Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Promoting Parasail Safety—using PVA’s risk guide to develop USCG Sector St. Petersburg’s voluntary commercial parasail vessel safety exam program

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine. Original article written by LCDR Scott W. Muller, Project Manager, U.S. Coast Guard Office of Vessel Activities.

Parasailing is not without its risks. This Sector St. Petersburg case file photo shows a near-collision of two parasail vessels with parasail riders aloft. In 2001, a tragic incident in Ft. Myers, Fla., claimed the lives of a mother and daughter when high winds and rough seas caused the parasail towline and riser straps to part from the parasail, causing the two to freefall more than 200 feet into the water.

The Problem: The Need to Improve Parasail Vessel Safety
In a 10-year period (1992-2001), the Coast Guard investigated an increasing number of reportable parasail vessel marine casualties and injuries. In the 59 cases, there were 64 injuries and three deaths. Twenty-eight percent of these parasail casualties occurred in Sector St. Petersburg’s area of responsibility. It was clear that intervention was needed.

In marine safety, risk can often be mitigated through federal regulation, but the parasailing industry is largely unregulated. The Coast Guard does not regulate the actual parasailing activity. Commercial passenger vessel regulations only address vessel equipment and licensing requirements.

The Solution: Creation of the Voluntary Exam Program
In January 2004, in an effort to promote commercial parasail vessel safety in a non-regulatory manner, Sector St. Petersburg hosted a workshop. More than 120 parasailing stakeholders participated. Sector St. Petersburg investigating officers proposed creating a voluntary commercial parasail vessel examination program. A “Seal of Safety” decal would serve to distinguish compliant operators. The participants overwhelmingly supported the proposal.

In February 2004, a “developmental team” of 12 local parasail operators and manufacturers, Sector St. Petersburg investigating officers, and USCG Auxiliary members worked together for a two-day session. The team needed a methodology to help develop a creditable program. After careful consideration, the solution came from the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA) risk guide.

The Method of Success: The PVA Risk Guide
Developed by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Passenger Vessel Association, the guide is a simple, effective tool to address risk in marine operations through risk assessment, management, and communication. The PVA Risk Guide can be accessed at http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg5211/docs/pvarisk_guide.pdf.

The team used prepared forms/worksheets provided by the risk guide to manage and record their findings by advancing through each of the risk activity’s ten steps.

  • Risk assessment (steps 1- 6). The team addressed a particular aspect of risk for parasailing operations—the parasail ride itself. The conditions that yielded the highest relative risk scores included: towline separation, mechanical failure, and hazardous weather conditions.
  • Risk management (steps 7- 10). The team then identified countermeasures that could best mediate the risk. The countermeasures with the highest cost/benefit values included: distance offshore, towline/winch spool connection, weather assessments, length of towline, and towline standards.
  • Risk Communication. Involving stakeholders in the decision-making process strengthened the ties between the Coast Guard and the local parasail industry. Furthermore, proven methods provided by the guide supported the decision outcomes, adding to its credibility and potential effectiveness.

The team developed a list of approximately 20 countermeasures to help mitigate parasailing risk. Ultimately, the team established countermeasures that represented parasailing “best practices” that were both cost effective and reduced risk.

The Voluntary Commercial Parasail Vessel Safety Exam Program
The next step was to transfer the countermeasures into exam criteria. For uninspected parasail vessels, members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary conduct the voluntary examinations, while active duty marine inspectors conduct the exams for the inspected parasail vessels during the course of routine inspection for certification examinations.

Those who pass are awarded the Seal of Safety decal, which is valid for two years with a re-exam on or about the first anniversary of issuance.

In the three years between the program’s creation and when this article was first published, there were no reported marine casualties involving parasail vessels within Sector St. Petersburg’s area of responsibility. This is significant considering the alarming rate and consequences of parasailing accidents between 1992 and 2001.

About the author:
LCDR Scott Muller served as a marine inspector and senior investigating officer. Past assignments included MSO Hampton Roads and MSO Tampa as well as graduate school for modeling and simulation at Old Dominion University. At the time this article was published he was a project manager in the Office of Vessel Activities at Coast Guard headquarters.

For more information:
Full article is available at www.uscg.mil/proceedings; click on “Archives” and then “2007 Volume 64, Number 1” for this Spring 2007 “Risk Management” edition.

Subscribe online at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/subscribe.asp. Online survey available at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/survey.asp.

Direct requests for print copies of this edition to: HQS-DG-NMCProceedings@uscg.mil.