Summertime may be coming to a close, but it's not too late to turn up the fun and get the entire family in on the watersports experience!
Towing a tube is one of the most popular activities people enjoy with their boats, and with good reason. With careful driving, just about anyone can enjoy skimming across the water on a towable. It’s also great fun for the people watching from the boat.
What’s more, a wide variety of boats – bowriders, wakeboarding boats, center consoles and pontoons, to name a few – are suitable for towing a tube, and minimal equipment is required.
To get started you’ll need to choose a towable that’s appropriate for your budget, your vessel and your family. If you have a small bowrider with modest horsepower, you probably won’t want a six-person tube, which would be unwieldly to haul and too big to easily tow. If your riders are mainly small children, you won’t want a tube that’s designed for more experienced riders.
You’ll also need a tow rope – not a ski rope. A tow rope is usually shorter and has a loop on each end, rather than a handle. The loops are used to connect to the tube and the boat. Depending on your engine and transom setup, you might also need a harness that hooks onto the boat on each side of the engine. The tow rope gets clipped in the middle of the harness so the pull point is on the boat’s centerline.
If you’re unsure of what you need, your local marine store or boat dealership can help you select a tube, tow rope and harness that will be a good match for your boat and your family’s needs.
Next, you need life jackets that are suitable for watersports. This article outlines some of what to look for in a watersports personal flotation device. Don’t forget to get a variety of sizes so everyone who might come aboard can give it a try.
It’s also handy to have a handpump or 12-volt electric pump on board in case the tube needs a little air during the day. Some people also choose to keep their tube deflated and stowed on the boat until they’re ready to use it, making a pump a necessity.
Once on the water, follow these rules to ensure a safe and fun outing:
- Designate a spotter whose sole job is to watch the action and communicate with the driver.
- Before riding, each tuber should review safety hand signals with the spotter to ensure that requests (faster, slower, stop, etc.) will be clearly and quickly relayed to the driver.
- Everyone should be wearing a life jacket anyway, but make certain no one gets in the water without a good-fitting and well-adjusted watersports life jacket.
- Shut the engine off before any riders get in the water to mount the tube. The tube should be well away from and behind the boat before restarting the motor.
- The spotter or someone else on the boat should carefully manage the tow rope as the driver slowly and gently pulls the slack out of the line. Take care that the tow rope always stays away from the propeller.
- Once the slack is removed and the rider has signaled that they are ready, the driver can start applying throttle and easing the boat on plane. Don’t try for a quick hole shot like you might with a wakeboarder. An aggressive start isn’t needed and could unseat the rider.
- Speed depends on the type of towable and the rider’s and driver’s comfort levels. An appropriate speed for small children might be only 8 to 10 mph, while a more adventurous rider might prefer a speed closer to 20 mph. Be aware that tight turns can cause the tube to reach much higher speeds and be more susceptible to wakes and waves, so consider the ability and wishes of the rider when making turns.
- You can try trimming the engine a bit for better running characteristics and the desired wake, but most boats typically need little trim when towing a tube.
- The driver should pay attention to boat traffic and boat wakes at all times because the rider has no way of steering the tube. During busy times on the water, you might need to find a remote cove or perhaps delay tubing until there is less traffic.
- Should a rider fall or signal the boat to stop, approach the rider at the slowest possible speed, and shut off the engine well before the boat is close to someone in the water. Someone onboard will need to manage the rope to keep it away from the propeller and avoid a tangle.
Please note: Some waterways have strict regulations that govern tubing and other tow sports. For instance, towing might be limited to certain areas or to specific hours. Please consult your state natural resources agency’s website and the body of water’s official website if you are unfamiliar with the waterway or unsure of the local rules.