Parasailing (parascending) is a recreational activity where a person is towed behind a vehicle (usually a boat) while attached to a specially designed parachute, known as a parasail. The boat then drives off, carrying the parascender into the air. If the boat is powerful enough, two or three people can parasail behind it at the same time. The parascender has little or no control over the parachute. There are six parts of a parasail. The harness attaches the pilot to the parasail, which is connected to the boat, or land vehicle, by the tow rope. The activity is primarily a fun ride, not to be confused with the sport of paragliding. There are commercial parasailing operations all over the world. Land based parasailing has also been formed into competition sport in Europe. In land based competition parasailing, the parasail is towed to maximum height behind a 4 wheel drive vehicle and then releases the tow line and flies down to a target area in an accuracy competition. The sport was developed in the early 80’s and has been very popular ever since. The first international competitions were held in the mid 80’s and continue to run today.


PARASAIL CANOPY INVENTIONS: The first towed parachutes were developed by Pierre-Marcel Lemoigne in 1961. Lemoigne is a well known developer of ParaCommander-type of parachutes known as “ParaCommander” or PC-canopies that were derived from free fall parachutes. The date of the first towing of a parachute (parasail)is not known, but one of the first mentions is a flight by Colonel Michel Tournier from France flying behind a tractor in the same year – 1961. In 1963 Jacques-André Istel from Pioneer Parachute Company bought a license from Lemoigne to manufacture and sell the 24-gore parachute canopy he had developed for towing which was labelled as a “parasail”.

Ariel View of Parasailing

In early 1974, Brian Gaskin designed, created and tested the first purpose made parasail which was a 16-gore canopy design which he named “Waterbird”. The Waterbird was revolutionary in its canopy design, its unique tow yoke harness arrangement its construction and the use of zero perosity fabrics which allowed it to be used over water safely. The majority of commercial parasail operators utilise the 16-gore canopy design that was derived from Gaskin’s original invention. In 1975 Gaskin founded his company Waterbird Parakites which is still in operation today, producing commercial and recreational 16-gore parasails worldwide.

 PARASAIL EQUIPMENT INVENTIONS: Mark McCulloh of Miami, Florida is the original inventor of modern day parasailing equipment beginning with the world’s first stationary parasailing platform in 1971. His innovations, inventions and accomplishments within the parasailing industry are broad in scope with a focus on improving the safety of parasailing through equipment design. McCullohs inventions are: 1971 Stationary Platform; 1972 Motorized Platform; 1974 Winchboat; 1985 Skyrider Chair; 1994 Auto Rope Guide ; 1999 Riser Line Assembly

The United States Patent and Trademark Office have issued McCulloh the only patents ever granted related to commercial parasailing methods and equipment. One of the highlights of McCulloh’s last invention “the Riser Assembly” inspired NASA’s new X-38 Crew Rescue Vehicle. McCulloh’s innovations, inventions and operating techniques continue to advance safety within the parasailing industry and have set the standards by which the majority of operators follow. Many of McCulloh’s accomplishments have been aired on worldwide Television & Print Media, such as Good Morning America, Inside Edition, Fox News NBC, LA Times, New York Times, Miami Herald just to name a few.

The most famous of McCulloh inventions is the Winchboat, (a powerboat that incorporates a winch system to launch and retrieve parasailors from the boat) which is the preferred method for the majority of commercial operators worldwide; as is utilized by the at Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. This course lasts four days and simulates in-flight over water emergency. The course centers its training on aircrews which utilize parachuting as the primary means of escape. Instruction includes initial academic training, parachute equipment procedures, parachute drag training, post egress and recovery training which includes a deep water landing, and a one to two hour raft familiarization exercise

PARASAILING ASSOCIATIONS: In 1998 Mark McCulloh formed “Parasail Safety Council” , which established the first parasail association and information website to educate and influence people about parasailing safety, promote parasail regulations and provide the public with valuable information about parasailing. In 2000 Barry Clark from the UK formed the Professional Parasail Association (PPA) to instill safe operating procedures for all members worldwide. In 2003 Arrit McPherson an advent parasail operator formed PAPO (the Professional Association of Parasail Operators to promote safety throughout the sport.