Exploration

Parasailing: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Before you hop on a boat and strap on a shoot, there some things to consider.

As far as vacation thrills go, parasailing is simple enough concept: One or two passengers attached to a parachute fastened to a motorboat cruise in the air as the boat glides on the water. And if you don't feel like just hanging back in the shallow end of the pool on your next beach-side vacation - and with winter approaching, now would be a great time for it - then parasailing may be what you're looking for.

But before you hop on a boat and strap on a shoot, there are a few things you need to know. But first, a little history:

A Brief History of Parasailing

French engineer Pierre-Marcel Lemoigne is credited with creating the first towable parachute. Rather than applying it for recreational use, Lemoigne envisioned that they would instead be employed by skydivers and the military to produce a more maneuverable shoot and improve the safety of the flight.

The inspiration for the towable parachute as a recreational device came from an unlikely source: NASA. The space agency used the modified chute as part of survival training should pilots have to eject from aircraft over water.

After tour operators caught on to the act in the late 1960s, parasailing grew to be a common sight along coastlines drawing a crowd. New technology has followed as parasailing has increased in popularity, adding more passengers to a single ride, bringing passengers higher than they could have reached before, and of course improving the safety of the experience.

Not everyone could make it out to the water to parasail, however.

Safety Check

As with any gravity-defying thrill, there is an element of danger to parasailing. Although a licensed and fully insured commercial parasailing operator with a trained crew should be capable of ensuring safety during the experience, passengers should still familiarize themselves with possible hazards during their ride.

Carl & Ann Purcell/Corbis

Weather should be the top consideration for any passenger before attempting to parasail. Even if you have your reservation booked weeks in advance, high winds and dark clouds should be enough to compel any passenger to cancel his or her plans.

It also never hurts to give a critical look to the integrity of the equipment, particularly the towline that keeps you attached to the boat. In September of this year, the Coast Guard issued a safety alert, directed toward parasailing operators, warning of a recent spate of injuries and a handful of fatalities tied to towline failure.

Passengers should also check to ensure that the course they are taking is free of potential obstacles, such as trees, towers or power lines. The ride typically lasts around 10 minutes.

Who Can Parasail?

If you're planning on going parasailing for the first time, there are a few things that are required of prospective passengers.

First, passengers must be sober. Though it may seem like a tall order on a tropical vacation, abstaining from alcohol is a good idea for any activity in which one or two people are hanging in the air several hundred feet above the ground.

Although there is technically no age limit for parasailing, commercial parasailing operators do observe a weight limit. Depending on the operator, passengers typically most weigh no less than 125-130 pounds individually (as low as 90 with some operators) and no more than 350-375 pounds as a pair (as high as 450 with others). Adults should always accompany their children.

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