What are the Risks of Balconing?

Balconing is the act of jumping from a balcony or roof of a building into a swimming pool in order to impress people with your daring and risk taking. It also includes climbing from one balcony to another balcony and, in some cases, falling as a result of misadventure. Balconing emerged around 2010 and rapidly became “the new craze” where friends video each other in the act of “balconing” and post them online.

Who does this?

There is no data on the number of balconing acts undertaken each year. The figures only relate to the cases where the jumper ended up dead or severely injured. Based on this data, it is easy to see that most participants are male and in their 20s.
In Europe, most participants seem to be British although Germans and Swedes have also taken part.

Where does this happen?

Predominantly cases in Europe which appear in the press seem to occur in the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The problem has caused so much concern for the Islands that some councils have now imposed fines for anyone caught either partaking or goading others into the act of balconing. Some fines are as much as EUR 1,500.

Risks to participants:

  1. Misjudging the distance to jump
  2. Not committing to the jump and landing short of the pool
  3. Miscalculating the depth of water required to land safely
  4. Fines from the hotel
  5. Being evicted from the hotel
  6. Not having travel insurance to cover the fall out when things go wrong
  7. Travel insurance excludes injuries sustained from balcony falls or jumps or injuries sustained from intoxication from alcohol or use of drugs
  8. Sustaining substantial injuries leading to years of rehabilitation or reduced quality of life
  9. Death

There have been many instances of jumps going wrong where the participant did not have travel insurance.  The costs of the healthcare range from around £10,000 upwards.  One individual’s medical bill had reached EUR 37,000 by the time it was reported in the papers and this did not include the repatriation costs.   Another one underwent operations amounting to £12,000.

The cost of repatriation or the need for an air ambulance can add thousands on top.   Some reported costs range from £15,000 to £30,000 for the repatriation of the patient.   Can your family afford these fees?

holiday apartments hotel with balconies

Death

There have consistently been between six to twelve deaths a year in the Balearic Islands since 2010.   I could not find any numbers relating to the number of injuries sustained as a result of balconing.  Of course there are no actual figures of the number of jumps occurring each year either.

Injuries sustained from a fall from the first floor (referred to as the second floor in America) are not usually fatal depending on how you land.

However, 50% of adults and children will die from a fall of 12 to 15 metres (40-50 feet) which is about the height of four or five storeys.

Falling from the 7th storey will result in death 90% of the time.

Depth of water

As you can imagine, there is not much information on safely jumping into pools from balconies or buildings.   However, there are guidelines from FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation) on the safe depth of a pool and corresponding height of a diving board.   Diving from the side of a pool, the depth of water below should be a minimum of nine feet.  For spring boards, the depth of the water below should be 11.5 feet for a one metre high board, or 12.5 feet for a three metre high board.  

For diving platforms, the water depth should be at least 12.5 feet or 3.8 metres if the platform is 5 metres above the pool.  For a diving platform 7.5 or 10 metres high, you should only jump or dive into water which is four and a half metres deep or five metres deep respectively.   That equates to 14.8 feet or 16.4 feet deep respectively.

You should note, that falling from a 10 metre high building or balcony into a pool and belly flopping, will cause injury and pain, but could prevent you hitting the bottom of the pool depending on the depth of the water you fell into.

What sort of injuries are sustained?

Severe head injuries
Fractured clavicle
Fractured or broken ribs
Fractured skull
Brain trauma
Facial fractures
Broken or fractured spine

Broken or fractured thigh bones
Broken or fractured pelvis
Broken or fractured wrists
Broken or fractured ankles
Broken or fractured nose and/or cheekbones
Broken or fractured elbows
Paralysis

You should also be aware, that additional injuries can be sustained during the rescue operation, particularly from swimming pools, and leave you requiring even more hospital treatment.

balconies

Recent Travel Insurance Policy Changes

Travel Insurance companies are trying to put a stop to this behaviour too by excluding accidents on balconies. For example Aviva’s wording states the following exclusion to its policies:

Any claim for an incident which happens during the trip that results from you sitting on any balcony railing; jumping from or climbing on or over any balcony railing, ledge or wall.

Aviva – download Aviva’s Travel Policy Wording

This exclusion is in addition to travel insurance companies’ usual exclusion on alcohol and drugs.
Cover for You and Sainsbury’s travel insurance (underwritten by Cigna) goes further by excluding all jumping from vehicles, buildings, bridges, scaffolding or balconies unless your life is in danger or you are attempting to save human life.

What has ABTA and the British Foreign Office said?

ABTA and the British Foreign Office have stepped up and are actively promoting the following advice in hotspots:

  1. Never lean over, sit or climb on balcony walls or railings
  2. Don’t try to pass items to someone on another balcony
  3. Don’t climb from one balcony to another
  4. Never stand on balcony furniture
  5. Never jump into a pool from a balcony
  6. Take extra care on balconies after drinking alcohol as judgement may be affected
  7. If you lose your room key, contact reception or the night porter. Don’t try to access your room via a balcony

Mitigate your risk

Short of being strong willed enough to withstand peer pressure or your own sense of bravado, if you find yourself falling from a height, you can attempt to protect yourself by doing the following :

  • Relax body
  • Protect neck and head with arms
  • Bend knees and roll forward or one side as you land
  • Avoid landing directly on your back to reduce spinal injuries
Las Vegas balcony

Weird fact

I did not think there would be a weird fact for balconing.   However, I have discovered that few hotels in Las Vegas have balconies.   Not because there is a high level of young people filming their balconing escapades, but because Las Vegas and Nevada had the accolade for the suicide capital of the United States for many years up to the year 2000.   It turns out that the risk of suicide for a tourist increases as soon as they set foot in Las Vegas.   The promise of fun, alcohol, gambling, sex 24/7 is enough to push someone over the edge or rather jump off the edge if their visit to sin city goes sour.

References

Personal Risk Geek

The Personal Risk Geek is passionate about assessing personal risk. If you have ever wondered how much of a risk something is, find out here.

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