Coast Guard casts closer eye on parasailing industry - FOX 13 News

Coast Guard casts closer eye on parasailing industry

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CLEARWATER (FOX 13) -

Two teenage girls had no way to escape a runaway parasail as it slammed into two condo towers in Panama Beach last month. It was stormy and windy out, and the tow line to the boat had snapped.

The parasail eventually crashed in a parking lot and the teens were hurt badly.

Terry Ryan, co-owner of Gators Parasail in Madeira Beach, says the accident was shocking and unfortunate.

"We monitor the weather all the time. If we feel that it's a condition that is not safe to fly, we will not fly. That day we were actually closed, due to high winds," Ryan said.

One of Gators Parasail's boats passed Coast Guard inspection Monday, the same day the agency issued a marine safety alert to parasailing operators. It warns them to monitor weather conditions, prepare for emergencies, and properly maintain their equipment.

"The Coast Guard expects licensed mariners to follow all regulations regarding safe vessel operations and has an expectation of parasail operators to follow established standards," said U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Joseph Servidio, assistant commandant for prevention policy. "In the future, we expect the parasailing industry and related industry associations to share best practices and develop operational standards to maximize safety and prevent marine casualties."

But the industry has little regulation. Parasailing equipment is not regulated or inspected by the federal government. Only parasailing boats with more than six passengers require coast guard inspection.

"There are a lot of companies out there that run non-inspected vessels, so I think this is a good reminder for those operators to go ahead and check their equipment," said Ryan.

Gators Parasail takes out about 5,000 parasailers a year. Brandon Woosley and his father went up Monday.

"I was nervous because it was something I hadn't done before. And you think: you're up in the air and what if something goes wrong?" Woosley said. "But it was really safe on the boat."

Ryan says Gators Parasail sends everyone out with an emergency chute. It's one of the newest safety devices available. If the tow line separates, the parasailer pulls a red tab. An emergency chute deploys in the water, which allows the parasailer to land safely.

Ryan says Gators Parasail inspects tow lines daily and replaces them every 6 to 8 months. He points out that 11 parasailing deaths nationwide in the past 7 years is a low percentage of fatalities.

Both girls hurt in Panama Beach have brain injuries and are continuing rehab.

Some Florida lawmakers tried to pass stricter regulations on parasailing this year, but the measure failed.

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