Every year, as many as five million people go parasailing. Thankfully, there are very few instances of injury or death caused by this sport. But being strapped into a harness and dragged by a speeding boat while over 400 feet above the water does come with potential dangers.
Parasailing is usually safe. In over 170 million parasailing adventures, fewer than 80 have resulted in death and fewer than 2,000 led to an injury. Most parasailing catastrophes are caused by equipment failure, particularly a detached towline. Choosing a gondola (rather than a harness) is safer.
Before you schedule that parasailing ride near the beach, take a few minutes to learn about parasailing and safety. Read on to find out what parasailing really is, how it can be dangerous, and what you can do to stay safe!
An Overview of Parasailing
If you’ve ever spent time on the beach, then you’ve probably seen parasailers enjoying a sky-high adventure off in the distance.
Parasailing is considered a watersport.
Whether you’re strapped into a harness or sitting in a gondola, you’ll be attached to a canopy (parachute-like device) and secured to a speedboat below you via a towline. The combination of the boat dragging you and the canopy keeping you airborne will have you floating over 400 feet above the rippling ocean waves below.
Let’s talk about how you get up into the air in the first place.
What to Expect When Parasailing
You’re probably wondering how you get from sitting in a speedboat to soaring over 40 stories in the air. The first step of your adventure requires you to find a reputable parasailing company and venture off-shore in a boat piloted by the operators.
You’ll then be strapped into a harness or a gondola.
A harness allows you to essentially hang from the canopy and is somewhat like sitting in a swing 400 feet up. Gondolas, which are inherently safer than harnesses, are like little chairs that you’ll sit in.
The operators will inflate the canopy behind the moving boat and release it into the air. You’ll then be strapped into your harness and be checked for safety before liftoff. Simply sit on the deck and enjoy the ride as the operators extend the towline and send you airborne.
The Parasailing Safety Statistics
It’s easy to say that parasailing is usually safe. It helps a bit more to look at the statistics to find out what you’re really getting yourself into when you go parasailing.
Here’s what you need to know:
- In the last 30 or so years, over 170 million people have gone parasailing.
- About 83% of all parasailers choose to use a harness set-up rather than a gondola.
- Harness parasailing has resulted in approximately 1,885 injuries.
- Only 10 out of a total of 29 million gondola parasailing adventures have caused an injury.
- Parasailing with a harness has resulted in 79 fatalities (gondolas have none).
- Most parasailing injuries and deaths are caused by equipment failure.
So what does this mean for you?
Nearly 80 deaths and close to 2,000 injuries via harness parasailing does sound like a lot. Yet, when you consider the fact that this is out of 141 million rides over the course of three decades, the chances of you becoming injured or dying while parasailing is extremely small.
Either way, there is always a chance of catastrophe.
What’s also clear in the statistics is that using a gondola to parasail is much safer. There are very few injuries attributed to this type of set-up and so far, nobody has died.
What Makes Parasailing Dangerous
As much as a risk of injury or death is extremely rare with parasailing, there’s still a lingering chance. After all, there’s no shortage of YouTube videos showing parasailers crashing down into the ocean or even breaking loose and soaring through a cityscape.
Let’s talk about why parasailing injuries and deaths happen in the first place.
Lack of Regulations
You might expect the government to have rules and regulations when it comes to potentially dangerous activities like parasailing. Unfortunately, there are currently no federal regulations when it comes to parasailing or businesses involved in the practice.
Unless your state has laws in place to control the parasailing business, then there’s a good chance that the parasailing company you choose doesn’t require any certifications or licenses for its operators.
But there is one rule in place.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that parasailers are not hoisted over 500 feet above the ground. This is to limit possible interference with planes and helicopters that might be flying in the area.
There’s a lot of equipment that goes into providing a safe parasailing adventure. Yet, a lack of quality equipment can be absolutely catastrophic for parasailers.
That comes in the form of worn and torn equipment.
The towline is what keeps you attached to the boat as you’re parasailing. So it’s important that the towline is at optimal strength and is at no risk for breaking, tearing, fraying, or even becoming sun-damaged. The longer a towline is used, the weaker it becomes.
This isn’t normally an issue if you’re choosing to parasail with a reputable company. These businesses will swap out worn equipment in order to keep passengers safe.
Piggybacking off of the previous point, there’s the concept of complete equipment failure. This is what ends up causing a good portion of the injuries and deaths that are associated with parasailing. And the main culprit is usually the towline.
This is sometimes called a “parted towline.”
The biggest issue with a parted towline is that you’re no longer attached to the boat. That means the direction that you’re traveling in and the speed at which you’re going is entirely dependent on the wind and the canopy you’re attached to.
There have been plenty of cases where a detached towline led to parasailing passengers being dragged through the water or even crashing into buildings onshore. Forcefully being dragged through the water can cause broken bones or even drowning.
So once you become detached from the boat, there’s no way for you or the boat operators to control your movement.
The actual boat that you’re being dragged behind can also cause some safety issues as a parasailer. If the boat suddenly stops moving as quickly as it should (or stops altogether), you might experience a sudden drop in altitude that can send you tumbling toward the ocean below.
Poor Weather Conditions
The good news is that most parasailing companies won’t offer services if the weather is poor or if a storm is on the horizon. That’s because any type of bad weather can be extremely dangerous to parasailers.
That includes snow, rain, lightning, and heavy winds. Any of these weather conditions can cause the towline to break or even impact the direction you’re going in.
Harness vs. Gondola
The statistics show that it’s much safer to parasail when attached to a gondola instead of a harness. And there are actually quite a few reasons for that.
Here’s what you need to know.
