Florida Keys News
Sunday, July 14, 2013
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Parasailing bill to return

A bill to further regulate parasailing will be brought back before the state Legislature next session.

Florida Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, announced this week that she would re-file her parasailing safety bill in the upcoming legislative session, and expects it to "pass with strong bi-partisan support," she said in a prepared statement.

"Parasailing is a thrilling recreational activity perfectly suited to Florida," Sachs said. "But the absence of minimal safety regulations and guidelines has led to a number of serious injuries and even deaths -- injuries and deaths that might have been prevented. The White-Miskell Bill will set standards for parasailing operators to provide a higher level of safety for participants without altering or diminishing the excitement of the parasailing experience."

Inadequate equipment, the lack of safety standards and sudden weather changes are some factors that have led to parasailing accidents, she said.

Her announcement comes two weeks after two teenage girls were seriously injured while tandem parasailing off Panama City. Alexis Fairchild and Sidney Good, both 17, were hospitalized July 1 after smashing into two buildings, a power line and a parked car.

A sudden squall blew in, according to media reports.

The proposed legislation stipulates that parasailing equipment be able to sustain the weight of up to three passengers and that the tow vessels meet minimum power and seaworthiness to keep the parasail aloft. Operators will also be required to suspend rides when weather conditions become unstable, Sachs said.

This White-Miskell bill is named in memory of Amber White and Kathleen Miskell, who were killed in separate parasailing incidents in Pompano Beach.

Last session, Sachs' bill and a companion House bill died in committees.

Sebago Watersports owner Paul McGrail on Friday began installing GPS satellite radar on his company's parasail boat. The technology should detect sudden squalls, he said. The equipment overlays satellite weather conditions on top of a GPS chart on a screen on the parasail boat.

"This will allow the crew to see weather long before it gets here and can be see by the naked eye," he said.

"It beats the hell out of looking at a (smart)phone," added McGrail, referring to how many operators check the weather on their cellphones while on the water.

Key West operators are constantly in conversation with each other on the water, notifying each other of incoming bad weather, he said.

"As competitive as this industry is, there is a lot of cooperation with each other when it comes to weather and safety," McGrail said.

The Water Sports Industry Association (WSIA) is currently working to have its members sign off on a series of regulations similar to those in the proposed state legislation, he said.

WSIA started working on the guidelines after the Coast Guard approached industry leaders about designing their own regulations.

The proposed standards were created by ASTM (American Society for Testing and Material) International, an organization that develops voluntary technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems and services, McGrail said.

tohara@keysnews.com

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