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Water Sports Industry Experts Weigh In On Parasail Bill: Does It Have Enough Teeth?

For the fourth time, a state senator will try to enact uniform safety standards for the state’s parasailing industry. A provision in the bill that states that all parasail operators must have insurance has some saying that’s just the teeth the legislation needs to keep the unregulated industry from blowing in the breeze.

On the docks behind AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar in Destin, the wind causes flags to flap and large boats anchored to the dock to sway left and right—not ideal weather for parasailing.

“The big enemy of the parasailers is the wind. If it’s blowing too hard, it can actually blow the boat backwards and sink it,” said Bruce Creves.

Creves is the longtime weighmaster for the Destin Fishing Rodeo, a huge fishing tournament for saltwater anglers. On the docks for 25 years, the 62-year-old says he’s known his share of parasail operators who operate along the docks, but that day there were none to be seen.

“Well, there’s not going to be any parasailing today. The winds howling! It’s not safe and a good parasailer knows you can’t do it. Today, I think it’s 10 to 15 knots and that’s not good or safe to go parasailing,” added Creves.

Strong winds and a slew of expletives can be heard on the cell phone video of bystanders’ reaction to seeing two Indiana teens get seriously hurt while parasailing in Panama City earlier this year. An investigation into the July accident showed high winds from an incoming storm caused their tow rope to break away from the boat pulling their parasail. Sidney Good and Alexis Fairchild then hit a condo building, power lines and a parked car.

At the time, there were no state laws regulating parasail operators. But Delray Beach Senator Maria Sachs is trying to change that be refiling a bill setting out specific rules…

“Basically, I’m keeping the safety structure of no greater winds of 20 miles per hour and no lightning within seven miles of when the boat takes off. And, number two, really besides, the weather, they have to insurance on their operations—a minimum of $1 million,” said Sachs.

The legislation requires each parasail operation to carry at least a million dollars in bodily injury liability insurance and no more than two million would be paid for the entire occurrence. Matt Belter of R.A. Belter Insurance Agency sells water sports insurance and says those numbers are typical for the industry.

“This would be something similar to a hotel company that may have a parasail operator as a vendor. Typically, I see those agreements of $1 million,” said Belter.

But he says it’s nothing like getting auto insurance.

“So, it’s more similar to any retail business open to the public, and it’s probably even closer to what you would see for an amusement ride, park, or other amusement park business,” he added.

Belter worked with Sachs on the current legislation. So, did Larry Meddock, the President of the Water Sports Industry Association. He likes that the bill allows for self-regulation within the industry, adding the insurance provision helps small businesses and municipalities make agreements more easily.

“Most parasail operators are functioning off of the goodwill and the approval of somebody else. In other words, they sought and received permission from somebody who owned this dock. And, so maybe this dock is owned by Daytona Beach. And, so Daytona Beach says to that parasail operator, ‘I’ll let you operate off of this dock provided you provide me insurance,’” said Meddock.

So, if an accident does happen in the future and the operator has no insurance, Meddock says there’d be no denying the rules a parasail operator should have followed.

“It’s just more teeth. It becomes overwhelmingly clear that ‘there are guidelines Mr.  Parasail Operator owner. Are you a complete blithering idiot? The state of Florida has regulations, your entire industry worked on standards and now you stand before this jury, and you say you didn’t know, and you didn’t understand.’ So, it outs that guy in an indefensible position. So, it makes good sense that Florida passes a law,” added Meddock.

The bill so far has no House sponsor, but Senator Sachs believes Pompano Beach Democrat Gwendolyn Clarke-Reed will sign on. The legislation—filed three times before—also has the backing of Senate President Don Gaetz, in whose district the Panama City parasailing accident occurred.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.