Parasailing is one of the best ways to get an incredible view of the ocean and the surrounding area.
It involves strapping into a harness that’s attached to a large parachute, then lifting into the air while a boat tows you around.
Those who are afraid of heights or a little nervous about the concept as a whole may wonder how high they end up going.
Like many other aviation pursuits, there are strict rules that the boat captain has to follow.
Here’s what you need to know about parasailing and how high you go.
How High Is Parasailing?
The highest that you can fly while parasailing is 500 feet above the earth’s surface.
That’s a regulation set by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA covers all aviation including parasailing and the use of drones.
While most think of them as regulating airplanes, they set the rules for basically anything that goes through the air.
That includes extreme sports.
While parasailing doesn’t fall under the category of an extreme sport, it does take place in the air.
As such, the FAA has a few set rules.
One of them is that the individual cannot fly higher than 500 feet.
To help ensure that doesn’t happen, the FAA also stated that boat captains can only have a tow rope no greater than 800 feet in length.
This ensures that the person parasailing can’t go beyond 500 feet above the earth’s surface.
In addition, the FAA states that the boat captain cannot take the individual parasailing if they’re unable to see three miles ahead of them.
This essentially means that no one can parasail if the conditions are foggy or misty.
The FAA does this to ensure everyone is safe while enjoying a fun hobby.
Finally, they state that the parasailing location cannot occur within five miles of an airport.
While the chances of hitting an incoming plane are minimal, setting this regulation further ensures everyone’s safety.
As such, you are not able to ascend higher than 500 feet while parasailing.
Why Can You Only Fly 500 Feet In The Air?
First-time parasailers or thrill-seekers may feel a little bummed that they’re unable to go higher than 500 feet.
However, that’s still very high.
In the right conditions, some parasailers can even see the curvature of the earth.
That’s a sight usually restricted to pilots, airline passengers, and astronauts.
The reason that you can only fly up to 500 feet in the air is for safety.
At some point, it becomes a little more difficult to breathe up there.
While there are plenty of buildings that are 1,000 feet or higher, they’re not always that high when you include sea level.
Those buildings are also protected by walls and insulation.
When you’re up in the air at 500 feet on the ocean, there’s nothing protecting you.
You feel the full force of the wind against your body.
That can be a lot of force, especially when it’s a windy day.
Going even higher is also dangerous.
If something does go wrong with the parachute, you could fall from a dangerous height.
The chances of survival are slim.
If your parachute remains intact, but the rope malfunctions, then you could fly off across the ocean for some time before you finally land.
That’s if you land at all.
Going high means you might catch an upstream and fly higher and higher until the air becomes thin.
Finally, at least for the FAA, it’s safer in terms of being able to avoid birds, planes, and other things that are flying around.
An altitude of 500 feet isn’t so high that you’re going to interfere with air travel.
It’s also not so low that you might run across drones or other flying objects.
At 500 feet, you’re able to get the most out of the experience while still being safe.
Why Does The Boat Only Have 800 Feet Of Rope?
One thing that you might learn from your boat captain is that the tow rope is 800 feet in length.
The FAA regulates how much rope they can use for parasailing.
Having only 800 feet to ensures that the parasailer can only go up to 500 feet.
The rest of the rope is there for safety purposes.
Why Can’t Boat Captains Take Out Parasailers In Foggy Conditions?
The FAA has a regulation that boat captains cannot take their parasailers out onto the ocean during foggy conditions.
At the very least, they need to be able to see three miles ahead of them.
That’s because if something happens to the boat, then something is going to happen to the parasailer.
While those on the boat can potentially survive, the parasailer is incredibly vulnerable.
Being able to see at least three miles out ensures that the boat captain can react in time to avoid certain problems.
Here are a few dangers that the boat captain can avoid by not sailing during foggy conditions.
1. Boat Collisions
One of the biggest threats to a boat during foggy conditions is running into another boat.
Out on the ocean or a large lake, there’s no question that there are boaters out there driving fast.
They might even be performing dangerous maneuvers.
If the conditions are foggy, then it’s difficult for either party to see the other.
It’s important to remember that they’re both on the ocean and not on a flat surface.
The ocean is moving around them and pulling them up and down with the cresting of the waves.
Even on a clear day, it can be difficult to see other boaters if the waves are choppy.
In foggy conditions, it’s almost impossible until it’s too late.
If two boats come driving at one another, then there’s a chance that they can collide.
While boats are strong, they don’t hold up well against collisions like that.
The boat towing the parasailer could become damaged if not sink.
This means the boat captain has to either cut the parasailer loose to avoid drowning them or hope that the winch is working, and will work fast enough to pull them in before the boat sinks.
That’s counting on the captain still being alive after the collision or in good enough shape to think critically.
Boat collisions are a serious danger to parasailers, which is why the FAA regulates that boat captains are unable to drive with parasailers attached in foggy conditions.
Another reason boat captains are unable to drive parasailers if they’re unable to see three miles ahead of them is because of drones.
As drones have become cheaper, they’ve gotten into the hands of photographers and tourists.
Photographers use them to reach areas that they can’t access.
Tourists use them to catch the perfect photos for their Instagram.
The problem with drones is that you can’t always see what’s around you when you’re operating them.
You might end up flying the drone into a parasailer.
This problem becomes even more likely when you’re operating the drone during foggy conditions.
If you’re trying to catch a unique shot of the ocean or following the path of dolphins, you may be unaware that you’re heading closer and closer to a parasailer.
As the fog clears, you suddenly see them before you.
You may not have the reflexes to act quickly enough to steer your drone away from them.
If your drone smacks into them, then you could kill them or cause them serious harm.
Even worse, the parasailer may be unable to signal to the boat captain that they’re injured.
