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Florida resists parasailing safety regulations

Parasailing is either a dangerously under-regulated sport that puts participants at unnecessary risk, or a safe and enjoyable way to combine boating and flying. Those two opposing opinions are at the heart of the debate both in Tallahassee and nationwide over whether the sport needs to be put under some sort of government inspection and control. Driving the push for regulation is the more than 70 deaths and 1,600 injuries over the past 30 years, while the opponents say parasailing's safety is proven by the fact that there have only been 70 deaths and 1,600 injuries out of an estimated 150 million parasail rides in the last 30 years.

In the cold light of statistics, the risk of injury or death for parasailors is about 1 in 90,000. Amusement park ride aficionados are at a 1 in 9 million risk. However, many times more people ride amusement park rides than go parasailing. Still, the idea of innocent thrill-seekers falling from great heights or smashing into buildings horrifies some people. Back in August a 28 year-old woman fell 150 feet to her death when her equipment failed. Two teenage girls suffered serious head injuries when their parasail hit a hotel in 2007. The August accident has drawn the attention of the National Transportation Safety Board, and reignited the regulation debate.

Florida lawmakers are notoriously resistant to regulations on business, and efforts to get a parasailing safety bill through the legislature have failed several times. State Senator Gwen Margolis, the champion for parasailing safety, wants parasail operators to undergo regular safety inspections, be required to have insurance, limit flights in bad weather and stay far away from fixed objects like buildings and power lines. It's now up to operators to decide when to replace ropes damaged by salt and friction, for example, or how many years harnesses can be used before they are retired. There are also no training requirements for the boat drivers or the spotters watching the parasail.

Since Florida has more parasail operators than any other state, federal regulators and other states are waiting to see where the safety debate leads. Margolis notes that even those temporary carnival rides that move from town to town are inspected, but not parasails. "When you get into anything that's recreational, you assume somebody's inspected it and everything's OK. You can't assume that," she warns.

Source: Time Magazine, "Fatal parasail accidents renew call for rules, "Curt Anderson, Oct. 5, 2012

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