How Safe is Parasailing: My Really Scary Experience
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Para-sailing finally regulated
The Florida Senate on Thursday May 1, 2014 voted unanimously to regulate para-sailing under bill SB 320.
However, this bill does not regulate the harness support system.
According to Mark McCulloh, Para-sail Safety Expert / Consultant, "It is my professional opinion, based on years of empirical accident data and experience, that we will only achieve the goal of preventing both serious para-sail accidents and fatalities by restricting the canopy size based on the type of passenger support system in use.
My Teacher is going Para-sailing
It was the end of spin class and I had descended my bike, sweaty and thirsty and upon learning what our spin teacher would be doing this weekend I yelled, "Don't go para-sailing!"
As I began to tell her my terrifying experience she interrupted saying, "Well where did this happen?"
She quickly dismissed me when I told her it was at a port in Jamaica. It was 2008 and regulations for para-sailing existed - - - exactly no-where, in any country, including the U.S.
(Please watch the video at the end of this article for a better way to para-sail, using Gondola Passenger Support.)
Freedom of the Seas
On a Cruise
So it's 2008 and my entire family was on this Cruise. We signed up for a half day snorkeling excursion, with plans to walk around Jamaica for the 2nd half of the day.
I absolutely love to snorkel. My father, husband, my son and I went out on a small boat with just a few other people. Once in the water, the sound of my breathing through the snorkel soothed me as I watched the plant life sway and gazed at the magnificent sea life through my goggles.
The snorkeling ended all too soon and we were back on the boat. Unlimited cocktails were offered, but I only drank one.
Between 2001 and 2012, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported six deaths, 18 injuries and 19 accidents that occurred as a result of parasailing activities along the Florida coastline.
While in the boat going back, I pointed to a para-sailor, gliding freely in the sky and said to my husband, "I want to try that!" .
My husband said, "Right, I'll just start planning your funeral."
"What?" I was shocked that he thought it would be that dangerous. I have always been in love with the water. I had been a lifeguard and a swim teacher. I had water skied from a young age. I had never heard that para-sailing could be dangerous. What's the worse that can happen?
"I know how to swim you know." I was hoping he would buy this as a valid argument, despite the fact that para-sailing does not take place in the water.
The captain of the little boat overheard our conversation and with his clipped Jamaican accent said,
"You want to do that? I give you good price."
I asked how good and he said fifty bucks. Well I knew that was a bargain as the going rate on the street was $75, and even more booked as an excursion through the ship. I got excited and turned to my husband like a little kid and said, "I want to do that!"
"Well I don't have $50 on me," he said, thinking that would be the end of it.
The captain piped up and said, "You pay after"
My husband continued to try to deter me. Raised in Florida from the age of 7, he too was familiar with water sports and tried to inform me of the dangers of para-sailing. But I was having none of it - "I want to do it!"
I am lucky enough to have a husband who will do anything for me, regardless of how idiotic it might be.
The Bay in Jamaica
The Captain and the crew took me out on the boat, while my husband and son reluctantly made their way back to the ship to get the cash.
Once more, my husband repeated out loud, "OK, I'll go plan your funeral."
This should have unnerved me, but it didn't.
I asked the crew if I had to get into the water and they nonchalantly said no. I also asked the crew if I would land in the water, and they very confidently said no.
The crew directed me to the platform at the back of the boat where I would take off and land and then strapped me into a harness,
Suddenly I was lifted smoothly up into the sky. It was absolutely beautiful and I did feel like I was flying.
Video: What Happens When the Boat Stops
This video is approximately 11 minutes, and the boat motor dies approximately 5 minutes in. Prior to that, he is gliding over rocks and other boaters, and so it still doesn't look very safe. When the boats motor died, he gradually descends into the water. He was very lucky another boat was nearby to get him out if his support harness. While par-sailing, inability to get out of the harness is a major cause of death while para-sailing.
What Happens When the Boat Stops
Get me DOWN!
We were not quite out into the ocean, but still in the bay when the boat just stopped.
I continued to drift higher and higher, until I was directly above the boat.
Looking down, I really couldn't understand what happened and motioned for them to start moving again.
I wanted to move and glide through the sky and not just hang there.
I said to myself, "well just give it a few minutes."
I looked around, taking in the scenery. The ocean was a beautiful blue, there were sailboats and little motorboats going out into the ocean from the bay. There were mountains in the background and as I turned to my right, there was our cruise ship.
I was looking down on the cruise ship. Down onto the top where the big red X for a helicopter landing is and where the passengers aren't supposed to go.
It suddenly hit me, that I was really high up. . . high up in the sky - and still not moving!
I hung there high in the sky, sometimes dropping enough so that I could have seen into one of the suites on the top floor of the ship, and then I'd float higher up again.
I looked down at the boat and saw the crew huddled around the dashboard. This boat had an inboard motor, so it started with a key on the dashboard. I really had no idea what was going on.
