WATER SPORTS SAFETY
Pulling Towables Behind Your Boat or PWC
Published: Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Having company on your boat is a lot of fun. Water sports are a natural part of that fun, and given most folks’ appetite for excitement, it is likely your weekends will include all the fun things to do behind your boat–water skiing, tubing, kneeboarding, wakeboarding, wakesurfing, barefooting… have we missed any?
It is easy to get caught up in the fun without giving safety its due. While no one wants to be a “Safety Cop” and bore your guests with a pre-outing safety lecture, it’s best just to simply incorporate safety in everything you do. Here’s a look at what you should check for water sports and towables safety:
PRE-OUTING: GENERAL SAFETY TIPS
• Be sure you have enough life vests for everyone. Today’s vests are light weight and permit full range of movement without being bulky or uncool. Make sure yours are up to date–not moldy, ripped or worn out, not damaged, and be certain you have different sizes for all your guests. No mismatches, either–each guest should wear the right sized PFD to fit their body properly. Investing in extra life vests is a sound move.
• Tow ropes should be inspected for rot, knots and frayed areas, broken or damaged handles. Discard and buy new if yours are compromised. In general, replace tow ropes every few years–especially if they’re used often and then put away for the cold season. Try to dry them out before storage, and store them in a cool, dry place.
• Check the toys themselves for problems: ripped, loose or degraded/rotted bindings on skis, tubes with filler valves protruding, proper inflation, loose fins, and general condition.
• Special note for tube lovers: never use “inner tubes” from vehicles. Only use tubes designed and sold for recreational tubing behind a boat.
• Similarly, check your tow boat or PWC to ensure that the towing apparatus (eye, loop, or ski bar/pole) is securely anchored to the boat and can’t pull out and cause injury.
• Water toys should be checked carefully at the start of each season and perhaps even once or twice during the season. Chances are high you’ll be entertaining not just experienced, seasoned watersports enthusiasts, but also guests who have no idea what they’re doing. It’s these guests that will need reliable, safe equipment in order to avoid injury and enjoy the experience without incident.
• Watch out for tubes and toys designed to “fly high”; many of these have been taken off the market due to the extreme heights they can reach above the water, even when towed at relatively slow speeds. Those heights usually mean extreme danger and devastating injuries should the rider fall from up there.
ON THE WATER
• Everyone wears a life vest–no exceptions–and the proper size on each rider and passenger. The kids and, of course, wakesurfers and boarders will balk (it’s not cool!) but there’s no excuse for not wearing a PFD (personal floatation device). As noted, a little investment in the latest, lightweight PFDs can help this situation.
• A competent, mature driver is an absolute must. It should be someone with a clear head (no alcohol or drugs!) and the maturity to make good decisions on the water. One slip is all it takes for potential injury or worse.
• A spotter is also necessary, one who has a track record of paying proper attention (not on their phone or talking to others).
• If your towboat has a ski pylon mounted inboard (like a tournament ski rig), it’s important that someone watches the towrope while towing, and especially when circling back and picking up/restarting a fallen rider. This is because the rope can easily catch a passenger unaware, and cause injury if that person is caught in the rope as it pulls taut. Rope injuries can be very serious and painful, so this is really something to watch for.
• It’s difficult, but important, to keep the interior of the boat orderly; loose jackets, towels, skis and equipment lying around is a perfect recipe for an accident.
• It may seem obvious, but those in the water must stay away from the boat, and the driver must be very aware of anyone and everyone in the water and their whereabouts at all times. Propeller driven boats can be extremely dangerous, especially to those swimming around the drive unit.
DRIVER AND SPOTTER CONCERNS
It’s easy to be cavalier about towing watersports riders; after all, everyone’s out having fun, and the atmosphere is laid back and chill. While the driver and spotter are certainly part of the fun, they must always remain ultra-aware and vigilant.
• The driver’s not there to watch the riders; that’s the spotter’s job, along with quickly advising the driver of the situation behind the boat. The spotter must know at least the basic rider signals: go slower, go faster, go back to the dock, and the “I’m OK” (hands clasped above head) after a fall.
• The driver must pay strict attention to the water in front and to the sides of the boat, tow rope, and rider. The driver is in complete control; if there’s rough water or traffic ahead, he must compensate boat speed and direction so passengers remain safe and inside the boat. Turns must be made with care. The boat’s pathway must be kept a safe distance from shore, docks, moorings, and other boats. On many waterways, the driver can be held responsible for any damage the boat’s wake causes.
• While it’s all fun and games, it’s not fun when someone says “enough”. This usually happens when tubing with a driver who likes to crack the whip. It’s no fun when someone’s been thrown off the tube at high speed over passing wakes too many times, and comes up crying. Know when enough is enough.
• There’s usually someone who’s learning. The key is patience and understanding, and again, knowing when is enough, especially if there are others waiting to ski or ride. A few tries is fine, but if it’s not going to happen, it might be best to reserve the lessons for tomorrow morning when the water’s calmer, there’s less pressure, and not so many waiting to ride.
RIDE’S OVER, TIME FOR DINNER
When it’s time to go back to the dock and tie up the boat, everyone should be involved in tidying up the boat, putting the toys away, coiling up the tow ropes, and hanging up the life vests so they can dry out for tomorrow’s fun. Giving everyone a small part of the job makes it go quicker and seem less like a chore. Plus, it instills some responsibility and gratitude for the time spent on the water—much better than everyone running off to do their own thing leaving Mom or Dad to a messy, wet boat.