anxiety symptoms, parasailing may not be for you.
Before You Book
Before choosing which parasailing operator you want to use, here are some things to review and be mindful of.
Do Your Research
When choosing a parasail location and operator, look for an established business with lots of experience and great reviews. Some parasail operations will simply “pop up” on the beach in very touristy areas, but it’s best to always choose a parasail operator with a physical location and reputation.
Observe a Flight
Parasailing requires a lot of open water and sky, which may be difficult to find near crowded beaches. The rule of thumb is that a boat should maintain 3x the flight height from the shore, so a parasailing flight at 600 feet should remain 1,800 feet away from the shoreline and at least 400 feet from any other obstacle. If possible, observe a parasailing flight in action and ensure that they operate in clear water before you book.
Before You Fly
On the day of your parasailing adventure, here are a few more safety tips to keep in mind:
Check the Weather
Never parasail in foggy or rainy weather, and check that the forecast is clear for hours. It is unsafe to parasail in sustained winds higher than 20 mph, and 15 is optimal. Always check weather conditions and forecast; don’t risk parasailing if winds are expected to increase speed. A good rule of thumb is that if it’s too windy to set up a beach umbrella, it’s too windy to go parasailing.
Use Your Eyes
When booking your parasail adventure, look carefully at the boat and equipment. The boat should appear clean and well maintained. Ropes, lines, harnesses, and other equipment should look whole and new, not faded and frayed.
Review the Waiver
Most parasailing operators will ask you to sign a waiver or release form before flying. Make sure that they review the document carefully with you, and read and understand it.
A pre-flight safety briefing is required by law, and parasailing operators will do it even where it isn’t mandatory. During this briefing, the operator should describe the equipment, give safety precautions, and review emergency procedures, including hand signals.
Always wear a life vest or flotation device when parasailing.
If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable about parasailing at any time, do not take to the air. You can pay a reduced fare to simply ride the boat as a passenger. However, because this industry is unregulated, you must protect yourself and be aware of your own safety.
If injured while parasailing, make sure to report your injury to the local Coast Guard in that area. Reporting injuries helps to improve oversight and prevent future accidents.
Statistically, there are 3-5 million parasailing rides every year in the US, and only about 1 or 2 fatalities.
While parasailing is an incredibly safe activity, there are few regulations and oversight of operators. So, it can be hard to guarantee that each one is operating as safely as possible. However, because parasailing is so safe, there is little regulation: If there were more incidents and accidents, there would be more rules and enforcement.
In the meantime, be aware of the weather and wind, the condition of your parasailing equipment, and the reputation of your operator to ensure that you have the safest and most fun parasailing adventure possible.