New laws aim to make spring break safer

After multiple injuries, parasailing will get new regulations


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With the rest of the nation emerging from the grip of winter, students will soon be arriving in Florida, hungry for some sunshine and adventure. Thankfully, this year there is a new law in place to help protect them from devastating injuries.

The White-Miskel Act, signed into law last summer, directly addresses problems seen in the past with parasailing.

Prior to the new law parasailing was an unregulated industry, rife with unprofessional and even dangerous operators.

It took a series of injuries to bring the matter to a head, and the act is named for two women who died in separate incidents while parasailing.

This month, a lawsuit stemming from another parasailing accident was settled for an undisclosed amount when two Indiana teens were riding tandem and their parasail disconnected from the tow rope.

They fell, bouncing off a hotel on the way down, and both girls are still recovering after nearly two years of multiple surgeries and ongoing rehabilitation for brain and spinal injuries.

"It's been a long battle to get any legislation passed," said Debi Chalik, an attorney for one of the victims. "With 72 deaths and more than 1,600 injuries since 1982 when the sport began to gain popularity, regulations have been long overdue."

The White-Miskell Act requires operators to keep a current liability policy and have a marine radio capable of receiving weather alerts. Weather, and particularly high winds, have been a common factor in many accidents.

When a gust of wind hits a parasail, the sudden increase in tension on the rope can cause it to break. Parasailing is now prohibited when the wind is too strong, there is rain or fog or there is a lightning storm within seven miles.

The Coast Guard has a critical role here and will be responsible for citing and shutting down parasailing operators who aren't meeting minimal requirements.

Chalik, along with other concerned attorneys, were instrumental in pushing for parasailing regulation. It took seven years to get a bill passed, but she notes there is still room to improve the law.

"Unfortunately, there is nothing in the bill about maintaining parasailing equipment. It also doesn't set any standards for regulating training or inspections. While it is possible that insurance companies providing the liability policies would require operators to meet minimal standards, this is not part of the law itself."

Parasailing uses complex equipment and with customers hanging some 200 feet in the sky, it's simply not equivalent to pulling a water-skier.

The National Transportation and Safety Board specifically mentioned faulty equipment as a cause of many accidents yet equipment inspection is not currently required as part of the regulations.

Spring break is important for Florida tourism, with parasailing and other water activities part of the fun and this new law, if stringently enforced, can help keep the adventure safe.

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