Having gotten its start in the '80s, parasailing has become one of the most widely recognized activities within the expansive water sports category. Countless beachgoers engage in the adrenaline-inducing sport during their vacations and a great majority walk away unscathed and absolutely enthralled after having floated hundreds of feet above the surface of the water.
Nevertheless, the combination of high elevation, unpredictable weather conditions, and the discretion of the boat driver can quickly turn motorized parasailing into a water sports injury nightmare.
For those who've never experienced it or who have never seen a parasail, it's quite normal to question if parasailing is dangerous. The fact of the matter is, parasailing can be considered to be almost risk-free if the proper safety measures are followed. However, this same assertion can be made about all water sports: as long as safety precautions are followed, no injuries should result.
This being said, when it comes to parasailing, such measures lie not on the patrons who are paying for the experience but rather on the companies offering the service.
Regrettably, implementing the necessary safety precautions to ensure injury-free parasailing can often clash with a business's bottom line. As is often the case, concerns regarding the bottom line will often win out over concerns of safety, especially if the consequences of this erroneous decision do not manifest until months or years of operation down the road.
This is in lieu of companies advertising their adrenaline-inducing experiences as safe, when in fact, death often results from related mishaps.
The National Transporation Safety Board (NTSB) is the federal agency responsible for investigating parasailing accidents and providing regulatory recommendations for avoiding such tragedies.
Of note is the fact that the NTSB did not begin actively monitoring parasailing accidents until 2009, and their first report on such incidents was not released until 2014. This timeline is of note given that a woman was killed in a parasailing accident in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 2012; in 2013, two teens likewise faced critical injuries after a similar accident in the Sunshine state.
While both of these incidents were investigated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, it's possible that if legislation had been enacted sooner, the death and life-changing injuries would never have happened.
Upon its' release, the NTSB's Special Investigation Report (NTSB/SIR-14/02 PB2014-106341) revealed that, between 2009 and 2014, 8 independent parasailing accidents had taken place in the United States, mostly in Florida. All of these were quite serious in nature, with the parasailers either perishing or suffering severe injuries.
It's possible that more incidents than those indicated on the NTSB's report took place, but they were simply not reported to authorities. Furthermore, no additional reports have been released since the initial one.
In the 2014 report's conclusion, several safety recommendations were posed to the Coast Guard (USCG), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA).
Such federal investigations have not prevented further incidents from occurring. As recently as 2020, a parasailing accident in Key West, Florida, claimed the lives of two tourists. Nicholas Hayward of Costa Rica was pronounced dead soon after the incident. Azalea Silva of Texas initially survived and was transported to a Trauma Center in Miami-Dade County; she would later pass.
After investigating, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issued a warrant that led to the boat driver being charged for manslaughter. Yet, such criminal proceedings are hardly sufficient in bringing closure to grieving families.
Simply put, more must be done to implement regulations that ensure such mishaps don't happen. Sadly, special interests, among other obstacles, have prevented effective statutes from being established.
The NTSB's report found a number of factors that tend to play a part when parasailing goes wrong. In almost all of the cases, the accident and resulting injuries or deaths were directly related to equipment failure. Regrettably, and as alluded to above, this means that patrons have little if any control when it comes to preventing an accident.
Many of the incidents analyzed in the report point to issues with tow-lines being the direct cause of the accident.
The tow-line connecting to the vessel must be able to handle a significant amount of force each time the parasail goes up. Over time, the line can wear down, until it eventually "parts" and the parasail is left disconnected from the boat, floating high in the air at the mercy of strong winds.
Oftentimes, sails that come unattached to the boat can crash into the water with force or even hit nearby buildings.
The harness is what holds passengers onto the parasail itself. Any kind of failure in the harness while the parasail is up in the air can cause the passenger to plummet as many as 500 feet down to the surface of the water or a nearby beach.
As the boat moves forward, it creates the force that causes the parasail to loft higher in a relatively controlled manner. However, engine failure and loss of propulsion can cause the boat operator to lose control of the parasail (and the passengers) which, once more, leaves them at the mercy of weather conditions.
Additionally, parasails are designed to float softly back down to the water if they are not being pulled forward. This sounds safe enough, except when they finally hit the water, the passengers are at risk of drowning as the large fabric of the parasail can fall on top of them and prevent them from surfacing.
It should go without saying, but weather conditions are one of the biggest concerns when parasailing.
Strong winds can apply undue force on a tow-line, causing it to snap. A gust of wind can also cause the boat to crash, take on water, capsize, or otherwise prevent safe operation.
On the seas, an approaching storm can roll in quite quickly. Naturally, most companies are bound by regulations that prevent them from operating in inclement weather.
Yet, the concern is when conditions are on the right on the border of being too dangerous. Operators may "try their luck" and go out on the water with patrons with the hope that they will improve or, in the least, not get worse.
Yet, changes in weather can occur expeditiously and, if operators don't react swiftly, patrons can be put at risk by gusting winds.
Since the NTSB's sobering report, many states have enacted legislation that put safety regulations in place to prevent such incidents. However, accidents continue to manifest and unsuspecting parasailing patrons continue suffering injuries or losing their lives.
When the negligence of parasail companies negatively impacts the lives of their' paying clients, victims can seek justice. By leveraging the civil justice system and seeking the representation of a parasailing accident lawyer, victims have a chance at being made whole once more, even if their injury cannot be undone or if a loved one cannot be brought back.
If you've been the victim of the negligence of a parasailing business, or if a loved one lost their life in a parasailing accident, you may have the potential to seek substantial compensation via a civil lawsuit for any personal and financial losses you've suffered.
Unsure if you have a valid claim? Get in touch with our team today for a free, no-obligation consultation. You owe it to yourself to know the truth, and if you're able to seek compensation, you owe it to others to prevent them from suffering the same undue fate.