Getting into wakesports can be intimidating. There is already plenty to learn about driving and operating a boat to begin with, and the added responsibility of towing or guiding a rider can seem daunting. It adds another layer of difficulty that has to be considered.
That being said, there are plenty of helpful resources for boaters who are interested into getting into activities like waterskiiing, wakeboarding, or wakesurfing. The first, and most important step, is to become a safe boater by doing things like obtaining your Please Craft Operator Card (if you’re in Canada), and/or getting some on-water experience at the helm by signing up for a training course. In Canada, groups like the Canadian Power & Sail Squadron are a great resource, and in the U.S. the Coast Guard is a great place to find quality training.
So, where do you start?
First — understand the risks of watersports. Anything that’s fun comes with inherent risks, so make sure you’re comfortable with the activity before you gear up.
Second, prepare yourself. We’ve assembled a list of the 10 most important safety tips for watersports enthusiasts to consider before adding boards or tubes to the equation. If you’re mindful of these 10 items, and the details associated with them, you’re far more likely to have a safe and enjoyable day on the water.
1) Know Your Role
The captain of any boat is the leader. The guests, crew, or riders on your boat are your responsibility at all times, even if they’re actively not on the boat (i.e., in the water). Make sure everyone onboard is aware of the riding plans before you leave the dock, and make sure you’ve gone through your equipment checklist. Assign roles as necessary (who’s the spotter out the back? Who’s in charge of ropes/lines?). Do you have any specific language/terms setup with your spotter/rider in the event you need to change course, slow down, or turn? The more information you share, the more prepared everyone on board will be if something unexpected happens.
2) Know Your Route
Always operate in the safest area possible by maintaining a safe distance from the shoreline. Set out a path ahead before you move forward, and fill your spotter and your rider in on the route. Everyone should know where you’re going before you hit the gas. Always keep an eye for obstacles, debris, other boats, or swimmers/paddlers, and scout your intended route beforehand to identify the likeliest places you may encounter one of the above. Ideally, stay 500 feet from docks, pilings, buoys, moored boats, moving boats or any other stationary object. In smaller bodies of water, stay at least 200 feet from any danger. You should know beforehand if you may enter any ‘No Wake’ zones or other traffic controls.
3) Know How to Operate with a Rider Aboard
When towing a skier, tube, or providing a wake for a surfer, when returning to a downed rider always keep the skier on the driver’s side so you never lose sight of their position relative to the boat. Also never let a rider of any type gear up on the swim platform, always inside the boat. If anyone should slip into the water you do not want the engine running until everyone is prepared to depart. Always be aware of the effect of wakes on the surrounding environment. Since surf boats create larger-than-average wakes if you ride too close to shore or other boaters you may damage the shoreline, docks, or other boats.
4) Driver Specific Responsibilities
Drivers must know the average speeds needed for their selected activity, as well as how to get a rider out of the water and onto plane for skiing. Water skiers typically prefer between 25 to 36 mph, wakeboarders typically run around 18 to 22 mph, and wakesurfers generally move much slower at only 11 to 14 mph. Never tow inflatable tubes from a tower or top — when a boarder or skier falls, the stress on the line stops and can cause a tube to nosedive into the water. The stress this generates on a tower’s hardware, coupled with the leverage provided by a tower’s height, can cause you to lose control.
5) Know Your Gear
Invest in the correct towrope for your activity. Wakesurf ropes run in shorter lengths to position the surfer in the wake’s sweet spot. They also have a small handle to lessen the chance of getting caught up during a fall. For any rider or spotter, never wrap slack line around your hand or arm. Always make sure slack line is clear from tangling around you, other passengers, or around the boat. For tubers, it’s also important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the tube’s weight capacity, number of riders, age limits, and maximum speed. Regularly check your gear for signs of wear and tear like prayed lines or cracks.
6) Know Your Rider
Understand and respect the capabilities and limitations of your rider with respect to their age, experience level, and comfortability. High speed turns and big waves can be fun, but for younger or more inexperienced riders they may quickly become uncomfortable or scared. Establish what they’re comfortable with before heading out and make sure to respect their wishes. Always check that your rider is ready before you start the boat. They should have a firm grip on the line, be properly positioned on the board or tube, and the line should be properly positioned. When tubing with multiple passengers, riders should understand how to balance their weight correctly and work together to safely stay on the tube.
7) Know Your Spotter
All watersports/wakesports need a spotter. This role and its responsibilities should be laid out beforehand, and make sure they have the opportunity to ask any questions about particular scenarios that may arise. You do not want a spotter to be confused or uncertain when dealing with reboarding a rider or preparing that rider from launching.
8) Know Your Local Laws
Different states, regions, and even bodies of water may have different rules for watersports. It’s your responsibility to know what those are when you visit a new location. Particular areas may have ‘No Wake’ zones, and their may be towing speed limits that you must respect.
9) Always Wear Your PFD
While it may seem burdensome at points, it’s always a good idea to wear a PFD (personal flotation device) when onboard. Tubers especially should always wear their PFD while underway. If a rider or tuber becomes seperated from the boat, it will help them maintain visibility and make reboarding easier. it also provides added security in the event anyone becomes injured.
10) Drive Responsibly
While enjoying a day of wakeboarding or tubing, the driver should never be distracted. Their primary role is to operate the boat and look ahead for any potential risks. Do not create a hectic environment onboard with excessive music, movement, or other distractions that could affect the driver’s ability to operate the boat. When crossing wakes, slow the boat as needed to ensure rider safety. Bouncing off wakes at high speeds can cause serious back injury, especially with riders who are water tubing stomach-down. Concussions and other serious injuries are also possible. If you are towing more than one tube, you must be aware of the physics that affect each tubes movement as you navigate turns or breach waves. If the tubes are becoming too separated and risk a collision when coming back together, slow down and navigate accordingly.
For more information, you can also check out the Canadian Safe Boating Guide or visit the U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety website.