What is Parasailing?

Like the idea of floating through the air above shimmering waters? Then parasailing might be for you. So, what is parasailing and what is a parasail? And what is parascending? What’s the difference between parasailing vs paragliding? Read on to get a bird’s eye view.

23 August 2022

It seems that a holiday scene is incomplete without the sight of speedboats trailing vast, colourful parachutes carrying passengers rising high above the ocean blue.

For those looking for an exhilarating way to enjoy the summer sun, parasailing offers breathtaking views and an  adrenaline rush, with little training required.

So, what is parasailing? What is a parasail? And what is parasailing vs paragliding? Read on to discover it all, including what to expect when parasailing.

What is Parasailing?

Parasailing off shore (Photo: s0ulsurfing - Jason Swain via Getty Images)

Parasailing is a recreational activity where people are towed behind a boat while attached to a parachute-like canopy. The canopy is usually attached to the boat by a long rope, and as the boat moves, the parasailer is lifted into the air. Parasailing can be done solo or in tandem, and it’s a great way to get a bird’s-eye view of the scenery.

While the first ascending gliding parachute was designed in 1961, it was not until the invention of a boat specifically for towing such a device was invented in 1974 that parasailing was born.

Parasailing is not considered a sport, primarily because there is little skill or effort required by passengers. Indeed, the person aloft in the parasail usually has no control over its movement.

What is a Parasail?

Parasailing over the Caribbean Sea (Photo: Buena Vista Images via Getty Images)

A parasail, also known as a parafoil, is a large kite or fabric wing that is used to provide lift for a person or object. The parasail is attached to a parasailer, who is typically towed behind a boat. A parasail may look similar to a parachute, but it is specifically designed to be towed, providing a smooth ascent. Over the years, parasails have evolved and grown from around 20 square feet to 30 or 40.

What to Expect when Parasailing

People with parachute In a boat on the Sea against sky during sunset (Photo: Nur Hamizah Hamzah / EyeEm via Getty Images)

Want to know what to expect when parasailing? Well, the main thing to know is that there’s nothing to know. Parasailing requires no training or experience and is generally unregulated. Some companies offer an introductory video or tutorial of what to expect when parasailing before heading out, but this is not common practice. So, let’s summarise what happens.

Parasailing is usually done from the deck of a motorboat. The first step is strapping into the harness that connects to the parasail. Sometimes, there will be a seat, other times the rider is standing. In either case, once the rider is in the harness, the boat starts heading out to open water. Once it’s far enough from shore, it will gradually increase its speed until the parasail lifts into the air taking the rider with it. And then, it’s just a matter of enjoying the view.

Eventually, the boat slows down, causing the parasail to gradually lower back down to the flight deck, where the parasailer is unstrapped from the harness.

Most people describe the feeling of parasailing as one of floating. The duration of a parasailing trip and the height reached will vary. In the US, parasailing height is restricted to 500 feet above sea (or ground) level, but very few such restrictions exist elsewhere.

Advice on preparing for parasailing includes wearing well-fitting bathing suits, plenty of sunscreen and securing any accessories. Some parasailing companies allow taking a camera.

It is also important to use only reputable providers. Although parasailing is safe in principle, it relies on the equipment being sound and fit for purpose and for sufficient expert oversight. Parasailing is relatively unregulated around the world and it was only in 2014 that Florida introduced legislation to control it after a series of tragedies. One of the restrictions prevents parasailing in winds of 20 mph or over.

Parasailing Vs Paragliding

A Paraglider in action (Photo: Andrew Lever via Getty Images)

Parasailing and paragliding both use parachute-like devices to lift into the air. However the similarities tend to end there. In terms of what is parasailing vs paragliding, the clearest difference is that, while parasailing involves being tethered to a vehicle, paragliding does not. Instead, a paraglider is entirely foot launched, with the rider inflating their canopy by running, usually from a high point. Once in the air, they use the wind to stay aloft. Unlike parasailing, paragliding is a sport, with national and international competitions.

What is Parascending?

Loving the view (Photo: Ryan Brown / EyeEm via Getty Images)

Having looked at “what is parasailing”, let’s turn to “what is parascending”. Parascending is an umbrella term for any aerial activity where the participant is attached to a parachute and towed behind a vehicle. This can be a boat, as in parasailing, or a car.

We’ve almost landed, complete with the answers to everything from “what is parasailing” and “what is parascending” to “what is a parasail”. We’ve looked at parasailing vs paragliding and even what to expect when parasailing. The only thing left to do is decide if you want to give it a whirl.


You May Also Like

Explore More