Impassioned by the sport of (para-sailing) since age 15, Mark McCulloh of Miami
Florida, became an accomplished parasail inventor, motivational speaker and
entrepreneur Mark is internationally recognized as the original inventor of most
modern day parasailing equipment beginning with the worlds first offshore parasail
platforms which McCulloh replaced with the legendary Winchboat tow vessel.
Nothing revolutionized the sport worldwide and ensured commercial parasailing as a
viable business more than this invention.
His experience spans four decades of parasail equipment designs, innovations, and training techniques with a focus on improving the
safety of parasailing and the enjoyment of the experience. McCulloh holds the distinction as being the most recognized parasail
industry expert in the world, having testified before both state and federal courts in every major accidental death and serious injury
case in the US and surrounding territories. Looking back McCulloh says he had little idea forty years ago of the impact his inventions
would have on the commercial aspect of the industry in general. He is still surprised and still inventing !
We take you on a visually stunning event-based parasail history tour highlighted with stunning
photos, videos, and text statements geared for a curious. Learn more about parasail inventions and
innovations from the development of the parasail canopy, to the evolution of modern day equipment
and what they symbolize today.
The Parasail Safety Council (PSC) is an nonprofit online publication that was established in 1998
by Mark McCulloh providing the general public and government entities reliable information about
parasailing including safety issues, risk awareness and standards with a focus on education,
certification and regulation. To date, over 48 million visitors have been educated by the Parasail
Safety Council’s website with more than 3 - 5 million people each year enjoy the sport of
parasailing many of them for the first time. The Parasail Safety Council’s does not engage in
commercial commerce of any kind nor does it accept donations or gifts. All of the online content is
presented as a public service and is considered a credible source of information.
Welcome to the
Parasail Safety Council Website
The worlds premiere source for parasail information
“One of our core values is ‘risk transparency’ , encouraging an
open and honest dialogue about parasailing risks and effective
risk management in an unbiased format based on historical data”
ACCIDENT ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION ON PROPOSED
REGULATIONS OF RULE 26/44
Commercial parasailing, the carrying of a paying passenger secured to a canopy which is dynamically tethered to a ‘winchboat’, has
been in existence since the I begun taking up passengers in and around Miami, Florida in the early 1970’s together along with my
numerous inventions and patents ( see http://www.parasail.org/mark-mcculloh.html )
Today, commercial parasailing has grown in Florida to over one hundred (120+) operations with some offering flights year around and
others only during the peak tourist seasons.
Over the years, commercial parasailing has been plagues with persistent serious accidents many of which have resulted in high
publicity deaths. These deaths not only pose a risk to the public, but have had a negative impact on the parasail industry’s brand, as
well as, that of the global tourism brand the state of Florida. While in the past, the financial risk was limited to the operator, as the
Today, litigation has spread to include property owners and manufacturers. It would not be unrealistic to anticipate that municipalities
or other government entities would become parties to the actions if no action is taken. The Department of Justice has also become
involved filing criminal cases against Captains and company owners under the Seaman’s Manslaughter Act. Whereas, Florida has
never filed criminal charges involving parasail deaths.
The Federal Government controls the sport to a limited aspect through the Coast Guard and to a lesser extent the FAA. Florida has
traditionally relied upon the Department of Fish and Wildlife along with local policing authorities to control and investigate parasail
accidents. Needless to say jurisdiction over a hybrid vessel/air sport is somewhat confusing, which statewide regulations could clarify.
Both Houses of the Florida Congress have from time to time proposed regulating the sport following each death with no bills from
either body having made it to either floor for a vote. The Senate is now considering introducing regulation of parasailing once again.
Can commercial parasailing be regulated by the State of Florida in such a manner as to significantly reduce or eliminate serious
injuries or deaths?
