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Rules for parasailing? Just good government

Awhile back, my niece asked me to go parasailing with her. (Funny how she thought I was the kind of aunt who would say yes.) I said yes.

We paid not a small amount of cash and got on a boat that headed through Longboat Pass out into the wide blue-green Gulf of Mexico. We were life-jacketed and harnessed and given instructions.

Side by side and more or less terrified, we went up, and up, and up.

Last week, when I heard news of yet another tourist killed while parasailing, I realized my niece and I had sailed that same area.

David Sieradzki, here from South Carolina, was up as high as 800 feet with his wife in the boat below when it lost speed and his parasail floated down, authorities said afterward. They got him back to the boat. At some point, he wasn't conscious anymore. Crew members tried to revive him. He was 31.

Regardless of what investigators finally determine happened out there that day, it's a sobering reminder: Here in the land of sun and fun, we have long offered up a tourist adventure that is largely unregulated.

And this is pretty stunning, given the "fun" can also be very dangerous.

Lack of regulation in the parasailing industry is not for lack of trying.

This year, a bill in the Florida Legislature called for stricter regulation, insurance coverage and safer equipment standards. They called it the Alejandra White Act, named for another tourist, this one killed last year in a horrific accident after a line snapped as she parasailed off Clearwater Beach.

Supporters sounded sure it would pass, because who in his right mind could be opposed to safety?

The head of the Parasail Safety Council helped draft the bill because, clearly, self-regulation by insiders was not working out so well.

But the bill bogged down procedurally in the House. It failed.

Had it passed, it would have taken effect last week.

State Sen. Dennis Jones, a Republican from Seminole, says he's ready and willing to try again next session. But when the bill does come back, don't be surprised to hear some rallying cries of, "Say no to big government!"

How anyone will be able to spin commonsense, potentially lifesaving rules to govern the flying of actual people high in the sky behind a speeding boat into "big government" remains to be seen. But expect a good try.

Parasail Safety Council founder Mark McCulloh said in an e-mail: "Until sensible, easy to follow regulations are mandated, serious accidents and deaths will continue."

Doesn't get much easier to understand than that.

I wonder if on that trip with my niece we got lucky. Our captain and crew seemed professional enough and our equipment did what it was supposed to do.

And the whole thing could not have been more amazing — how much you see around you, how quiet it was up there, how you flew.

When we got back to the boat, we talked to a laughing group of college girlfriends here for a beach week and a tourist couple with kids in tow, all waiting to go up.

If I had asked, I'm guessing they would have said, well, sure, they assumed someone in charge of such things here in Florida had taken official steps to make sure parasailing businesses kept the trip as safe as possible.

Well, maybe next summer.

Rules for parasailing? Just good government 07/05/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 5, 2011 7:23pm]

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