Is Parasailing Safer Than Skydiving?

Parasailing and skydiving share a few things in common: they require the use of a parachute and the participants of both activities spend considerable time in the sky. During a parasail, you ascend though, and while skydiving, you descend. Does that make parasailing a safer activity?

Parasailing is safer than skydiving. From 2009 to 2014, only eight parasailers have died according to a report from the National Safety Transport Board. The United States Parachute Association reports that in 2019 alone, 15 people died from skydiving. 

To prove that parasailing is safer, we’ll share even more facts and numbers related to both activities. If you’ve wanted to go parasailing but you’ve been worried about how safe it is, this article should hopefully help alleviate your fears.

Let’s get started.

Skydiving Safety Statistics

The skydiving stats we’re going to discuss are courtesy of the United States Parachute Association or USPA, as mentioned in the intro. The USPA is a skydiving resource intended for beginners new to the hobby who are looking to make their first jump into the sky.

According to the USPA’s most recent data, which is from 2019, in that year, 3.3 million skydives occurred in the United States. Of those, 15 jumps were fatal. The USPA says that per 220,301 dives, only one person will die.

Their data goes back even further, from 2000 to 2018. You may want to see how skydiving fatalities have trended over the years, so here is 18 years’ worth of data for your perusal:

  • 2000 – 2.7 million skydives, 32 deaths: 1.19 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2001 – 2.6 million skydives, 35 deaths: 1.35 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2002 – 2.6 million skydives, 33 deaths: 1.27 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2003 – 2.6 million skydives, 25 deaths: 0.96 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2004 – 2.6 million skydives, 21 deaths: 0.81 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2005 – 2.6 million skydives, 27 deaths: 1.04 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2006 – 2.5 million skydives, 21 deaths: 0.84 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2007 – 2.5 million skydives, 18 deaths: 0.72 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2008 – 2.6 million skydives, 30 deaths: 1.15 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2009 – 3.0 million skydives, 16 deaths: 0.53 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2010 – 3.0 million skydives, 21 deaths: 0.70 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2011 – 3.1 million skydives, 25 deaths: 0.81 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2012 – 3.1 million skydives, 19 deaths: 0.61 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2013 – 3.2 million skydives, 24 deaths: 0.75 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2014 – 3.2 million skydives, 24 deaths: 0.75 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2015 – 3.5 million skydives, 21 deaths: 0.60 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2016 – 3.2 million skydives, 21 deaths: 0.66 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2017 – 3.2 million skydives, 24 deaths: 0.75 fatalities per 100,000 dives
  • 2018 – 3.3 million skydives, 13 deaths: 0.39 fatalities per 100,000 dives 

So what can we extrapolate from that? Well, for starters, skydiving is getting more and more popular by the decade. Although the level of activity has slipped during some years, in 2009, only 3 million people went skydiving, and in 2019, it’s 3.3 million. That’s pretty good growth! 

You would assume that as the number of divers jumping into the sky went up, so too would the deaths, but that hasn’t been the case. If anything, the number of deaths has gone down, with 35 skydivers dying a year in 2001 and only 13 in 2018 and then 15 deaths in 2019. Granted, in 2017, up to 24 skydivers passed away, so there are outliers.

In that 19-year span, 408 skydivers died altogether. That’s an average of 21.5 deaths a year, which we’ll round up to 22. 

Tallying up all the numbers, across 19 years, 55.3 million skydives occurred, or an average of 2.9 million yearly.

To have 22 people die out of 2.9 million skydives a year is a very low occurrence, that’s for sure. In our article about 10 activities that are more dangerous than parasailing, we mentioned that in 2019 alone, 36,096 fatal car accidents took place on US soil. Up to 160 people die every year in national parks. Skydiving is safer than these activities by a good margin.

Parasailing Safety Statistics

Yet is skydiving safer than parasailing? As we touched on in the intro, the answer is no, but now we’ll let the numbers do the talking. 

In our article about parasailing safety statistics, we mentioned the Parasail Safety Council, an organization that tracks all deaths and injuries caused by parasailing accidents and incidents. They have even more data than the USPA, as the Parasail Safety Council has reviewed parasailing death/injury numbers for more than 30 years compared to UPSA’s 19 years.

The data through the Parasail Safety Council begins in 1982 and runs through 2012. The only downside to this as that as we get deeper and deeper into the 2020s, this collection of numbers gets older and older.