In order to answer this question in a way that is meaningful to reader the dynamics of parasailing, must be briefly explained as the
sport is more complex than what most tourists and operators might believe or have been told. Parasailing involves a modified
parachute canopy design affecting stability, control, lift and payload theory including but not limited to the characteristics of a
dynamically tethered object, the characteristics of an object in rough seas, wind, weather, equipment maintenance and performance,
launch and retrieval systems, vessel operation and people both as crew and passenger. As to people, specifically the reaction of
people under highly stressful situations like an emergency waterlanding including drowning. ( USCG Search & Rescue Report located
at (www.parasail.org/USCG-Search-Rescue.pdf )
For the purposes of this analysis, we have categorized accidents into two types: a) accidents ‘with tow-line separation’ and b)
accidents ‘without tow- line separation’. Tow-line separation accidents cause more than 60% of the serious injuries and 98% of all
It is important to note that ’tow- line separation’ has often been demonized as the ‘cause’ of many fatal accidents when in fact tow-
line separation itself, is not dangerous nor is the direct cause of injuries and in some case plays an important role in preventing
serious vessel accidents by acting as the ‘ weak link’ thus prevent equipment damage and vessel capsizing injuring both crew and
passengers . (See: Lake George, New York accident where cable strength surpassed vessel capability and capsized 2009)
See also Vessel Stability Reports, US Coast Guard Stability Investigations and USCG Commandant Directive on parasail winchboat
stability requirements for inspected vessels. Click links below to download reports.
While a combination of factors may be involved in ‘tow line separation accidents’, there are certain key and reoccurring themes that
warrant consideration which can be categorized into two types a) ‘tow- line separation in high winds resulting in non-waterlandings’
and b) ‘tow- line separation in high winds resulting in waterlandings’.
TOW-LINE SEPARATION ACCIDENTS
Tow-Line Separation: (High Wind, Non-Water Landings)
In order to eliminate accidents involving non water landings the parasail flight distance to shore and other fixed objects must be
calculated and controlled. By doing this one can conclude by example that flights at 600' feet ASL must remain 1800' from shore to
avoid a shore landing. Lower flight parameters would allow for closer to shore distances based on the glide slope ratio of the canopy
in use. These calculations and resulting distances are available and easily applied to an operation. . (See: Panama City Accident 2013
involving high altitude flight near shore) Solution- Regulate distance to shore and other fixed objects
Tow-Line Separation: (High Wind + Water Landing)
Tow-line separation in high winds resulting in waterlandings has resulted in more than 98% of all of the serious injuries and deaths
worldwide. As expressed earlier there is no evidence to suggest that tow-line separation in and of itself is the cause of these injuries.
In order to eliminate this type of accident we must analyze the risk factors which follow the separation and attempt to significantly
reduce each one of their impact.
Tow-Line Separation Risk Factors: (High Wind + Water Landing)
During a, ’tow- line separation in high winds resulting in a water landings’, the crew and passengers face three risk factors.
The first is the characteristic of a parasail canopy to be able to re-inflate itself after its payload (passenger(s) have landed in the
The second is the parasailor’s inability to separate themselves from the canopy thus forcing them to be drug backwards by a re-
inflated canopy in whatever path it takes.
The third is the glide slope ratio of the canopy as it relates to height and distance to shore or other rigid life threatening objects
and the canopy’s ability to reach them after the tow-line has separated.
Rescue Plans Tow-Line Separation: (High Wind + Water Landing + Rescue )
Implementing a successful rescue strategy is paramount in any type of water landing. Various rescue strategies have been deployed
over the years with minimal success in parasail fatality prevention and fall short of having a significant impact. All of these plans are
based on the use of a single or multi passenger harness support system:
Tow Vessel: Ensnare Canopy: Use: Wide Spread-The most prevalent rescue plan in use today is for the winchboat to overtake
and run over the runaway canopy. The distance to parasailor, ground speed of canopy and time to achieve results vs. drowning
time assuming the canopy is at water level, greatly reduce the odds of this solution’s successful implementation.
Chase Boat: Ensnare Canopy: Use- Rare -This plan involves operating a second vessel and crew that follows the parasailors
throughout the flight with the assumption that it will be better positioned to rescue the parasailor/canopy as needed. While this
plan seems viable carrying out this plan may be cost prohibitive and even dangerous in high parasail flight concentrations such
as the Pensacola area. The rationale behind this plan is the tacit admission that plan 1 ‘Run Over Canopy’ and Plan 3 ‘Gaff Pole’
may not be feasible in terms of the vessel’s requirement to overtake the canopy in a timely manner. Thus this plan casts doubt
by its endorsers on those two other plans.
