How High Does a Parasail Go?

Reading our post on parasail speed soothed your nerves, as you were relieved to learn parasailing is not an extreme sport. Your next concern is how high in the sky you’ll be. You want to see some great views of the ocean when parasailing but not be so high up that the shoreline is a speck. What is the average parasailing height?

When parasailing, Federal Aviation Administration or FAA rules mandate that your parasail ascends no higher than 500 feet. Reaching this height requires 800 feet of tow rope, also known as parasail rope.

What does 500 feet up in the air feel like? What if you’re afraid of heights, can you still go parasailing? We’re here to answer all your most burning questions, so make sure you keep reading! 

How High Will You Fly When Parasailing?

In our article about speed regulations when parasailing, we mentioned the speed you’ll travel is at the discretion of the parasail captain but between 15 and 30 miles per hour. The captain has far less say over your parasailing height, as rules are set in place by the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA.

We’ve talked about this on the blog before, but the FAA does more than oversee air traffic at airports. The organization strives to help aircraft of all kinds operate safely. That includes everything from light sport aircraft to homemade planes, military aircraft, and drones. 

When all pilots know the rules, the rate of accidents in the sky stays low. Parasailing is regarded as one of the safer airborne activities, with about 70 deaths over a 30-year span. Undoubtedly, the FAA’s rules have had a large role to play in that low fatality rate.

So what does the FAA say about max parasailing height? That the parasail captain cannot ascend a parasail higher than 500 feet. That rule is outlined in 14 CFR 101.13(a), Operating Limitations.

Here are the FAA’s rules in full: “No person may operate a kite (1) Less than 500 feet from the base of any cloud; (2) More than 500 feet above the surface of the earth; (3) From an area where the ground visibility is less than three miles; or (4) Within five miles of the boundary of an airport.”

Wait a minute, a kite? You’re flying in a parasail, not a kite, aren’t you? Yes, but the FAA refers to parasails as kites. This is just a matter of semantics, so don’t let it trip you up.

That paragraph we quoted was chock full of rules, but the second point, that you cannot fly over 500 feet from “the surface of the earth” is the restriction on parasailing height. 

Those other rules are good to know too. If the parasail captain can’t see three miles out, that’s usually because conditions are foggy, misty, or otherwise unclear. Parasailing in these conditions would be a poor idea.

As for the proximity to an airport, parasailing companies will strategically choose their locations to stay within FAA boundaries.  

Is It Scary to Be 500 Feet up in the Air?

Learning that you’ll be 500 feet up when parasailing can be of some comfort, but then again, not really. After all, 500 feet is super high, isn’t it? Yes and no. 

At 500 feet, you’re only slightly higher in the sky than you’d be when riding some of the world’s most popular roller coasters. Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey is 456 feet tall at its highest point. Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio is 420 feet tall at most, and Superman: Escape from Krypton at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Los Angeles, California is 415 feet tall at its highest point.

If you’ve ever been to the top of the One World Trade Center in New York City, New York, that’s 1,776 feet tall, which is more than twice as high as you’d go when parasailing. Central Park Tower in New York City is 1,550 feet. Over in Chicago, Willis Tower stands a proud 1,451 feet, so if you’ve ever visited that tourist attraction, you’ve been higher in the air than when parasailing. 

The low speed and gradual pace of parasailing make the whole experience enjoyable, even relaxing to some. Sure, the prospect of parasailing can be really daunting if you’ve never done it before, but once you get up there, all your tensions often melt away. 

We recommend going back and reading our article on parasailing speeds, as we shared a firsthand account of a parasailing newbie’s journey into the skies. They and many others describe the sensation of being up in the air as akin to floating. You don’t dip or drag down, just stay at one consistent altitude for the hour or two you booked.

The whole point of ascending into the sky when parasailing isn’t to scare you, but to provide optimal views of the ocean. We’ve said this before, but parasailing is one of the only ways to get those views. You definitely won’t see the ocean the same way when swimming in it, nor when boating. You need to be over the sea, and parasailing lets you do just that.

Okay, but speaking of ascent, isn’t that scary? No, it isn’t. This isn’t like the part of riding a lift hill on a roller coaster where your heart is stuck in your throat. The parasail captain’s lifting you into the air is a gradual yet steady thing that doesn’t happen too quickly.

Since we’re sure you’re curious, when you land in a parasail, the speed decrease is slow as well. You’ll notice you’re coming down, but you won’t feel yourself being pulled out of the air. 

Will the Parasail Captain Ever Fly You Higher?

Unless you have an altimeter on your person when parasailing, then you won’t know if you’re approximately 490 feet in the air or 498 feet. It’s not your job to know either, but the parasail captain’s. 

What if you’d prefer to stay at regular height but your friend is a thrill-seeker who wants to go 600, maybe even 700 or 800 feet in the air? Will the captain ever fly you higher?

Your parasail captain should always firmly decline these requests. If they don’t, then they’re no longer in compliance with FAA rules. This could lead to the captain getting fired and their license revoked, not to mention they could be hit with lawsuits. 

Besides, even if your parasail captain wanted to take your group higher, they physically would not be able to do so. To explain why, let’s quickly go over how you gain height when parasailing.

Your parasail rig is connected to the captain’s boat by tow rope. As the captain begins driving the boat, the tow rope becomes taut, pulling you along. The wind in your parachute gives you lift and keeps you airborne.

With 800 feet of parasail rope, you’re only reaching heights of 500 feet. There’s simply not enough rope to ascend you any higher than that. It turns out the FAA has restrictions on the max amount of tow rope allowable, as we wrote in this post. That limit is no more than 800 feet of rope.

So unless your parasail captain is wildly outside of compliance–in which case maintaining a job as captain would be impossible–then no, you cannot go higher than 500 feet when parasailing. 

Can You Parasail If You’re Afraid of Heights?

The higher you are, the more anxious you get. Even 500 feet may be too much for you, but you really want to go parasailing. Can you do it if you’re afraid of heights?

Sure, you can! Remember that first-time parasailing account we mentioned before? The parasailer also happened to be afraid of heights. Once they were up in the sky, they didn’t mind the heights so much.

Here’s another parasailing account we’ve linked to from a blog called Future Expat. She had a blast even though she doesn’t love heights.

Even this article throwing it all the way back to 1992 from Daily Press shows that parasailing has long since been an acceptable activity for those who are afraid of heights. 

The article quotes a woman named Kathy Baisley who owned a parasailing company. As she says: “It’s not scary. It’s just fun, although I don’t like heights…But I discovered it doesn’t have the same height feel. And we’ve taken a number of people that don’t like heights, and the consensus of opinion without exception is that it does not have the same feel.”

That means riding an elevator midway up to One World Trade Center in New York or strapping into Kingda-Ka at Six Flags is going to feel a lot scarier than parasailing. 

Final Thoughts

Parasails cannot exceed heights of 500 feet as mandated by the FAA. Although you may have been 500 feet up in the air before on a roller coaster, parasailing is a different experience. You float through the air and there are no heart-stopping drops. Even those who are afraid of heights can usually handle parasailing and find great enjoyment from the activity! 

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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