How Do Parasails Work?

Your family has been begging you to go parasailing, but you haven’t yet committed. You know through this blog that parasailing is safe, even more so than driving, but your mind still isn’t totally at ease. You think you’d feel better if you knew how parasails work, so how does it happen?

A parasailer or rider gets strapped into a harness or gondola to go parasailing. Attached to the rig is the parasail wing or parachute. The tow rope gets connected as well, and as the boat operator gains speed, the wind catches in the parachute and you ascend. 

If you’re still looking for more information, we’ve got it. In this post, we’ll go over the parts of a parasail as well as elaborate on how everything works in more detail. We’ll even share some tips for first-time parasailers that will help make the experience that much more enjoyable!   

The Parts of a Parasail

The apparatus you ride over the ocean in is called a parasail, while the activity itself is known as parasailing. A parasail consists of a series of parts. Let’s more closely examine those parts now. 

Harness or Gondola

The first part of a parasail is your seating option. Well, if you’re in a gondola, you’re sitting down. Now, when we say gondola, we know that the fancy Italian boat is what springs to mind, but a parasailing gondola seat is not at all the same.

Instead, the gondola is a wide, flexible seat, sort of like a swing at a park. Unlike a swing, you’re strapped into your gondola so you’re more secure. You’re also not supposed to rock back and forth, although you can steer by gripping the risers.

Your other option is a harness. Since you’re new to parasailing and feeling a tad reluctant, we wouldn’t suggest a harness for you or the other members of your family, at least not yet. With a harness, you don’t sit and gaze over the ocean, but rather, you hang.  

Now, not to worry, as you’re still strapped in securely so you don’t easily topple over once you gain some height, but choosing a harness is for the more experienced, thrill-seeking parasailers out there.

Both types of parasailing seats are very safe. We’ll refer you to the link from the intro, which is our article on parasailing safety statistics. The Parasail Safety Council recorded more than 170 million parasails over 30 years, from 1982 through 2012.

In their recorded data, 141 million parasailers used harnesses and another 29 million people chose gondolas. There were, as expected, more injuries amongst the harness parasailers, 520 such injuries. Only two injuries occurred when parasailers used gondola seating in the Parasail Safety Council’s recorded data. 

Parasail Wing

Another nickname for parasailing is parakiting, and how do kites fly? Well, by catching air, of course. Your parasail needs a component that can catch the air as well, and it’s known as the parasail wing.

Jargon aside, the parasail wing is your parachute. The wing is attached to a horizontal metal bar which your gondola or harness is strapped onto. 

The nylon construction of your parachute provides strength while still staying lightweight. You may get to select the color of the parasail wing, especially if you call ahead and make a special request. Even if you don’t get to pick the color, you can trust that the parachute will be a bright and vivid hue.

Is this solely to make your parasailing trip a nicer one? Not entirely. The Day-Glo colors of parasail wings lend them better visibility. It’s a lot easier to spot a neon pink or highlighter yellow parachute in the sky than it is one that’s white or light blue. 

Tow Rope

The last part of the parasail setup is the tow rope, also known as the parasail rope. This will attach to the parasail wing, not your seat, so you never have to worry about making contact with the rope. 

The tow rope is arguably the most important part of the whole setup. The other side of the rope connects to the boat that the captain operates. When the captain speeds up the boat, that’s how you gain height. We’ll talk more about this momentarily.

Parasailing ropes are designed hardy so you don’t have to worry about the line snapping. They’re typically polyester yarn with wax on the exterior to increase the rope’s friction strength. The fibers are also dual braided and layered. 

The Federal Aviation Administration or FAA mandates that boat operators use a tow rope that’s at least 800 feet long, but they are available even longer than that. 

How Do Parasails Work?

Now that you’re more familiar with the parts of a parasail, let’s put them all together to explain how parasails work!

Part 1: Getting Strapped In

You will have selected the type of seat you wish to use for your parasail ride ahead of time, either a gondola or a harness. You should have also reserved the number of riders who will be present with you, with a max allowed number of three. 

The boat operator or other members of the parasail staff will secure you in your seat. You’ll be given a life vest, also known as a life jacket. The fit of your life vest is crucial. If the vest is too loose, it might slip right off if you ever fell into the water. A vest that’s too tight can constrict breathing, which is dangerous in another way.

