Parasailing is an extremely popular sport in Florida. Between 3 to 5 million people enjoy parasailing every year, with Florida being one of the most popular states for this sport. While parasailing is statistically very safe, accidents do happen and they can be horrifying.
What is Parasailing?
Parasailing involves a boat pulling a parachute, called a canopy, in which one or multiple people are harnessed. Parasails can reach 500 feet into the air or more, providing a spectacular view and a feeling of flying. People may be harnessed to the canopy in a style similar to a parachutist or they can sit in a gondola, somewhat like a seat on a Ferris wheel. If harnessed, the parasailor generally begins on the boat and then is reeled back in to land again on the boat. If in a gondola, they land in the water, since the gondola is somewhat like a paddleboat.
Parasail accident causes and statistics
According to the Parasail Safety Council, more than 70 people have been killed and at least 1,800 injured in parasail accidents between 1982 and 2012, out of an estimated 170 million rides. Clearly, the sport is statistically safe, but accidents tend to be quite serious.
Gondolas are much safer than harnesses. Of 520 serious accidents reviewed that required hospitalization, only 2 occurred in gondolas.
At least 95% of accidents occurred due to the passengers being unable to free themselves from the harnesses when something went wrong, particularly following unexpected water landings due to high winds.
Causes of accidents include:
- Equipment failure caused by poor maintenance, malfunction, or being improperly harnessed
- Towline separation from the boat
- Uneven speed of the boat, whether due to operating error, high winds, or choppy waters
- Canopy rotation due to winds or a puncture or tear, increasing the risk of towline breakage
- Line popping – becoming slack and then taut again – due to varying boat speed or crosswinds, which can cause whiplash
- Hard landings in the water or on the boat deck, or crashing into other obstacles if the canopy has been separated from the boat
- Drowning or injury due to being dragged through the water by a separated canopy that is still catching air
- High winds or bad weather, both of which can cause most of these problems
How to avoid accidents
In summary, the biggest dangers of parasailing are equipment failure due to poor quality or negligence and equipment failure due to bad weather. The Parasail Safety Council recommends the following:
- Only parasail with well-established businesses, not with operators on the beach.
- Visually inspect all equipment and ask to see the maintenance logs and safety history of the establishment. If they don’t show you, don’t fly with them.
- Listen carefully to the pre-flight safety briefing and carefully discuss the safety release forms. If the business doesn’t give you a safety briefing or explain the release, don’t fly with them.
- Never fly in the rain or fog and avoid parasailing in winds over 15mph. Do not fly if a storm front is moving in.
- Do not fly beyond 600 feet of the boat (the operator should specify how high or far you will go) and maintain communication with the captain and crew. The farther away from the boat you are, the greater the risk of the line snapping and the longer it will take to reel you in or rescue you if the weather turns or something goes wrong.
- The distance from the shoreline should be at least three times the length of the tow line. Never parasail with an operator that does not follow this safety principle.
What to do if you’re injured
If you are injured in a parasailing accident, seek medical attention immediately. Document what happened as soon as possible, and also take statements from witnesses (or have loved ones take statements if you are unable). Keep all records, and document all conversations or actions taken by you or the parasail operators. Check the weather reports for that day and clearly describe what the weather was like and how the equipment performed.
Do not make any statements to the insurance company, and keep your statements to the police to the basic facts. Don’t post on social media or other public places. As soon as you are able, bring all your documentation to an experienced personal injury lawyer in Florida who has expertise in handling injuries caused by parasailing and other water sports and amusement park accidents.
As a Florida personal injury lawyer, I am committed to helping both Florida residents and visitors to our beautiful state receive just and fair compensation to help them cope with the injuries they have sustained as a result of someone else’s negligence. Contact me at (954) 448-7288, 24/7 for a free consultation to see how I can help you.