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Facing the Wind: The Hidden Dangers of Parasailing and Your Legal Rights

Town Law Publishing July 2, 2023

As the boat accelerates, a rush of adrenaline surges through you. The parachute lifts, you ascend, and suddenly you're soaring hundreds of feet above the water. This is parasailing, a popular watersport that offers thrill-seekers an exhilarating, bird's-eye view of the world. Despite its serene appearance, however, parasailing carries inherent risks that every participant should understand.

The Unexpected Risks of Parasailing

Parasailing is often perceived as a carefree pastime, but the statistics reveal a different story. According to the Parasail Safety Council, out of an estimated three to five million parasailers each year, an average of 60 parasailing accidents occur annually. Over 30 years, the council estimates a total of 1,800 injuries and fatalities have occurred.

When accidents do happen, they can be catastrophic, primarily due to the heights involved and the potential for equipment failure or operator error. The top causes of parasailing accidents include:

  • Landing problems: Strong winds can snap the tether line, leading to crashes into trees, buildings, or the ground.

  • Boat collisions: These can halt the parasailers' velocity, causing the canopy to deflate and the parasailers to plummet towards the sea.

  • Mechanical failures: This could involve a harness breaking mid-flight or a towline getting stuck, causing parasailers to fall from great heights.

  • Weak towlines: If the parasailing trip encounters strong winds, a weak towline could snap, causing the parasailers to be carried long distances and possibly crash into objects.

  • Operator errors: These can range from failing to conduct a visual inspection of the safety equipment, flying in poor weather conditions, allowing too much slack in the towline, releasing too much towline causing the parasailers to fly above the approved elevation, failing to conduct a proper pre-flight safety briefing, or conducting parasailing activities too close to the shoreline.

The Legal Angle: When Can You Sue?

If you or a loved one have been injured in a parasailing accident, you may be wondering about your legal rights. While parasailing operators usually require participants to sign waivers, these documents do not always absolve the operators of all responsibilities.

In many cases, parasailing accidents are a result of negligence, whether it's due to faulty equipment, poor maintenance, inadequate training, or operator error. If an operator has failed to uphold a duty of care to their customers – for example, by disregarding weather warnings or using substandard equipment – they may be held liable for any resulting injuries or damages.

It is crucial to consult with an experienced attorney who can help you navigate the legal intricacies and determine the best course of action.

A Call for Greater Regulation

Currently, the oversight of parasailing safety leaves much to be desired. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates parasailing flight activities, and the U.S. Coast Guard oversees the vessels that tow parasailers. Still, neither body directly supervises the sport's equipment or passenger safety while flying. Moreover, there is little oversight of parasailing operator training, which is not standardized or regulated by an industry organization.

The lack of comprehensive regulation underscores the need for potential parasailing participants to educate themselves about the risks involved, the safety record of the operator, and the condition of the equipment before deciding to participate. Advocacy for better regulation of this industry, including operator training and equipment standards, is essential for ensuring that everyone can enjoy this sport with the peace of mind that comes from knowing safety is a top priority.

In the meantime, potential parasailers should take steps to protect themselves. This could involve asking operators about their safety procedures, checking weather conditions before the trip, and ensuring they understand how to use the provided safety equipment.

Parasailing offers a thrilling experience that's hard to match. However, like any sport, it has its risks. The industry's current safety and regulation standards fall short of what they should be, leaving participants exposed to potential dangers. If you or a loved one has been injured in a parasailing accident, consult with a knowledgeable attorney to understand your rights and potential remedies.

As the saying goes, 'Forewarned is forearmed.' By understanding the risks associated with parasailing and knowing your rights, you can make informed decisions and potentially avoid the devastating consequences of a parasailing accident.