You’re looking for a snug fit that allows you to lift and move your arms freely and also breathe without difficulty. Be sure to tell someone before you ascend if your life vest doesn’t fit you. They should get you a different vest.  

Part 2: Connecting the Tow Rope

The tow rope or parasail rope is already attached to your parasail wing, but now the captain will tie or hook the other side of the rope to their boat. All connections will be secure, and remember, the tow rope will be plenty long so it has enough give that you don’t have to worry about it snapping once the boat begins gaining distance from your parasail. 

Part 3: Ascent!

You’ll start your parasailing adventure either on a dock or the beach. As the boat takes off (slowly, of course), the distance created between you and the captain pulls the tow rope and lifts you up. As the gentle sea breeze catches in your parachute, you begin ascending into the sky. You’ll then float through the air, gently dipping occasionally, but for the most part, staying at the same height.

How high? Per FAA rules, you cannot ascend past 500 vertical feet. Your captain knows that and will keep your height in that range or under. 

The amount of time you spend in the sky depends on the parasailing package you bought. If your package is for 40 minutes, you’ll be up in the air for about 30 minutes, maybe a little longer. Take some pictures, look at the ocean from a unique vantage point, feel the sea breeze in your hair, and just enjoy! 

Part 4: Descending 

As your ride comes to a close, the captain will begin the landing process, which we just covered in a post. We’ll quickly recap how it works for you here. 

A hydraulic winch attached to the captain’s boat can pull in the tow line. As the tow line length lessens, you get closer to the boat, which will naturally bring you down out of the air. We can’t stress enough that this is a nice, easy, gradual process. As we said in our article about landing, most parasailers don’t even notice the descent has started until they get closer to the beach.

For those thrill-seeking parasailers, now is the time when your captain might allow you to skid over the water, getting your feet wet as you splash over the waves. Those who want a leisurely descent need not request anything, as that’s the default landing. 

Your captain will land you either on their boat platform or on the dock from which you left. Space your legs apart a bit and be ready to land. Once you’re on solid ground again, you’re unstrapped from your harness or gondola. You can take off your life vest, return all your equipment, and spend the rest of your day as you please.  

Tips for a Successful First Time Parasailing

To help make you even more comfortable as you start this exciting journey in the skies, here are some tips to keep in mind the first few times you go parasailing.

Know the Age Limit

If you’re parasailing as a family and that family includes children, definitely make sure you research the weight limit for the parasailing company you want to book. Most companies allow riders as young as six years old to fly, but not all. You may also have to sign a release before your child can go parasailing.

As for older adults, there is no outer age limit for parasailers. You do have to be healthy and of a certain weight, but those are the only requirements. 

Don’t Make a Reservation Without Checking the Weather

You’re only in Florida for five days, so that limits your window for parasailing. Even still, Mother Nature doesn’t care about your vacation, to put it bluntly. If it’s going to rain, it’s a waste of your time and money to book a parasailing trip that day. Check the weather and make sure it’s compatible with what you want to do. You want a sunny day, ideally not too hot, with some wind but nothing overly gusty. 

Book Early

Parasailing is a popular activity, especially when visiting vacation destinations like Virginia Beach or Miami. If the idea of parasailing has sprung into your mind, you can be sure the same is true of hundreds of other tourists. The earlier you can book (weather permitting, of course), the better. At least two to three days in advance is ideal. 

Parasail Earlier in the Day Rather Than Later

When you’re reserving your slot, try to be one of the first parasailing groups of the day. The weather will be cooler, you might have gentler winds, and the ocean won’t be as rough. That’s conducive to a perfect first-time parasailing experience. 

Bring a Bathing Suit

You might not intend to get wet, and the captain will certainly respect your wishes, but you nor the captain can control the ocean. You might be spritzed or misted by a wave or even get a little damp as you climb into your parasail seat or step off after your ride is over. Rather than risk sitting in wet clothes, wear something that’s meant to get soaked like a swimsuit. 

Final Thoughts 

Parasails consist of a tow rope, your gondola or harness, and a parasail wing or parachute. Now that you know how everything works, you’ll feel a lot better booking a parasailing trip for the family! 

Related Content

When deciding whether parasailing is right for you, you’ve factored in things such as your budget and the available parasailing locations in your neighborhood. Is your weight something else you have to take into account? If so, what’s the weight limit for parasailing?

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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