With the boat still not moving, time seemed to stand still. I started to get scared and even though I knew no one could hear me, I started to yell, "Get me down!"
Every once in a while, one of the crew members would look up and I would make large pointing motions with my arm.
I'd extend my arm as far up as possible, point my finger up to the sky and then swish. . . .swiftly point my finger down to the ocean, hoping they'd get the message. As my fear increased, I started doing this even when the crew was not glancing up.
Every time I started to freak out I would yell and point. Point up. . . SWISH. . . point down - then "Get me down!" Then I would chastise myself because I knew I was being ridiculous. "No one can hear me! Duh"
Video: Two Young Girls in Tandum, the Line Snaps
*****Fair Warning***** Parts of this video are graphic and may be difficult to watch.
When their line snaps, the girls go flying, un-tethered. They slam into a condominium high rise, then into another building, before dropping onto the windshield of a vehicle in a parking lot.
What Happens When the Line Snaps
As I was hanging in the air, it never dawned on me that a gust of wind could whip me around like a projectile off a tilt-a-whirl ride. I didn't think about a sudden gust of wind slamming me into the side of the ship. It didn't occur to me that the only thing keeping me in the air was the slight breeze, and that with a drop in air pressure I could suddenly fall straight down into the sea.
All I could think was "I'm stuck."
I had been hanging there just stuck, pointing and yelling, for close to an hour, when eventually another boat motored up alongside the boat I was tethered to. They hooked something to my line, then continued to motor through the water. This pulled my line down and I started to descend.
About halfway down, I began to feel slightly relieved when I was suddenly jerked back up in the air. "What the Heck!" (I actually said worse.)
With the whiplash effect, I was bouncing like a baby in a bouncer seat. My heart was in my throat and I looked down to see that whatever was attached to my line had snapped off.
The boat circled around the boat I was tethered to, and attached to my line again. This time they pulled me all the way down into the water. I did not feel the slightest bit of relief, only anxiety and thought, "Uh....so much for not landing in the water."
Two of the crew members immediately splashed into the water. Excitedly, one crew member swam directly to me, and the other very quickly swam behind me to grab the parachute.
"Is this like a rescue?" I thought. Even though my heart was in my stomach, I was just was not wrapping my mind around what was happening as I looked at the crews panicked faces.
Only in hindsight did I realize how dangerous it would be if the parachute had started to sink. It wouldn't matter a lick that I had a life jacket on. The weight of the parachute would have dragged me down with it.
I started asking, "What happened?"
I was ignored, but I kept repeating myself. The crew acted like they were too occupied with getting me into the boat and saving the parachute, or they were pretending like they couldn't understand me. I wasn't too sure.
"What happened?" seemed to just keep spilling out of my mouth. It was as if my shock was getting worse. It gradually sank in, (no pun intended) that they had used another rope with a hook clip to slide my rope down till I was in the water.
"What happened?" I was still asking as I looked for the captain, and realized I was not in the boat that originally took me out. I kept asking until I was shouting, "WHAT HAPPENED?"
The crew member sitting across from me in the boat finally looked me in the eye and said, "The motor died."
Fatalities, Passenger support equipment failure
Fatalities, Inability to escape the passenger support system
Just - Oh My God
As it continued to sink in, my shock gave way to realization and "Oh My God." just kept coming out of my mouth.
When I got back to shore, my husband and son were waiting with the cash. I ran up to them and said, "Oh My God! I thought I was going to die!"
The captain was in the other boat, just now coming to shore, being towed by a third boat. He didn't look at me.
"Well I'm certainly not going to pay him!" I thought. (I know, another Duh moment.) It was obvious that he wasn't expecting it.
As I explained what happened, my husband was the perfect gentlemen. I think he just said "See," while shaking his head. My son had his eyebrows arched with a look of surprise. They said they had been gone for about 30 minutes, so I wasn't hanging for an hour, more like 20 minutes.
The After Effect
I could not wait to get back to the ship and have a much needed cocktail, but my husband and son wanted to walk around the town. Of course I indulged them, since I had been so indulgent and so stupid.
As we walked, I would relive the whole thing in my mind and I wanted to talk about it, but instead I tried to shake it and concentrate on shopping. I ended up with a very large, very nice, wooden, hand carved salad bowl set, that to this day reminds me of my para-sailing experience.
I also counted my blessings. Not just that it didn't turn out to be worse, but that I was married to a man who justifiably expressed his concerns, but would not forbid me anything. He didn't even tell me how stupid I was. He didn't rub it in that he could have been "preparing for my funeral!"
A Room With a View
For the rest of the day, I tried not to think too much about what happened. I was mostly successful, after all I had a cruise to enjoy!
But that night, as I lay my head down on the pillow, it all came rushing back to me. My heart started pounding and I tossed and turned trying to shake the fear that seemed to accompany my recollection of the day.
This happened for a few of the following nights as well. I had to remind myself that I was safe now, and I would never do something so stupid again.