For years, the Florida Legislature refused to regulate the commercial parasailing industry even in the wake of fatal accidents and evidence of dangerous business practices. Now lawmakers finally have approved commonsense regulations to help police an activity that seems like a harmless pleasure to tourists but can be deadly without proper respect for the weather and for safety. Gov. Rick Scott should sign these reasonable protections into law.
The Parasail Safety Council in Mait-land tracks parasailing accidents nationwide. Between 1982 and 2012, 73 people died and 431 received injuries requiring hospitalization. Several of those accidents occurred in Pinellas County. In 1990, a Clearwater Beach parasail operator cut the rope towing a man after the canopy began pulling the boat in high winds. The man was blown ashore and killed. In 2010, a Clearwater parasail operator took out a Georgia couple in weather that was blustery. The tow rope broke, and while the man dropped safely into the water, the woman was dragged along the beach and died from her injuries.
The statistics don't even count close calls, like a 2004 incident in Madeira Beach, when the tow rope pulling two teenage girls broke and wind swept them toward Gulf Boulevard. More than 50 people on the beach grabbed the dangling tow rope and fought the wind to pull the girls to safety.
Similar incidents were occurring elsewhere in Florida — Longboat Key, Panama City, Pompano Beach — and after each incident there was a call for statewide regulation. But the Legislature, dominated by members skeptical of government regulation and influenced by some in the parasailing industry who opposed more oversight, refused to act.
This legislative session, the sponsors of SB 320 — Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, and Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed, D-Pompano Beach — assembled a powerful coalition of victims' families, the parasail industry, the House and Senate leadership and the governor to pass reasonable regulations.
The legislation would require commercial parasail operators to have $1 million in liability insurance and be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry passengers. Tow boats would be required to have radios to receive current weather conditions. Parasailing would be prohibited in sustained winds of more than 20 mph or if wind gusts are 15 mph above the sustained wind speed or more than 25 mph. It would be forbidden if lightning is within 7 miles of the area. The bill awaits the governor's signature and the changes would take effect Oct. 1.
Florida will have to get through one more summer without adequate parasailing regulations, but the changes ultimately should make the activity safer along Pinellas beaches and throughout the state.