When the water and sun beckon you out for tow sports behind your boat, these are ten tips to keep everyone safe and smiling.
As the water gets warmer, it entices you to get in and enjoy. For boaters, that often means hooking a rope to the back of the vessel and towing friends and family around your favourite waterways. Whether your riders are avid wakeboarders, first-time inflatable tube riders, or accomplished barefoot skiers, having a fun time on the water hinges on getting back safely.
Designate a spotter
The captain needs to focus on piloting the boat, so a second individual should be appointed as the spotter. Their role is to keep their eyes on the person behind the boat and communicate with the captain when the rider gives signals or falls.
Educate about hand signals
Speaking of signals, anyone getting onto a tube, on waterskis, or slipping into wakeboard bindings needs to know a set of hand signals to communicate with the boat. Thumbs up or down indicates the desire for going faster or slower, a downed rider with hands overhead making an ‘O’ shape says they’re okay, and patting the top of your head is a sign to head back to dock.
Keep a safe distance from shore
Near shore, there’s more boat traffic as well as shallow water and docks. Steering clear of shore and staying near the middle of the river or lake will ensure the rider is safer. Plus, the captain has more space to engage in exciting boat maneuvers.
Stay aware at the helm
As the captain, the focus must always be on the waterway ahead while keeping aware of other traffic around. Again, it’s the spotter’s job to watch and communicate about the rider; the captain needs to trust the spotter to do just that.
Wear proper-fitting life jackets
Boat occupants should wear a life jacket at all times, and it’s even more necessary for those getting towed behind the boat. It’s incredibly easy to be disoriented if the rider goes down into the water, and a proper-fitting vest-style life jacket will help keep them on the surface, able to gain their bearings. Floatation devices should be Certified and tested annually.
Ensure equipment is in good condition
A fun day on the water can be cut short with a deflating tube or a broken binding on a ski. Before hitting the water, inspect ropes, boards, skis, and tubes to ensure they’re in good shape.
Keep speeds in a safe zone
Wiping out in water at high speeds can feel like hitting a wall. Protect riders by staying within safe speed ranges for the sport. Waterskiing is best between 40 and 58 km/h while other sports are slower. Wakeboarding has a sweet spot between 28 and 35 km/h and tubing is much slower; around 17 to 20 km/h is best.
Approach downed riders on the driver’s side
When a rider goes for a tumble, keeping them in view at all times is the spotter’s job. But when you approach them to get back on the boat, it should always be on the driver’s side. That way, the captain can better recover them from the water safely rather than bumping into or over them or going too quickly.
Shut off the engine near people in the water
When you pick up a rider, approach slowly. And as you’re nearing them, shut off the engine to prevent prop injuries. If necessary, the rider can swim a few strokes to reach the boat platform. And riders should never enter the water with the engine on.
Have an emergency plan
Should a rider fall awkwardly or there’s an injury in the water, or if the captain goes overboard on a fancy maneuver, there should be a backup plan in action. Another passenger should know how to drive the boat, and a first aid kit should always be on board. If the captain is wearing a 1st Mate device, it’s easy to contact emergency services for assistance.
Tow sports are incredibly fun for everyone as long as precautions are always taken. Make the most of your summer boating and bring 1st Mate along every time.