By the time the flight is over, the boat captain might pull someone in who died from strangulation, electrocution, or blood loss.
Drones can be a danger in foggy conditions.
3. Stray Aircraft
It isn’t unusual to see independent pilots with their personal aircraft flying above the ocean.
They may be piloting some tourists who want to get a unique view of the ocean.
They may be piloting photographers who are looking for the perfect shot.
They may even just be piloting friends and family and showing off their skills.
Because they’re independent, they may not have the tracking equipment turned on for the FAA to follow or any air traffic control system in the area.
As such, they’re a wild card flying in the air.
In foggy conditions, this can become dangerous if there are parasailers around.
All it takes is one wrong turn for the airplane to hit the parasailer.
The parachute could become tangled in the airplane which can cause it to malfunction, too.
If the parasailer is still alive after hitting the plane, then they might drown if the plane drags them to the water.
It might also cause the boat to sink or break if the rope is wound around the plane, too.
In foggy conditions, it can be difficult to see a small aircraft flying around.
With the rush of wind in a parasailer’s ears, they may not even hear it until it’s too late.
The same goes for the boat captain who likely can only hear the roar of the ocean, the wind, and the boat engine.
There may be no way for any of them to signal each other of the encroaching danger.
Even if they can, a plane is going to move faster than their attempts to avoid the danger.
In clear conditions, it’s easy to spot the plane and avoid it.
It’s also easier for the pilot to see the boat and parasailer and fly clear of them.
Foggy conditions can make flying in the area dangerous and deadly.
Can You Parasail If You’re Frightened Of Heights?
People who have a fear of heights may think that parasailing is beyond their abilities.
That isn’t always true.
Part of every fear is the fear of the unknown.
Things become a lot less scary when you know what’s happening or after you have experienced it.
To help lower that fear, it’s helpful to know what parasailing is and what some of the experience is like.
Parasailing is the use of a parachute to soar above the ocean or a large body of water.
The parachute connects to a tow rope that’s connected to a boat.
The boat captain drives a certain speed along the water to drag the rope.
The parachute then catches the wind and holds the rider aloft in the air.
If the boat isn’t moving, then the parachute can’t collect the wind and the parasailer slowly descends to the ground.
When you first board a boat, the captain will explain to you what’s going to happen and various safety regulations.
You’ll then strap into the harness which connects to the parachute.
The captain will check over the rope, harness, and parachute to make sure that they’re secure.
Once everything checks out, you’ll stand on a platform.
The boat captain will slowly start to speed up the boat.
Once the parachute catches the wind, you’ll lift off.
It isn’t a sudden rush up to the air.
It’s a slow ascension.
Once you’re at 500 feet, or just under it, in the air, the boat will remain at the same speed.
This lets you hover in place.
There isn’t a lot of bobbing or dipping around.
You’re basically floating in the air and following the boat.
You’re able to see incredible views all around you.
When it comes time to return to the boat, the captain will slow down the boat and pull in the rope.
You’ll slowly descend until you reach the platform once more.
If something does go wrong, then the crew is there and ready to help you.
While thrill-seekers are among those who parasail the most, those who don’t enjoy heights also parasail.
That’s because while it may seem as though you’re high up in the air, you’re not really that high.
Some skyscrapers are higher than 500 feet.
Even some rollercoasters come close to 500 feet.
Once you’re up in the air, the experience and feeling of weightlessness will likely calm you rather than terrify you.
If anything, the experience might not last long enough.
Is Parasailing Dangerous?
Considering that parasailing involves flying 500 feet in the air in a parachute that can drown you, there’s definitely some risk to parasailing.
That said, the number of deaths has been quite small for as long as parasailing has been around.
Between the years 1982 and 2012, there were 70 reported parasailing deaths.
That’s not bad for 30 years considering the average number of parasailers is three to five million every year.
In most cases, parasailing is completely safe.
However, it does help to know the dangers that exist.
Here are some of the factors that can make parasailing dangerous.
1. Worn Tow Lines
The leading cause of accidents and deaths in parasailing is a worn tow line.
The problem with tow lines is that they start to lose their strength each time they’re used.
They’re also exposed to salt water and sunlight.
Both these attributes weaken tow lines.
When a tow line snaps, the sailor falls to the ocean.
At 500 feet, that’s a hard fall and likely isn’t survivable.
At most, humans can survive a 20- or 30-foot drop.
Even coast guard officials won’t drop into water if it’s more than 15 feet.
If you want to make your parasailing experience safer, then you need to know what a good tow line looks like.
It should be clean and clearly not worn.
If it looks frayed or dirty, then you should cancel the flight.
2. Harness Or Gondola
Another safety concern is the choice between wearing a harness or sitting in a gondola.
Not every parasail company will offer a gondola.
Most have a harness because that’s the cheaper option.
However, harnesses are more dangerous than a gondola.
A harness restricts your movement and keeps you tied to the parachute.
If you do manage to survive your fall, then you’ll find yourself wrapped up in the harness and parachute.
A gondola might offer some protection from the impact, but the most important thing is you’re not surrounded by the parachute.
It’s easier to escape from a gondola in the water.
3. No Safety Regulations
While the FAA has rules for boat captains to follow, there isn’t a department that regularly inspects equipment on parasailing boats.
Some states have standards and regulations, too, but there isn’t anyone coming to check that boat captains are compliant.
This means that some boat captains may be extremely safe while others are cutting corners to save money.
To improve the safety of parasailing, there needs to be a set department with enough funding to check standards.
Parasailing takes you up to 500 feet in the air but does not go any higher due to regulations from the FAA.
Even if you’re frightened of heights, you may still enjoy parasailing since it’s a relatively calming experience.
That said, parasailing is slightly dangerous and it’s always worth inspecting the equipment you’re using and speaking to the captain about safety regulations.