Gennusa & Piacun

Admiralty / Maritime Law

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Parasailing accidents: A summer vacation hazard

It's summer, and many Metairie families will be flocking to the Gulf Coast beaches from Biloxi to the Florida Panhandle. There's much fun to be had, from golfing to surfing and lying poolside drinking umbrella cocktails.

But there may be one beach activity to which your and your children should give a definite pass - parasailing.

Parasailing is popular, but possibly unsafe

Not counting the thousands of international parasailing operations around the globe, just in the United States and its territories, there are at least 238 parasailing operations in business. Together, their combined operations add up to more than a million parasailing flights — most of which go off without a hitch.

Of course, when you are flying 300 feet above the Gulf of Mexico, all you need is one thing to go wrong — a snapped towline, a broken carabiner, a strong gust of wind — to turn an afternoon of fun into the worst (if not last) day of your life.

An mostly unregulated industry

When you consider the regulatory oversight of the more mundane professions, e.g., the horticulture industry, it seems remiss that there is no federal oversight of the parasailing industry. In fact, those in the business are expected to self-monitor for safety. The problem is that while many reputable operators have protocols in place to prevent accidents on the water or in the air, there are also many others who don't.

In 2014, Florida passed Senate Bill 320 into law. It's known as the White-Miskell Act and is named for two women who lost their lives in separate parasailing accidents. But this law only requires weather logs to be kept and an insurance policy maintained and does little to cover equipment inspections. It also leaves the other states along the Gulf of Mexico unregulated.

Where the danger lies

Hitting the water from 300 feet in the air can be like slamming onto concrete from the same distance. Even when the canopy slows your descent, being entangled in the harness and unable to escape from the canopy can lead to drownings. The individual also could get caught up in a rip current and pulled out to sea.

Perhaps the most horrific fate for hapless flyers is for the canopy to disengage from the towline to the boat, sending the flyer dangerously aloft where they can slam into high-rise hotels, condos and power lines before crashing to the ground.

Be smart about summer beach activities

No one wants their family vacation to end in tragedy. If you plan on going parasailing this summer, make sure that the operator visually inspects the equipment before each trip. That includes the towline, harness and canopy. The operator also needs to check the radar weather conditions before the trip to make sure a squall isn't forming off the coast.

Those injured in a parasailing accident may decide to seek financial redress for their injuries and other damages.

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