Paragliding and parasailing are exciting sports both to participate and to watch. But if you don’t have any parachute experience, you may be wondering what the differences between these two sports are.
Paragliding involves flying with a parachute without being connected to a vehicle. When parasailing, on the other hand, you and your parachute are connected to a boat, car, or other vehicle that pulls you along.
There is a lot more to know about each of these sports. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the similarities and differences between paragliding vs. parasailing.
How are Paragliding and Parasailing Similar?
Paragliding and parasailing both involve parachutes, but that’s about where the similarities end. The main thing that these two sports have in common is that you’re flying through the air, using wind for lift.
How are Paragliding and Parasailing Different?
Paragliding and parasailing are very different sports. Not only do they involve different dynamics, but the type of equipment and level of training needed to get started varies between the two.
|Description||Paragliding involves flying on a foot-launched craft, using updrafts to stay afloat||Parasailing involves flying on a parachute that’s towed behind a vehicle like a boat or car|
|Experience Required||Paragliding is dangerous and only experienced paragliders should fly alone||Anyone can parasail, even without experience|
|Parachute Design||Paragliding uses a canopy rather than a traditional parachute. The canopy has two layers that combine to form cells||Traditional parachute, designed to catch wind|
|Location||Typically launch from a high cliff||Typically on a lake or the ocean, or across an open field|
|Cost||$4,000 and up||Parasailing tours typically cost around $50 and up for 45 minutes|
|Equipment Needed||Canopy, harness, backup parachute, flight suit||Parachute, harness, tow rope, boat or vehicle|
|How Long Does It Take?||2-3 hours||45-60 minutes or less|
|Control||You are in control of the canopy and must direct it using several hand brakes||The parasailer does not have any control over the parasail. Everything is controlled by the tow boat or vehicle.|
|Safe Conditions||Requires relatively gentle winds (less than 15 mph) for takeoff and winds less than 25 mph for flight. Never fly in wet conditions.||Winds less than 50 mph. If on land, make sure there are no obstacles near the tow path|
|Origin||Developed by the US military alongside the parasail during the 1950s and early 1960s.||Developed by the US military alongside the paraglider during the 1950s and 1960s. Adapted for commercial use during the 1960s.|
How Do Paragliding and Parasailing Work?
Paragliding and parasailing work very differently
When you paraglide, you have to launch the craft yourself, by foot. Typically, this means taking a running leap off of a high cliff and then flying over a wide open valley. Once the paraglider is in the air, you can control it using a series of hand brakes that allow you to turn the canopy or point it up or down. Ideally, you want to ride updrafts that keep you aloft without losing altitude. Paragliders can stay in the air for several hours before descending, at which point executing a safe landing is critical.
In parasailing, you are kept in the air by a boat or vehicle towing you along. That creates its own wind for the parachute to catch on, which then keeps you suspended in the air for as long as the vehicle is towing. The parasailer doesn’t actually have any control over their height or the direction of the sail – all of this is controlled by the speed and direction of the tow. When it’s time to descend, simply slowing the tow will allow you to gently lower to the water or ground.
How to Learn How to Paraglide or Parasail
Learning paragliding requires a lot of patience and can take several years. Since you’re in control of the canopy, safety is a major concern and you have to know everything from how to launch to how to fly to how to land. It’s highly advised to start out with a series of tandem flights to experience paragliding in action, and then move onto a certification course that provides hands-on training. You’ll also need your own equipment, which can cost upwards of $4,000.
Parasailing doesn’t require much learning at all if you’re simply going for the day rather than creating your own tow setup. You simply have to sit in the harness and enjoy. As a result, there’s no experience required to get started with parasailing.
Paragliding Canopy vs. Parasailing Parachute
The sails used for paragliding and parasailing were both developed together by the US military in the 1950’s, but they have evolved into very different structures.
The canopy used by paragliders is essentially an airfoil rather than a parachute. It is somewhat rectangular, with a wingspan of about 30 feet and a total area of 250 square feet or more. The canopy itself consists of two sheets of ripstop nylon, which are sewn together with interior structure to create closed cells. These cells are essential for smooth aerodynamics, since air will pass over and between them.
Parasailing uses something closer to what most people would think of as a traditional parachute. It looks like half a sphere, and a series of lines suspend it above and behind the parasailer. This parachute is designed to catch wind, whereas a paragliding canopy is designed to slice through the air.
Paragliding vs. Parasailing: Which is More Dangerous?
Paragliding and parasailing both come with some inherent risks – you’re suspended in the air, after all – but paragliding is by far the more dangerous of the two sports. There are a couple reasons for this.
First, you’re simply higher off the ground in most cases. Parasailers typically don’t get more than 100 to 200 feet off the ground since they are limited by the tow cable length and tow speed. Paragliders can be thousands of feet up and are able to take themselves higher by navigating through updraft currents.
Second, paragliders have much more control – and room for error – than parasailers. Paragliders are responsible for launching into the wind properly so that they don’t immediately spiral downward, and for executing every turn so that the canopy doesn’t stall out and descend unexpectedly. The landing, too, is more complex, as paragliders have to slow themselves down and navigate a gentle angle when approaching the ground. Parasailers don’t have to worry about any of this. Launching takes care of itself as soon as the tow is started, and landing works similarly. During flight, the parasailer isn’t responsible for controlling the sail at all.
Finally, the conditions matter a lot for safety. Paragliding is safe in a much narrower range of conditions than parasailing. When paragliding, wet weather is extremely dangerous because the canopy can become saturated and heavy, which can lead to an uncontrolled descent. Winds above 25 mph can also make it nearly impossible to control the canopy. When parasailing, wind only becomes a concern at much higher speeds. Parasailing is generally safe in winds up to 50 mph, and rain will not affect the parachute to a significant degree.
Conclusion: Which is the Best Sport for You?
Parasailing and paragliding are both extremely rewarding sports. But, since they’re so different, they often appeal to different types of people.
Parasailing is best if you are looking for the opportunity to fly on occasion, and primarily want to do it on lakes or on the ocean. This sport is ideal for those who don’t have the time to learn paragliding, the money to buy a canopy, or the desire to take on the risk that paragliding entails.
Paragliding is a good choice if you want to be in control of your flight. This sport takes dedication and focus over many years of training and practice, as well as a sizeable upfront investment. You won’t want to take up paragliding lightly, but it can be a highly enjoyable life-long sport.
Most important, both parasailing and paragliding allow you to experience the rush of air that comes with flying. So, whichever sport is more suitable for you, it’s time to get outside and fly.