Some want parasail regulations, others don't
By LETITIA STEIN
Published March 31, 2006
Eagle Parasail cancels flights when the wind gets too gusty. Safety comes first, says Pete Cressman, owner of the Madeira Beach outfit.
Cressman wishes his competitors all shared his philosophy. He wants to see commercial parasailing regulated in Florida, as a local lawmaker is proposing to do .
"There's plenty of good operators out there, but it only takes one careless one," Cressman said. "The more proactive steps we can take, the less reactive we can be when there's an accident."
The parasail industry has come under scrutiny after a string of recent accidents. Two years ago, a crowd of beachgoers off Madeira Beach rescued two Georgia teenage girls who were floating helplessly over power lines and buildings after their tow rope snapped.
In July 2001, a mother and her 13-year-old daughter from Kentucky were killed after their tow line broke in stormy weather. They fell 200 feet into 4 feet of water off Fort Myers.
St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jim Sebesta responded with a proposal to tighten the rules for the industry. "There really were no regulations at all about parasailing," he said. "There was no one checking them."
His proposed law would require commercial parasailing outfits to be licensed through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It would ban commercial parasailing within 2,000 feet of the shore, or when winds are gusting at 20 knots or higher. The measure would mandate that an observer 18 or older be in the boat to monitor an airborne rider.
It also would set restrictions on the time of day when flights can occur and forbid the boat, rider or towline from coming within 600 feet of an anchored vessel, a person in the water and objects like a power line.
Some in the industry welcome state regulation.
"Bring it down to a safe and reasonable and maintainable level," said Arrit McPherson, president and founder of the the California-based Professional Association of Parasail Operators, called PAPO, which represents about 100 parasailing companies nationally. "They are common sense rules that will make it safer for the public."
He noted that New Jersey has some regulations on the books for commercial parasailing. PAPO is helping to introduce legislation in Virginia.
This marks the third year that Sebesta has tried to pass the measure, which cleared the House last year but stalled in the Senate. This year, Sebesta's proposal has cleared the first of three committee stops. Although the measure lacks a House sponsor, Sebesta remains optimistic.
In Tampa Bay, the Coast Guard also has stepped up efforts to monitor commercial parasailing. It has created a voluntary program that sets standards for record keeping and safety equipment. Twenty operators from Palm Harbor to Fort Myers have received a safety decal indicating they met recommended industry safety standards.
"Anything that would enhance the safety of life at sea, the Coast Guard would certainly be happy to go along (with)," said Lt. Robert Butts, chief of the vessel inspection branch based in the Tampa Bay region. He was not familiar with Sebesta's proposal.
Still, a number of operators likely won't be happy with all provisions.
Although generally supportive, PAPO has asked to make violations a civil offense, rather than a second degree misdemeanor as proposed. Sebesta is considering the issue.
PAPO also seeks a concession to allow the industry to develop national standards to allow up to three people to parasail together.
Sebesta's bill sets a limit of two people tethered to the towing vessel at a time. Sebesta is willing to continue discussions.
Mark McCulloh, chairman of the Parasail Safety Council, thinks the proposed law goes too far with unnecessary restrictions.
He says the industry has become far safer in the last two years, with insurance companies requiring operators to take safety seriously.
"It would basically just push parasailing into the sunset," said McCulloh, a parasail safety consultant based in Orlando.
No one spoke in opposition to the bill during its first committee hearing last week.
Advocates hope that state-mandated standards will encourage more insurers to get into this area. If the law passes, Florida would have the strictest requirements for commercial parasailing in the nation, according to PAPO.
Letitia Stein can be reached at 850 224-7263 or email@example.com
[Last modified March 31, 2006, 20:27:03]
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