Myrtle Beach committee moves toward adopting international parasailing regulations

akelley@thesunnews.comSeptember 17, 2013 

— Regulations for parasailing in Myrtle Beach could soon change to be in line with new international standards.

The city’s beach advisory committee agreed Tuesday to recommend amending the existing ordinance to conform with new international standards related to weather that were adopted earlier this year.

The proposed changes would result in adjustments to the maximum wind speed and wave height for parasailing to be allowed in Myrtle Beach.

David Sage, owner of Ocean Watersports in Myrtle Beach, said weather is the main culprit in parasailing accidents involving a serious injury or death.

He said he took part in the 18-month process with the Water Sports Industry Association to create the regulations. He said more changes are in the works from WSIA, including guidelines on how many people can be carried in the parachute, maximum altitude and distance from the shore.

According to the Parasail Safety Council, there have been 73 deaths from parasail accidents between 1982 and 2012 and 429 incidents with injuries that required hospitalization.

Myrtle Beach City Manager Tom Leath said the city first created it’s ordinances about four years ago following a parasailing accident in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. that killed two women in 2009 when there were no national standards.

The that incident was a critical point for the local industry, Sage said.

“It got to the point with the deaths that we had in North Carolina, that if we didn’t do something, we were going to be extinct,” he said.

Myrtle Beach has regulations regarding weather, altitude and distance from the shore. The committee suggested keeping parasails at least 600 yards away from any surf zone, shoreline, pier or similar object. Altitude regulations would also remain limited to 500 feet above the ground or water level, unless otherwise required by the Federal Aviation Administration.

In North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach parasailing is not allowed within 1,500 yards of the shoreline.

The changes, if adopted in Myrtle Beach, would apply to sustained wind speed and wave height.

Currently, parasailing is not allowed when winds are sustained at speeds 18 mph or greater. Wave heights cannot be 6 feet or larger.

The proposed amendment would prohibit parasailing when wind is 20 mph or greater and when waves are four feet or greater.

Sage said it’s about time for the international regulations, but wasn’t sure the city needed their own.

“I think its almost overkill to have a city ordinance, to have a police presence to enforce this, when we’re already sticking to these,” he said.

If an operator does not follow the law regarding weather conditions, he said insurance companies won’t cover the company and the U.S. Coast Guard can write tickets.

Myrtle Beach’s attorney told the committee that it’s beneficial to have their own ordinance in place, even if it is identical to federal regulations.

Following the deaths in 2009, Sage said everything changed.

“It made everyone a lot more conservative,” he said. “We flew less.”

Sage said his company monitors wind, with readings from Springmaid Pier, every six minutes while wave heights are continuously measured.

On the Grand Strand, he said wind is what typically shuts his business down, not the waves.

Leath said the committee’s recommendations will be presented to council where a change will require two successful readings.

Additionally, Leath expects the regulations to be discussed at an upcoming Coastal Alliance meeting. The Coastal Alliance is made up of all the mayors and council chairs in Horry County.

Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381, or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_akelley.

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