Living and working in South Florida, our maritime lawyers have seen an unfortunate number of victims succumb to parasailing accidents. Earlier this year, two teens were seriously injured in a parasailing accident in Panama City Beach, Florida after their parasail tow detached from the vessel. This incident showed the risks associated with the sport and served as a clear reminder that things can take a turn for the worst at any moment.
According to the Parasail Safety Council, which tracks parasailing injuries and deaths nationwide, over 70 people have been killed in parasailing accidents and at least 1,600 have sustained injuries between 1982 and 2012. During that 30-year span, an estimated 150 million people went on parasail rides, placing themselves at risk for serious – if not fatal – injuries. The casualty rate is roughly one per 90,000 rides.
Although parasailing is a popular and fun water activity, sadly and despite the dangers associated with the sport and countless accidents, there have not been any official regulations governing the industry or tour operators in Florida or the United States as a whole. That is, until now.
Florida Passes Statute 327 Requiring Extra Safety Precautions and Licensure for Parasailing Companies
We are excited to announce that finally, safety standards have been set for Florida’s commercial parasailing industry. On October 14, Florida legislators revised maritime safety laws to include parasailing businesses. Now, thanks to Florida Statute 327, all parasailing operators will be required to abide by several safety standards, which will hopefully drastically decrease the number of parasailing accidents in the future and ensure the activities remain both fun and safe.
Statute 327 establishes the following stipulations on the commercial parasailing industry:
- Requires operators to document weather conditions before commencing a trip.
- Limits the time and location where parasailing tours can be held.
- Requires operators to bring an additional observer on the trip to help monitor conditions.
- Mandates operators to carry liability insurance.
- Requires operators to be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The decision to move forward with this legislation is monumental. Parasailing accidents are mostly caused by operator negligence, and without any regulations on the industry, operators have been able to get away with these negligent actions on numerous occasions and have not been held responsible for the accidents they may have caused. The lack of regulations on the industry has also led to a lax parasailing industry where many operators are not held to any safety standards.
How Parasailing Accidents Usually Happen
Many parasailing accidents are due to equipment failure, because operators do not properly maintain their parasailing gear in safe working condition. Several accidents happen because tow lines snap and the parasail untethers. Others are the result of operator inexperience. Some operators barely have a clue how to man the helm of their vessels, let alone understand the complex methods of maintaining equipment in top shape.
For example, Shannon Kraus, the mother of two girls who were involved in a parasailing accident in 2007, is one of many who were both frustrated and appalled at the lack of regulatory action taken against parasailing operators. Kraus’ two girls were injured when their parasailing line broke during a storm and caused the girls to crash into a hotel in Pompano Beach. One of her daughters, 15-year-old Amber May White, died of her injuries, while her other daughter Crystal, then 16 years old, sustained severe head injuries.
Just five years after the Whites’ parasailing accident in the same beach, another life was taken early by a faulty parasailing harness. The victim, 28-year-old Kathleen Miskell, of Connecticut, died after falling roughly 150 feet into the ocean on Aug. 15. It took this death to prompt an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, which had never looked into a parasailing death before.
This new legislation will hopefully ensure operators are doing their job – running safe operations – each and every time.
When parasailing accidents do occur, they usually involve victims falling from great heights. This leads to severe – if not fatal – injuries. When tows snap, victims often crash into buildings, trees, and other structures, or fall onto the pavement below. Those who fall into the sea may not be able to free themselves from the parasail, and may end up drowning. There are numerous consequences that come from operator negligence, but now this law will ensure there are regulations in place to hopefully prevent similar tragedies in the future. Hopefully, also, other states follow suit and enact safety laws of their own for the parasailing industry.