Never ride behind a boat using anything other than a braided tow rope attached to a purpose-built ski pylon or wakeboard tower. Make sure your lines, boards, skis and inflatables—as well as PFDs—are sized to suit you or your riders.
Make sure the boating area is designated for towing
Some locations don’t allow boating at towing speeds and some don’t allow a tow of any kind so check the local rules.
Designate a spotter for riders behind the boat
The driver is busy looking forward and around at obstacles and other boat traffic, so the spotter needs to watch the rider(s). A spotter watches for signals from the rider, raises the skier down flag, notifies the driver if the rider falls, and keeps an eye out for other boats or people in the water around the rider.
Go easy and don’t gun it
Confirm with your spotter that the rider has the tow handle in hand, then gently tighten the line by slowly ramping up speed. Consider the rider’s weight and apply appropriate throttle – too much and they’ll lose the handle, too little and they won’t be able to pop up.
Drive for their success
Wakeboarders are ideally towed at 16-22 mph, water skiers on two skis at 20-26 mph, and single-ski slalom runners at 24-36 mph. Lightweight kids should be towed at slower speeds, just when the boat is up on plane around 16 mph. For towing tubes behind a boat, you’ll need to set the speed based on the size of the water toy (tube) and the number and weight of the riders, but usually not much more than 16-18 mph. Once towing, keep a consistent speed, making gentle adjustments. Follow the posted labels on your ski pylon or tower regarding towing inflatable tubes, or utilize a towing harness (preferred)
Keep your eyes on what lies ahead
Your path should be free of boats, swimmers and obstacles like logs or sandbars. Don’t tow near swimming areas or boat ramps where you can throw a wake.
Practice tow boat hand signals
These include thumbs up for faster or down for slower, patting the head to indicate the rider is done, hand clasp above the head means the rider in the water is ok after a fall, and palm up for stop. You may agree on additional signals with an individual beforehand.
Watch the line in the water
Always be fully aware of where the tow line is if not in the rider’s hands. If pickup up a fallen rider, make sure you don’t run it over or get it caught in your propeller. Reel in the rope when not in use; never tow an empty line.
Towing skiers, boarders and tubers is a great way to enjoy a day on the water, but it’s important to abide by certain rules and best practices. Most are a matter of communication or common sense, and all will make boating safer.