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Can parasailing be a safe experience?

If you enjoy going to the North Carolina beaches, chances are you've caught a glimpse of parasailers flying hundreds of feet above the waves just off of the shore as they are towed behind a boat. It looks like it could be so much fun. But is it safe?

That definitely depends, as in the last decade, eight people have died and another 38 been hurt while attempting to parasail. According to one Marine Safety Alert that the U.S. Coast Guard released last year, the real danger lies when a towline snaps. The alert stated, "Failures occur significantly below the rated towline strengths due to . . . reasons that may include cyclic loading, long term exposure to environmental elements, the presence of knots, and overloading."

When wind speeds are doubled, the payloads on the towlines can be four times the weight on lines that may have been exposed to sunlight and saltwater, weakening them with each parasailing experience. When a rider's towline snaps, it isn't always a controlled, gentle drift down to the water's surface. Riders can get entangled in the chute and line, smack down hard against the ocean's surface, or as in the case of some unlucky Florida parasailers, slam into high-rise hotel buildings and power lines on the shore.

A major problem is that none of the parasailing gear operators provide is subject to regulations or inspections. Even the Coast Guard can only inspect the boat being used. Operators and company owners are the only oversight there is, and they are profit-driven.

Questions a parasailer might ask the operator may include:

-- Are the parachutes regularly cleaned, then dried out of the sun that weakens the fabric?

-- Are the chairs and harnesses the passengers are strapped into as high as 800 feet over the ocean regularly certified and load-tested?

-- How frequently are the lines replaced?

Anyone who is injured while parasailing due to faulty equipment or operator negligence has the right to pursue financial compensation through the North Carolina civil courts.

Source: mariovittone.com, " Is Parasailing Safe? ," Mario Vittone, accessed Aug. 19, 2016

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