Sunday, March 29, 2015


 A Marine Safety Information Bulletin Alerting The Boating And Aviation Communities To Specific Hazards Relating To Parasailing Operations Has Been Issued By The U.S. Coast Guard.  


 The hazards of concern involve flight issues when aircraft operate in the vicinity of parasail operations and operating limitations for the vessel operators towing parasailors. Additionally the Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB) addresses banner towing by aircraft, this type of aerial advertising is frequently seen over public beaches.  Pilots, flight crews, vessel operators and crews should be especially alert when operating in the vicinity of parasailing and aerial banner towing operations. Moreover parasail operators and banner towing operations should be especially aware of each other as frequently they are operating at altitudes where contact is possible. 

 The Coast Guard Marine Safety Information Bulletin noted: 

   " Last summer, there were two incidents where aircraft towing banners (banner tows) collided with parasail rigs aloft that were being towed by small passenger vessels. Fortunately, there were no passenger injuries, only property damage, but these incidents could have resulted in serious injury or a fatality. "

  The MSIB  we are alerting our readers to outlines the applicable FAA and USCG regulations and provides additional guidance to promote safety of parasailing while operating with passengers aloft in the vicinity of banner tow or other aircraft operations. The FAA regulates both the aviation operations involved in both para sailing and banner towing and other forms of aerial advertising, and the USCH regulates the vessel operations. The FAA sets altitude limits for both operations but in this MSIB the Coast Guard reminds both parasail operators and banner tow aviators that frequently towed banners are flying as much as 100 to 150 feet below the aircraft, which according to its altimeter, is flying at the regulation minimum altitude. Additionally the aircraft pilot has blind spots immediately ahead and below him and may not see the parasailor if banner and parasailor are at the same altitude and in close proximity. It is at such times that danger of aerial collision exists. 

 Here is an especially good piece of advice from the MSIB:

  "The FAA concluded that parasails and parasail operations are subject to regulations applicable to kites under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 101, and, therefore, has prescribed certain operating (flight) limitations and notice and marking requirements. Parasail operators who need to deviate from these limitations and requirements must request and receive approved waivers for parasail flight from the nearest FAA Service Center (see enclosure 1). Commonly requested and waived regulations include 14 CFR 101.13 (a)(4), 14 CFR 101.15, and 14 CFR 101.17. Additionally, when requesting waivers, parasail operators should maintain a copy of their waiver request as evidence of submission. This may be used for compliance purposes until the waiver arrives. To promote maritime and aviation safety, parasail and banner tow operators, who fly within common geographic areas, are encouraged to be proactive in meeting with each other through regular safety meetings, especially before the start of each operating season"

 The American Admiralty Information Services Organization has never been big fans of Coast Guard regulations but we do laud one aspect of the Coast Guard regulatory culture. The Coast Guard institutionally follows the process Lyndon Johnson called "Jaw Boning" in that they use their Marine Safety Information Bulletins , Notice to Mariners System, and Industry Advisory Committees to avoid ineffective or counterproductive regulations (with distressing inconsistent results) and to correct safety and environment hazards without regulation. The banner towing and parasailing business communities are being encouraged through "jaw boning" to take up some effective "jaw boning" of operating altitudes between and among themselves. This usually is a signal to do something or be subjected to additional regulation, possibly with some ham handed business killing provisions. 

 Our analysis is that the party with the most room to compromise is the parasailors. The banner towing community already has a difficult time getting the banners down to a level where they can be read by beach goers. This keeps the aircraft flying at minimum regulatory compliance levels.  That often results in the banner itself intruding into kite operations air space, the realm of the parasailor, parasailing surfboarder , and beach kite flyers. We remind banner towing aviators that "minimum regulatory compliance" is not the court test of safe operation in the event of liability lawsuits.  A "standard of care" that a court will impose on any sort of marine or aviation, and especially on blended operations is likely to be quite a bit higher than "minimum regulatory compliance" or a "reasonable man test". The USCG and the FAA must write national regulations that may or may not work for both or either of these two types of business very well on a local level. The Coast Guard reminds the two business communities that there are procedures for variances and exceptions built into both the USCG and FAA regulations.  Its time to get together and review you local situation before the season really gets started. Time is short. Locally agreed upon "standard operating procedures" that do not exceed any regulatory requirement often need no Federal endorsement and if observed tend to improve the posture of any such business involved in a post accident liability claim. Operators who refuse to operate within such "jaw boned" parameters hazard their liability positions and insurance.

 We again note that in our opinion the parasail operators have the most room to compromise. Generally any height above treetop level provides a thrill ride. It is conceivable that extra height gives the boat a bit more surface vessel collision avoidance maneuverability. But such operations can probably be well performed pretty far below maximum kite air space. The towed banner business community has no business if their banners can not be read and suffers the constant temptation to operate at "minimal regulatory compliance" altitudes which often drops the banner itself into kite air space. A local compromise on an air space safety margin could be solution. Another alternative is surface operations lanes. This would involve parasailing take off and landing and flight operations at a designated distance off the beach and banner towing operations parallel to and usually inshore ( for better readability" of the advertising banner. Such a solution may well require application for Coast Guard and / or FAA variances, but the concerned business communities should be confident of approval if their local proposal actually improves on the base federal regulations. 

 To recap; the parasailors need above tree top level plus altitudes that are within the kite regulations for both the effect of a thrill ride and for a sufficient tow line cantentary to give the towing vessel surface navigation collision avoidance maneuverability.  The banner towing business need sufficiently low altitudes and close in horizontal transit lanes for banner readability. THE COAST GUARD IN THIS MSIB IS ALERTING THE TWO BUSINESS COMMUNITIES THAT THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO ACHIEVE THIS IS LOCAL AGREEMENTS, SOME OF WHICH MAY REQUIRE THE FEDERAL REGULATORY VARIANCE PROCEDURES. The Coast Guard is issuing this helpful notice in the wake of a couple of near misses. If there is a fatal accident this season it may be too late to avoid additional federal regulation, which often because it must address an issue nationally ends up killing certain local businesses. Get the job done locally starting this pre season. Meanwhile we suggest if at all possible given your local situation that both business communities observe common sense this season and avoid operations any where near the edge of your allotted air space. 

 Now there is another issue, the limitations on surface maneuverability on the towing water craft once parasailors are launched. It is imperative that such vessels with their aerial tow advertise their restricted maneuverability to other surface vessels. Most recreational boaters and personal watercraft operators have little knowledge of the inland or international rules to avoid collision. Parasail water craft operators are supposed to have at a minimum a U.S. Coast Guard motor boat operator license and have had to pass formal written examination on these regulations. There can be no excuse for such vessels not using the related whistle signals, especially the danger signal if another surface vessel invades your required maneuver space, or displaying the required or suggested lights or day shapes indicating your restricted maneuverability status. But a "prudent operator" will go beyond that given the wide spread general knowledge that you are operating within a recreational boating space dominated by vessel operators of typically limited skills. This is a job for management. It is important to ADVERTISE at boat launch sites, marinas, and other venues where recreational boaters congregate  that they should stay well clear of parasail operation due to the limited maneuverability of the towing vessel.  

 Finally, the beach going public can help. If you decide to go parasailing tell your operator that you would like to fly at the minimal safe altitude for avoiding aerial advertising air space and still providing him as vessel operator ample surface maneuverability. We promise you that such a height will still be a thrill ride. But no one needs the thrill of aerial collision or near miss. American Admiralty Books Safety & Privacy Policies   

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