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5 Tow Sports Do’s and Don’ts

Basic etiquette for towing water-skiers, wakeboarders and tubers on busy lakes and waterways

How-To On the Water
5 Tow Sports Do’s and Don’ts

Tow sports, including water-skiing, wakeboarding, wakesurfing and tubing, offer some of the biggest thrills in boating. Riders glide across the water, ski through slalom courses or shred their tow boat’s wake. Some even perform aerial tricks. But like all fun boating activities, there are some basic safety rules to follow, such as wearing life jackets, having a spotter on board and stopping the engine as soon as a rider is down. In addition, to be courteous to other boaters around you, it’s important to observe tow sports etiquette.

Here are five “Do’s and Don’ts” for towing skiers, surfers and riders behind your boat.

  1. Do learn the local laws and customs on the lake or other body of water where you plan to enjoy your water sports. Some may require you to stay in designated tow sports areas. On others, the local boaters might always tow their riders in a counterclockwise circle to let everyone take a turn and to avoid accidents. Always obey posted speed limits. If you tow at much slower speeds than other boats, try not to hold up traffic.
  2. Don’t get too close to the shore or fixed structures in the water. In many places, the distance boaters must maintain from shore is set by law. If there is no legal mandate, it’s often recommended you maintain a berth of at least 150 feet. That will give you an extra margin of safety and allow your wake to dissipate before it gets to docks, boat lifts and the shoreline. When you make turns, look both ways first, and keep the length of your tow rope in mind so your rider can maintain a safe course.
  3. Don’t get too close to other boats, either while passing or following them. Give other boats as wide a berth as possible and ask the skiers and riders you tow to save their tricks for less-congested waters. Be aware of your wake so it won’t rock a slower boat or one at anchor.
  4. Do try to pick a low-traffic time and place to do your towing. If you and your rider(s) are free, weekdays during business hours are great times to go water-skiing, wakeboarding or riding. Weekend mornings also can give you a chance to “own the lake” without having to worry about sharing the water with too many other boats.
  5. Don’t play loud music near other boats or waterfront houses. Today’s tow sport boats are often equipped with upgraded sound systems that can “blow the doors off” home stereos. Be courteous and wait to crank those tunes until you are in an out-of-the-way spot with just your friends who will appreciate it.

As with boating etiquette, tow sports etiquette is a matter of courtesy. If you stay out of the way of other boaters and follow the rules, everyone can enjoy their day on the water pursuing their own particular passion, whether it’s skiing, wakeboarding, wakesurfing, riding, fishing or simply cruising around.

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