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How to tow a water ski safely

Towing someone on a water ski isn’t just a matter of taking off and hoping they hold on. Nope, there is an art to making sure you’re mate dangling out back is safe, and other people on the water are too.

Before you head out, we highly recommend checking out the regulations for your state or territory. Google ‘water skiing’ and the name of your state, and you’ll find the Department of Transport website with the relevant regulations.

For example, in Queensland, water skiing can only happen in an anti-clockwise direction (unless signage says otherwise), and your observer must be aged 13 years of more. These simple rules will help you stay safe, and they’re vital to know, wherever you venture.

But now, let’s talk about safe water skiing.

Is your gear in working order?

Always make sure your water skier is wearing a regulation life jacket, and ensure your boat and water-skiing gear is in safe working order. If you’re not sure, head to your local water ski store and ask a member of staff for assistance. (For your boat, get it serviced by a professional.)

They will either check over your gear for you, or refer you to a professional who knows what they are doing. It’s vital that your gear is in safe working order before you even launch your boat (and then your skier).

What are the regulations in your area?

Different water skiing spots have different rules relating to safe skiing. As we mentioned earlier, check the regulations in your state, and either print them out or store them on your phone for future reference.

Always make sure you’re launching in an area where water skiing is permitted, and check to see if the spot has it’s own rules. Things to take note of include:

  • What direction you should be traveling (clockwise or anti-clockwise).
  • The maximum knots permitted.
  • Any other rules relating to right of way on the water.

Never head out on the water without this basic information.  

Finding the right conditions

Okay, so your gear is in working order, and you know what rules apply to your location of choice. If you’re towing for the first time, we always recommend choosing a lake or river, as it is easier to spot your skier if they fall, and the water is less choppy.

We also highly recommend heading out at a time when there aren’t many people on the water, that way you have fewer obstacles to think about. If you’re a beginner, you should always take an experienced tower with you, so they can offer you tips and take over if necessary.

The best way to learn any skill is by doing, but only under controlled conditions (as controlled as they can be on the water), and under the guidance of an experienced person.

How do I actually tow a water-skier?

  1. Getting started

When your water skier is in the water, your boat’s engine must be switched off completely. This means no idling, and this applies no matter what kind of boat you have.

Your skier will then swim to where the line is taut, or once they are a few metres away from the boat, you can idle away until the line is taut.

  1. Heading off!

When your skier is in the correct position you’ll see the tips of their skis poking out of the water. Their feet and legs should be facing the boat too. If they’re on a single ski, then the same applies. (Except just one ski tip will be poking up!)

Now, give the boat a bit of power, but only enough to pull the skier to the water’s surface. Your speed should be minimal – as in, just enough to get them on their feet. Then maintain this speed for a short period of time, before slowly increasing it.

  1. Too fast too soon

Gunning the boat is likely to pull the line from the skier or unbalance them, which means they’ll probably fall. It’s also very unsafe, so keep your speed minimal. When you do increase your speed, do so smoothly and incrementally, and never exceed regulation speed limits.

If your water skier is a beginner, don’t go more than 17 knots. This will keep them upright, with a good amount of tension on the ski-line. Don’t worry; it’s still fast enough for them to have a good time! (Competition skiers max out at around 30 knots.)

  1. Turning smooth

If you want to perform a smooth, comfortable and safe turn, tracing the shape of a basic keyhole is the best way to achieve this. How does this work? Well, before you turn right, make a small turn left, then make a slow, long arc right.

This shape will pull your water skier gently out of the way of the wake, and allows them to avoid the waves and chop of your boat. Head here to see what a keyhole looks like

  1. Three is not a crowd

When you’re in charge of driving a boat, you need to be aware of other obstacles and people on the water, as well as the person you’re towing. This is a lot to take in, which is why you need an additional person onboard to observe the water skier at all times.

Of course, if you’re starting out. We recommend having an observer, as well as someone to support you with driving the boat safely. Your observer will tell you if your skier has fallen in, or if anything changes.

Most states have a minimum age requirement for observers, so be sure to check this before heading out.

  1. Agree on hand signals

There are no universal hand signals for water-skiing, so ultimately, it’s important that you, the water skier and your observer, all agree on what each hand signal means. That way, your observer knows if the water skier is asking to slow down or stop. (Or anything else.)

If you’re not sure where to start, this PDF from the Queensland Department of Transport offers some good hand signal suggestions, which will hold you in good stead. Make sure to understand and practice them before you head out on the water so they are second nature.

  1. Distance matters

Never tow a water skier too close to the shoreline, other boats or, well, any obstacle at all. A good rule of thumb is to keep your skier double the length of the rope he or she is using, away from boats, the shore and anything else.

For example, if the water skier’s rope is 70 feet long, stay at least 140 feet from the shore and other obstacles.

Stay safe out there!

Learning a new skill takes time and practice, but once you’ve mastered the art of towing, you’ll end up having loads of fun taking your friends out on the water.

If you need insurance for your boat, we offer comprehensive cover for most kinds of vessels, just in case the unforeseeable happens.

Having good cover will give you peace of mind when you’re out on the water. Contact us for a free quote and stay safe out there.

Disclaimer: This information is purely a guide, and should not be relied on completely. Always seek the instruction of a professional before towing a water ski to ensure you, your water skier and members of the public are safe.