Broward County

Florida Senator takes to the sky in Fort Lauderdale to celebrate new parasailing law

Senator Maria Sachs suits up in a life vest prior to her parasailing flight. Sachs took to the air to honor the passing of the White-Miskell Act at Aloha Watersports in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014.
Senator Maria Sachs suits up in a life vest prior to her parasailing flight. Sachs took to the air to honor the passing of the White-Miskell Act at Aloha Watersports in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014. Special Contributor

Finally, the Florida senator was ready to go parasailing.

The bill she sponsored establishing tighter regulations for the popular watersport became Florida law this week after more than a decade of legislative attempts to crack down on the industry.

On Thursday morning in Fort Lauderdale, Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, celebrated the victory with an honorary parasail trip out over the Atlantic ocean.

Following the parasailing deaths of Amber White in 2007 and, most recently, Kathleen Miskell in 2012, Sachs made it her mission to pass the measure, also known as the White-Miskell Act in honor of the two women.

“We’ve had too many injuries and way too many deaths,” she said.

The law requires operators to maintain at least a $2 million annual liability insurance policy and obtain a U.S. Coast Guard-issued captain’s license.

It also prohibits parasailing in certain weather conditions, including wind speeds of more than 20 miles per hour and lightning storms within seven miles of shore. Operators who violate the rules face a second-degree misdemeanor charge.

The bill is a step in the right direction for the industry, said Mark McCulloh, founder of the Parasail Safety Council, a nonprofit publication that tracks accidents. But he’s concerned that it doesn’t include new rules for parasailing equipment. Miskell’s death occurred when she slipped out of a worn harness and fell 200 feet.

McCulloh, who helped draft the legislation, suggested that manufacturers add time stamps to their equipment, like harnesses and tow ropes, so operators will know when to change them. He also said harnesses should be slipped around the shoulders instead of the waist. At the waist, passengers can flip upside down, causing them to lose control.

If deaths continue, operating costs could rise with the risk, and McCulloh fears parasailing in Florida might come to an end.

“Either fatalities are going to catch up to the industry and make it unaffordable or we can put a little more time and money into equipment and training,” which will help stabilize the industry, he said.

Some operators have their own standards to ensure safety, such as Aloha Watersports, the outfitter that took Sachs on her honorary ride.

Wayne Mascolo, Aloha’s president, said he has always had a hefty insurance policy and doesn’t hesitate to cancel a ride if the weather is bad. He says the 30-year-old company has ever had an accident.

“My motto is out here: ‘If I won’t fly my children, I won’t fly anybody,’” he said.

Amber White, 15, was parasailing with Pompano Beach Watersports when she and her sister, Crystal, slammed into the side of a building.

The operator allowed the girls to fly despite thunderstorm warnings and heavy winds that pushed the boat too close to shore and caused the tow line to snap, forcing them into the building.

Kathleen Miskell — the other woman for whom the bill was named — was parasailing with Waveblast Water Sports, also in Pompano Beach, when she fell out of the worn harness. Her husband was strapped in beside her and watched in horror as she plummeted to her death.

Karen Terry, the lawyer representing Miskell’s husband, Stephen, said she and her client are relieved the law is finally in place and hope it will pave the way for future regulations.

“The regulations that we have are a great start,” Terry said. “They were a long time coming and a battle worth the fight.”

Pompano Beach Mayor Lamar Fisher had worked with Sachs to pass the legislation; the recent deaths happened in his city.

On Thursday, Fisher said he felt chills while he watched Sachs fly over the ocean, her parachute a speck in the sky.

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