A harness gives you a bit more of an exhilarating experience. It feels like you’re sitting in a swing 40 stories in the air and you have a little more freedom to move and feel free.
Yet, equipment failure or even heavy winds while strapped into a harness set-up is very dangerous. There’s a good chance you’ll be thrown around like a ragdoll and unable to prevent any injuries that occur during an accident.
On the other, gondolas keep you strapped into a device with a secure set-up. So even if there is some type of accident, the gondola will help to prevent serious bodily injury and even includes a floatation device to keep you from drowning.
Parasailing & Safety Measures
Though there aren’t any legitimate regulations to parasailing at the federal level, there are features of the equipment that are designed to keep you safe during your ride.
Here’s what you need to know about safety equipment:
- Canopies are extremely durable and are resistant to ripping and tearing in normal conditions (not typically a cause of an accident).
- Harnesses will keep you locked in with one strap on each side.
- The use of a winch allows the towline to slowly be extended and retracted to keep your movements steady and gradual.
- You’ll be shown a brief safety video before parasailing to have a general idea of what you should do in case of an emergency.
In just about every case, you won’t ever have to worry about an injury when parasailing. That’s assuming you choose a company that has a good reputation and years of experience.
Here’s a video that shows what you should expect in terms of safety when parasailing. This is probably what you’ll be viewing shortly before getting on the boat and heading off-shore.
What You Can Do to Stay Safe
As much as you’d like to be able to put blind trust in a parasailing company, there aren’t any regulations that they’re required to follow. That means you’ll want to be doing your own research and guaranteeing the safest ride possible for you and your family.
Let’s talk about what you can do to stay safe when parasailing.
Choose a Good Company
Just because a business advertises itself as a parasailing business, that doesn’t mean that it’s a business that you can trust. Since there aren’t any federal regulations, anyone with a boat and a canopy can claim to be a parasailing business.
The most important thing you can do is choose a reputable company.
You’ll want to be doing your research to find out how long each business has been providing this exact service. If a company has been in business for 20 years and has had no injuries or fatalities, then there’s a pretty good chance they have internal regulations that they follow.
Now isn’t the time to try to save a couple of bucks.
Parasailing might cost you upwards of $100 for a single experience, but it’s better to spend a little more on a safer company than risk injury just to save $20.
Scout Out the Equipment
You should be able to depend on the operators of the boat to make sure that your equipment is safe and ready to use. But before you allow them to strap on that harness, check out the equipment that they’re having you use.
So what should you look for?
Since most accidents occur as a result of a faulty towline, that’s the first thing that you’ll want to take a look at. Towlines that are knotted, frayed, torn, or even fading in color are much more likely to snap in heavy winds.
A reputable company will replace towlines as needed for safety. Yet, a company looking to cut costs might delay these replacements as long as possible.
You also want to take a close look at the harness you’re being strapped into. Though you might not understand how it’s meant to look, it’s easy to tell if it’s been overused or is worn away or tearing at the seams.
That harness is what keeps you attached to the boat, so don’t be lenient with quality.
The clearest cut sign that you need to find another parasailing business to use is if they seem reluctant to replace broken equipment. If your harness seems to be duct-taped together or if the towline seems to have been torn and knotted back together, go elsewhere!
Keep an Eye on the Weather
Unfortunately, some parasailing businesses will allow their operators to take parasailers out in bad weather to make a quick buck. Even if you’re on your last day of vacation and desperate to parasail, remember the risk that comes along with high winds and even rain.
Check the weather forecast up to a few minutes before you head out to the business’s location. If there’s even the slightest risk of rain or wind for the rest of the day, it’s best to hold off for another time, even if they’re still willing to take you out.
Vet the Company
Some shady companies will do whatever it takes to secure a greater customer base. That might even mean going against typical safety protocols. That’s exactly why you need to be the one guaranteeing that safety is at the forefront.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Make sure that the operators on the boat have basic CPR and first aid certifications in case of an emergency.
- Check to see that the boat itself has fire extinguishers on board and seems to be running in perfect condition.
- Ask the boat operators how close you’ll be getting from shore (the standard is that you should be at least three times further from shore than your towline is long).
- See that the company is a member of the Watersports Industry Association (WSIA) to guarantee greater safety regulations.
Choosing the wrong company could lead you to a potentially dangerous situation that’s entirely avoidable. Trust your gut and move on to another company if you feel one isn’t sitting right with you inside.
Use the Equipment Properly
There’s a good chance that you don’t consider yourself to be an expert in safety equipment for parasailing. But you also want to be sure that you’re wearing your equipment properly in case something goes wrong.
That means your harness should fit snugly and shouldn’t be in danger of slipping off in any situation. Make sure that your harness is sitting toward the center of your thighs. You also want to make sure that you’re wearing a lifejacket at all times.
If you sense that something is amiss with your harness or life jacket, be sure to alert the boat operators before going into the air. It’s better to be absolutely sure that your equipment is working properly than to figure that out when you’re 400 feet in the air.
Choose a Gondola
As much as you might be craving the feeling of floating through the sky when parasailing, a harness set-up is typically seen as more dangerous.
A gondola is the safest option because it reduces your risk of injury or death. If you do happen to hit some turbulence or the towline breaks, there’s a greater chance of safety since gondolas will float on the water. That lowers your risk of drowning.
The good news is that the risk of becoming injured while parasailing is extremely small. To guarantee yourself an enjoyable experience where you don’t get injured, you need to make sure that you’re choosing the right company.
Make sure that any equipment being used is in good condition and that your harness and life jacket fit snugly. Avoid parasailing in high winds or even if there’s a storm in the forecast later on in the day. Most importantly, trust your gut and walk away from a parasailing business that seems to be lacking in safety procedures.