TALLAHASSEE -- A bill to ensure more safety for thrill seekers who soar above Florida's coastlines while dangling from parachutes has cleared its initial hurdle, winning swift approval from a state Senate panel on Tuesday.
The legislation would impose greater oversight on the state's approximately 100 commercial parasailing operators, who are now largely unregulated when they strap people into harnesses to glide over Florida's waters.
"We have third-world regulations when it comes to parasailing," said Sen. Maria Sachs, the bill's lead sponsor.
The bill won 10-0 approval from the Senate Regulated Industries Committee. It comes less than a year after the death of a Connecticut woman who plummeted as much as 200 feet into the Atlantic Ocean when her harness broke while she was parasailing in South Florida. Sachs cited a U.S. Coast Guard study indicating that Florida is home to three of the nation's top eight cities for parasailing accidents.
The bill (SB 64) would require parasailing boat operators to have a radio on board to closely monitor wind conditions and lightning storms, Sachs told reporters. Most parasailing deaths occur because winds are whipped up by fast-moving storms that catch parasailing operators unprepared, she said.
"We all know that you can be laying on the beach and 20 minutes later a thunderstorm comes up," she said. "Well you don't want to be 200 feet up when that comes up."
The bill would prohibit parasailing amid blustery conditions with sustained wind speeds exceeding 20 mph, or in rain, or fog that limits visibility to less than a half mile or when a lightning storm is within seven miles of a parasailing area. The recreational activity would also be prohibited when the National Weather Service is forecasting such conditions for the area.
Commercial parasailing businesses would have to have liability insurance. Each vessel would be required to have an observer at least 18 years old on board who isn't the driver to keep an eye on the parasailors.
Parasailing would be prohibited from one-half hour after sunset until one-half hour before sunrise. Commercial vessels would not be allowed to venture less than 1,800 feet from shore while towing parasailors to keep the high-flying riders from crashing into coastal buildings. Sachs cited the death of a 15-year-old girl in Florida in 2007 who smashed into the roof of a hotel while parasailing.
No more than three parasailors could be tethered to a towing vessel at the same time under terms of the bill.
Another safety feature calls for state regulators to inspect parasailing ropes and harnesses. Each parasailing rider also would have to receive a safety briefing.