Local parasailer ponders impact of possible regulations

A South Florida state senator has proposed a law to regulate parasailing operations.

A local parasailing business owner hopes a proposed state law that would regulate the industry doesn’t lead to confusion and dissatisfied customers.

Mike Abadie of Gilligan’s Watersports said that he already follows Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Coast Guard and Okaloosa County rules, as well as insurance company requirements, to ensure safe operation. Adding a state law to the mix could make it difficult for parasailing operators to understand what’s legal.

State Senate Bill 64, among other regulations, would require inspection of parasailing equipment, prevent flights if wind speed exceeded 20 miles per hour, and restrict parasailing to more than 1,800 feet from shore.

“I don’t have any major issues with the bill,” he said. “It’s not a problem for me as long as there’s some consistency in the law. It’s all about the safety of passengers.”

Abadie noted that county ordinance requires motorized vessels to operate no closer than 700 feet from shore, but the proposed state bill’s safety margin distance is well more than double that. The requirement also seems to apply to the distance of the parasail from the beach rather than the towboat.

He added that parasailing that far from shore may not be as satisfying for the folks beneath the billowing parachute.

“The customers like to be close enough to the beach to see their family and friends,” said Abadie.

People on the beach like to take pictures of their kin and friends floating past, he added.

Abadie also would like to make sure that the bill doesn’t prevent him from letting customers fly at the maximum altitude permitted locally by the FAA, 500 feet.

He explained that it takes some 800 feet of rope to get a parasailer to an altitude of 500 feet. A requirement that would limit how much rope can be let regardless of conditions means lower flights, which, again, could result in fewer satisfied customers.

Abadie said he had no trouble with the bill’s insurance requirement — liability coverage of $1 million per person or $2 million per event — because he already has coverage. But, from the businessman’s perspective, the matter of the type of coverage that’s suitable might be better left to the operator and its insurer to determine.

The proposed bill is called the White-Miskell Act after two people who were killed while parasailing in other parts of Florida.

In 2007, 15-year-old Crystal White died when a towrope snapped, which resulted in White and her sister crashing on a hotel roof. Kathleen Miskell died in August 2012 when her harness malfunctioned and she dropped approximately 200 feet into the water.

Abadie was aware of parasailing accidents happening but mentioned Gilligan’s Watersports has flown more than 100,000 people with little incident.

“We’ve never had a lawsuit,” he said. “We’ve never had a serious injury.”