‘Gaff’ Pole: Use-Very Few -This plan involves a long pole with a ‘shepherds hook’ on the end. The concept is to chase down and
snare the runaway canopy using this device thus in theory preventing it from remaining inflated. The challenges found in the
previous plan apply along with false assumption that a single person can snare and deflate a canopy with high lift capability
failed in a real life rescue attempt resulting in the death of a parasailor.
‘Drogue Style’ Devices: Use- Few -This plan involves a manually activated ‘drogue device’ deployed by the parasailor and/or
crew which acts like a sea anchor attached to the canopy, which when filled with water causes the canopy to sink back into the
water. When deployed by the parasailor, it requires the parasailor to locate and pull on the loop handle. In the case of the
crew, it requires the tow vessel to chase down the canopy so the crew can engage the loop handle with a gaff pole. All of the
challenges given require extensive training and execution by the passengers and crew to carry out this task under extremely
stressful and life threatening situations. It also has the danger of pre-emergency deployment in adverse conditions which failed
reliability testing in the mid 80’s and 90’s.
Which Risk Has The Greatest Impact On The Reduction of Fatalities?
Based on existing rescue plans involving specifically the “harness support systems” are for the most part ineffective as none of them
prevent or mitigate the three risk factors explained in Tow-Line Separation Risk Factors above i.e. a) canopy re-inflation, b) harness
escape and; c) glide/ slope ratio prior to the accident.
While all three risks play a significant role in parasailing deaths, one stands out above the rest. The parasailor’s inability to escape or
free themselves from the canopy is the root cause of serious injuries and fatalities to date.
In fact, it is this ‘inability to escape’ which both propagated the many different rescue plans and which has stymied them as well.
There is a prevalent use in the US of a body harness passenger support system which is designed to keep the wearer from falling
out of or inadvertently escaping the harness. This includes during and after an emergency waterlanding
The original full body harness design which connected the passenger to the canopy at the top of the shoulder was modified in
the 1980’s and is now referred to as the half body harness and connects the parasailor at the hip. This change of convenience
tends to flip the wearer upside down when being dragged backwards through the water.
A drowning person especially one being drug through the water is not rational or capable of carrying out any type of instructions
or commands. This is supported by numerous studies including one in particular published by the Journal of U. S. Coast Guard
Search and Rescue magazine entitled "It Doesn’t Look Like They’re Drowning” ( View Article )
So therein lies the dilemma. A harness which is the parasailor’s friend in the sky can become their enemy in the water. (Watch Video)
NON-TOW LINE SEPARATION ACCIDENTS
Non Tow-Line Separation Accidents while less frequent, have been connected to deaths and serious injuries as well. (See accident in
Pompano Beach , Bahamas and Long Boat Key, Ft. Myers) where passenger support system failure was the root cause. These
accidents are principally based on mechanical/material failure and negligence. They also involve poor rescue techniques involving a
stationary floating passenger.
Based on a review of all significant accidents going back three decades, the non tow-line separation accidents are best eliminated
through proper equipment configuration, specific use, and routine maintenance and replacement, including the Winchboat vessel
HOW DO WE SOLVE THIS DILEMMA?
It is my professional opinion, based on years of empirical accident data and experience, that we will only achieve the goal of
preventing both serious parasail accidents and fatalities by restricting the canopy size based on the type of passenger support system
In fact, if regulators were to implement limitations on canopy size based on equipment types as outlined below, new regulations
dealing with parasail accidents and fatality prevention resulting from tow line separations and emergency waterlandings in dangerous
wind conditions would be unnecessary.
THIS REGULATION MAY BE SUMMED UP IN TWO WORDS: [RULE 26/44]
The strength of Rule 26/44, is derived from its simplicity and effectiveness. Parasail captains ONLY NEED TO BE REGULATED AS TO
THEIR MAXIMUM CANOPY SIZE BASED ON THE PARASAIL PASSENGER SUPPORT SYSTEM THEY ARE USING.
Rule 26/44 would be easy to regulate and inexpensive to adopt and enforce. It requires no experience, no specialized training or
reliance on any other type of equipment that creates additional duties, burdens and liability to the operator and parasailor. Simply
stated, Rule 26/44 eliminates these problematic areas.
SUMMARY OF THE RULE 26/44 PROPOSAL
To prevent future parasail fatalities, the RULE 26/44 provision that places restrictions on Passenger Support Systems and Canopy size
should be included with any new commercial parasailing regulations.