Still, 2012 wasn’t that long ago, so let’s take a deeper dive into the info, shall we?

Between 1982 and 2012, 170 million people went parasailing. In that span of 30 years, 70 people died. We did the math in the post above, and the average number of deaths from parasailing is 2.3 people every year. 

If you go back to the last section, using the USPA’s numbers, 21.5 people die skydiving every year. That’s a difference of 19.2 people–or, using more human numbers–just 19 people.

So sure, you could look at that data alone to come to the conclusion that parasailing is safer than skydiving in that about 19 fewer people die a year, but that’s not quite fair. Remember, the Parasail Safety Council’s numbers are for 30 years and the USPA’s are only for 19 years. 

Let’s look a bit deeper. We don’t know how many parasailing trips occurred each year per the Parasail Safety Council’s numbers, but let’s say that, out of the 170 million recorded parasailing trips over 30 years, that an equal number of trips happened every year. That would be 5.6 million parasails annually.

Now if you took the 70 deaths that occurred over 30 years, remember that’s 2.3 people per 5.6 million parasailing trips a year versus the UPSA’s 21.5 deaths out of 2.9 million annual skydives.  

Okay, you’re saying, but the USPA still has the more up-to-date numbers. We were actually able to find somewhat more current parasailing safety statistics in an article from Express News out of San Antonio, Texas. The topic of the article is unfortunately about a parasailing death that occurred in the state in 2015, about three years after the Parasail Safety Council published their data.

The article cites a report from the National Transportation Safety Board or NTSB on parasailing safety. In that report is new data. From 2009 onward, up to 5 million people parasailed (the number might be as low as 3 million). Of those, 8 people died.

The NTSB report was published in 2014, so now we have a micro-period of parasailing deaths from 2009 to 2014. Considering the date of publication of the Parasail Safety Council’s data, some of those numbers likely overlapped since they collected data until 2012. Thus, we can’t say definitively that 78 people have died parasailing between 1984 and 2014.

Still, let’s dig deeper into that micro-period since the data is more current. The period of 2009 to 2014 is 5 years, and 8 fatalities occurred. That’s a rate of 1.6 deaths a year assuming there was even a death during every single year in that micro-period. There probably wasn’t, but that’s still a very low rate of death associated with parasailing.

The Express News article sums it up nicely: “Given the small number of fatal or serious accidents relative to the number of rides annually, the Coast Guard has concluded ‘there doesn’t appear to be a major problem with death or injuries’ in the sport.” That sport, of course, being parasailing. 

What Is It about Parasailing That Makes It Safer Than Skydiving?

Now that you’ve seen the numbers for yourself, you know that parasailing is safer than skydiving. Why is that? Here are a few reasons we were able to gather. 

No Planes

Skydiving involves you jumping out of a plane, which is undoubtedly the scariest part of the experience. When you parasail, you’re guided by a boat on the water. The wind that catches in your parachute as your boat operator gains speed is what gives you lift, no plane required! 

Less Altitude

Your altitude when skydiving is anywhere from 10,000 to 14,000 feet in the air, which is crazy. You never even break 1,000 feet of height when parasailing. The Federal Aviation Administration or FAA set the height cap for parasailers at no greater than 800 feet, so the boat operator must follow those rules. 

No Freefalling

The thrill of skydiving is doing just that, jumping through the sky. You don’t deploy your parachute immediately after exiting the plane, as that ruins the fun. Instead, skydivers may spend upwards of 60 seconds in the air freefalling. 

There is no feeling of freefalling when parasailing. We just wrote a very informative post about how you land. You’re gently guided back down to the sand rather than being pulled down. Some parasailers are enjoying the ocean sights so much that they don’t even realize they’re descending! It’s that relaxed and uneventful. 

Slower Speeds

When in freefall during a skydive, you can plummet through the air at speeds of up to 120 miles per hour. After releasing your parachute, your speeds obviously slow, but even still, that’s a minute of heart-pumping thrills. 

You’re never at risk of reaching even half that speed when parasailing. The typical gliding speed is around 15 MPH, and to make an exciting turn, the captain may rev up the boat to around 30 MPH, but no faster than that. 

Final Thoughts

Parasailing gets compared to a lot of other aerial activities, skydiving among them. The biggest difference between parasailing and skydiving is that parasailing leads to far fewer deaths. Perhaps now you’ll finally feel inspired to book that parasailing trip! 

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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