Fatal parasail accidents renew calls for rules

Associated Press Modified: October 5, 2012 at 10:01 am •  Published: October 5, 2012

Margolis said past efforts have run into opposition by parasail operators and a general anti-regulation attitude among many lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature.

"When you get onto anything that's recreational, you assume that somebody's inspected it and everything's OK. And you can't assume that," she said.

Most parasail operators, however, are willing to submit to safety regulations as long as they are sensible, said Dan Breitenstein, who runs Miami Beach Parasail.

"If you have someone who has never been on a parasail boat or doesn't know the workings of it, if they're making up rules that would have little effect on what we do" it wouldn't make sense, Breitenstein said. "There's definitely things we can do."

People who sign up for Miami Beach Parasail generally pay about $75 for a 15-minute ride that can take them as high as 350 feet in the air. They sit in swing-like harnesses attached to a tow bar, which is connected by ropes to the kite-like parasail above and a winch in the boat below.

As the 33-foot "High Anxiety" boat moves across the water, the parasail passengers are slowly lifted into the air and the line is let out. After the ride, the boat is slowed gradually as the line is brought in so parasailors land back on the boat on their feet.

It all seems fairly safe, and you can't beat the view, which on one recent day featured an umbrella-dotted South Beach and, beyond, its famed Art Deco hotel and entertainment district, with the greenish-blue Atlantic Ocean below.

The lack of regulation, however, means no one is looking over the operator's shoulder to make sure ropes damaged by sun and salt water are replaced. There are also little or no rules regarding age limits or experience for "spotters" who observe the riders.

And there's nothing beyond common sense to prevent an operator for taking people up in windy weather, which many people say is the one variable that can most often lead to an accident.

Breitenstein, who has radar on his boats, said he maintains a five-mile buffer from any nearby bad weather. But he said in Florida, storms can develop quickly offshore — and sometimes operators might be tempted to take a little risk to make more money.

"Weather is our biggest, toughest thing," he said. "Taking chances, that's a bad habit to get into."


Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt .

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