Passenger Support System: Under rule 26/44, all parasail vessels must be equipped with a passenger support system that
includes a “harness style” and/or "gondola style" systems or both.
Canopy Diameter Restrictions: Under rule 26/44, the maximum diameter of Parasail canopies used for commercial
parasailing must be not exceed 26’ feet for the harness style passenger support system and 44’ feet for the Gondola passenger
THE SCIENCE BEHIND RULE 26/44
A combination of wind speed, payload and canopy size have a direct correlation as to the probability of a parasailor drowning as the
result of emergency waterlandings in high winds after a tow line separation. The totality and complexity of this scenario makes
regulating these variables, extremely difficult, if not impossible to draft, operators to comply with and their enforcement.
Placing restrictions on canopy size is the key to waterlanding survival especially for 'harness' flights because parasailor(s) are
irrevocably attached to the harness/canopy system.
We know that the flight characteristics of a 26’ foot canopy in that it will not fully re-inflate before self-deflating given any pay load
above 90lbs in wind speeds up to 30 knots. As such, the likelihood of a 'harness' drowning as the result of a 26' runaway canopy is
less than 0.01%.
Unlike the harness, the gondola style support system, which surrounds parasailor(s) in a protective frame without physical restraints,
allows for easy evacuation from a reclined position in the event of a waterlanding even in winds speeds exceeding 30 knots, thus the
larger allowable canopy size of up to 44' feet without endangering the parasailors.
The sport as presently practiced commercially. We can conclude from statistics, accident reconstruction and imperial data that
preventing injury or death to a parasailor
in the Tow-Line Separation: (High Wind + Water Landing) accident category, would have a significant impact on the reduction of this
risk! Theoretically we have found that solving these factors and preventing serious injuries and deaths may be simpler than we have
been lead to believe. The real question is no longer whether there can be effective regulations. The real question is who has the
wisdom to implement them.
NOTES TO THE RULE:
This rule did not consider any devices including those that are labeled and/or marketed as parasail safety products that have not been
tested and validated by a certified engineering firm and which have not meet the minimum requirements for product liability insurance
The report was prepared and submitted on 08/09/2013 by:
Parasail Safety Expert / Consultant
The Clayton & McCulloh Building
1065 Maitland Center Commons Blvd.
Maitland, FL 32751
For more resources regarding parasail accidents and statistics, please visit http://www.parasail.org/accident-statistics.html
Commentary on Parasail Regulations in Florida
I have received hundreds of inquiries wanting my reaction to the most recent attempt to pass parasail regulations in Florida which
has received a lot of attention since the Panama City Beach parasailing accident where Alexis Fairchild and Sidney Good were both
Having been an advocate for regulations since the mid 80’s publishing the world first Operating Standards and Guidelines for
Parasailing (1985) in anticipation of a growing demand for parasailing. To date, very little has been accomplished to institute
meaningful regulations with no clear understanding as to why? Most operators would like to see moderate regulations whereby
everyone operates under the same standards, so long as it doesn’t impact their income.
Having the unique role of being the inventor of modern day parasailing equipment; and only parasailing expert (certified by the
district courts), comes the responsibility of presenting the irrefutable facts about the inherent dangers of parasailing and specific
remedies to overcome safety obstacles.
While I fully support SB 320 as presented by Senator Maria Sachs, it is in my opinion as an expert in the field, that SB 320 does not
go far enough to prevent parasailing fatalities. However, if passed, it will be a first step in the right direction; and open the door to
more sweeping reforms starting with;
1. Limitations on parasail canopy size based on passenger support types; ie: body harness and/or Gondola (Rule 44 report)
2. Expanding penalty provision to include criminal charges against a Captain who is found willfully negligent in a parasail fatality
3. Mandating all parasail vessels be equipped with weather radar that delivers up-to-the-minute forecasts, storm alerts with visual.
4. Parasail equipment manufacturers who sell parasail equipment to operators in Florida, must carry products liability insurance.
5. Parasail canopies, passenger support systems and towline must have a mandatory replacement time/date stamp based on both
number of flights or storage whichever comes first.
These suggestions have been challenged by commercial operators which are heavily invested in maintaining the status quo.
Unfortunately, without meaningful reforms, serious accidents and fatalities will continue and eventually make present operations
Commentary on Parasail Regulations in Florida