By Tracy Murrell
One year ago, on July 1, 2013, two young women were seriously injured while parasailing in Panama City Beach, Florida. Their towline broke in high winds, sending their canopy on a terrifying, uncontrolled flight into the concrete face of a beachfront condominium, before they finally fell onto the roof of a parked car.
What started as a chance to enjoy an hour of the thrill, adventure, and panoramic views of parasailing, resulted in many months of painful recovery from serious injuries.
The NTSB has released a special investigation report focused on parasailing safety, and a safety alert to operators of parasailing businesses.
Three to five million Americans enjoy parasailing every year and the majority of those experiences end without incident. But when something does go wrong, the consequences can be deadly. The NTSB Special Investigation Report looked at accidents in parasailing, and what can be done to prevent them in the future.
As Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart said,
“An afternoon of parasailing can have tragic results if something as simple as a weak towline, strong winds, or a worn harness causes a serious accident. It is crucial that operators are competent and aware of all the risks associated with parasailing.”
Right now, no federal regulations or guidelines establish specific training or certification requirements for parasailing operators, and with the exception of a few states, there is no requirement to suspend operations in bad weather.
The NTSB’s experience is that voluntary standards are only as good as those operators who choose to use them. Inevitably, some operators cut corners on safety to save on costs. But establishing a single standard of safety levels the playing field for those safety-conscious operators.
In the report, the NTSB makes recommendations to the United States Coast Guard and the Federal Aviation Administration to bridge the regulatory gap. We also recommend that the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators draft a model act as a basis for state legislation.
In the safety alert, we spell out what operators of parasailing businesses can do now to raise the level of safety in their operations.
If you’re an operator of a parasailing business, we urge you to read the alert. Replace equipment as appropriate. And, if you have any doubt about weather or any other factor described in the alert, err on the side of caution.
If you’re planning to parasail this weekend, don’t put your safety solely in the hands of others.
Before you parasail, do your homework. Research the company, ask questions and be curious. Be aware of the weather forecast and look at the equipment your operator is using. Simple things like frayed ropes may be easy to spot.
And don’t hesitate to ask the operators of the parasailing business you use whether they’ve seen the report and safety alert. If they have not, urge them to review it.
Because safety never takes a holiday.
Tracy Murrell is Director of NTSB’s Office of Marine Safety.