NTSB’s analysis of Parasailing Safety makes a Reasonable Recommendation

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The NTSB makes a convincing case (see below↓ release and its full report) for the Coast Guard and the FAA to increase their involvement with the parasailing industry as depicted ↑above). Administrator Huerta, one would expect, would like to dedicate more time and resources to these “flight” operations, but equally likely, he would be hard pressed to move staff from existing priorities to address the safety those held aloft by parachutes tethered to a boat. Thankfully, the NTSB recommends that the FAA delegate the enforcement of the relevant rules to the US Coast Guard, in part due to their existing, more proximate deployment.

Between 3 and 5 million people engage in this fun, exciting activity which combines boating and a form of parachuting. By definition parasailing hits an interstice between the two regulations. The NTSB began more carefully watching this business in 2009, and since then they have cited five deaths and five injuries due to these operations. A 1992-2001 Coast Guard study concluded that 64 people were injured and three died in that time frame.

The Coast Guard requires that the boat master, without regard to parasailing, must have a license. Some boats receive an annual review by the USCG. The report reviews the actions of the DHS reviewing a series of accidents and the conclusions drawn from each incident. The right of way among water vessels gives high precedence of boats towing a parasail, because of its limited maneuverability.

The FAA, in response to a fatal accident, determined that a parasail was a “kite” under its regulations and pointed to a set of prohibitions applicable to these vehicles– not closer to an airport than 5 miles, not closer than 500’ from the base of a cloud, not more than 500’ above the surface and not when ground visibility is less than 3 miles—14 CFR Part 101. If any of these conditions exist, the operator must seek a Certificate of Authorization. One of the conditions of the COA is that the parasail must concede right of way to an airplane.

Some state authorities and industry associations have attempted to add to the substantive standards applicable to these operations.

The NTSB devoted eight pages to analyzing the parasails, ropes, knots, harnesses, winches, flight bars and vessel speeds to find what were the causal factors for the accidents. Weather conditions, particularly shifting winds, were also found to have contributed to these casualties. The report makes it clear that safety is affected by the dynamics among the multiple elements of equipment, weather and boat operation.

Based on this thorough analysis, the NTSB concludes that the FAA has internal inconsistencies in its interpretation of the FARs, that the 500’ AGL rule should be amended to 400’, that the FAA’s COA requirement of the operator to avoid aircraft is contrary to the USCG’s right of way which recognizes that a boat with parasail has limited options and that the FAA delegate its parasail/kite enforcement to the USCG which is better deployed to surveil this industry.

That’s a fortunate solution.


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