Flying behind a boat is tremendous fun, whether wakeboarding, tubing, or water skiing. However, towing people behind the boat is a significant responsibility and needs to be done safely. Before you embark on a water sports adventure, make sure you take the following steps:

Towing and Tubing Gear

If the boat you rent is equipped with appropriate gear for towing a rider or tuber, great! Essential items include:

  • U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets for all riders and tubers. They must wear life jackets, regardless of age.
  • Adequate towrope. Different sports require different towropes, so ensure that you have the correct one for your activity. Don’t improvise—this is tempting when tubing, but the force of the tube moving from side to side behind the rope can snap an inadequate towrope. 
  • An orange flag. This is the universal signal to other boaters that someone is in the water near your boat. Keep the flag in an easily accessible location. Designate a lookout or spotter to raise the flag when your rider or tuber is in the water before the boat has moved, after you have stopped, and whenever someone falls in. Boating flags differ from scuba diving flags, so be sure you have the correct one displayed.

Preparation for Towing a Rider

Check that the person you are towing is ready. Before your riders are in the water, you should agree on a verbal cue (“hit it!) or an easily seen gesture.

Once they are ready, check for any boats in your area. Let their wakes pass before accelerating, or you may bounce your friends off the tube before you even start.

Start Towing or Tubing!

Accelerate firmly but gradually. This can be tricky for wakeboarding because raising someone with a big board attached to their feet out of the water requires power. If you accelerate too quickly, you will pull too hard on their arms, and they will not be able to hold on, and if you accelerate too little, they will drag. For tubers, slide the throttle in a steady, smooth motion until it is about 75 percent forward.

Tips for Towing  

  • As soon as the rider is up, ease back. If you keep going at the speed you applied while pulling the rider out of the water; you’ll be going about 40 miles per hour —­ far too fast! Gradually slow your speed. A boat’s speed cannot be adjusted like a car’s; it takes a few seconds for the boat to respond to the throttle. Ease back until you are at about 13-17 knots.
  • Find the right cruising speed. This will vary depending on your passengers' size, weight, and experience level. In general, let them tell you what works. 
  • Again, agree to use simple hand signals to indicate comfort level — thumb up means faster, thumb down means slower. It is very important to maintain a consistent speed. When you turn a corner, this can be difficult, and the wind or current behaves differently. Changing speed frequently makes it harder for riders to find their “groove.” 
  • Keep an eye on your speed. If your boat has a gauge on the dashboard that says “Perfect Pass,” you are in luck. Perfect Pass is like cruise control and beeps when you have hit your desired speed.  It maintains a constant speed, adjusting as conditions (wind, current, etc.) change.
  • Drive carefully. For tubers, it is pretty much the case that the faster you go, the more exciting the ride. It is also true that the more sharply you turn the boat, the faster the tube will fly from side to side. High speeds plus sharp turns make for fun but potentially dangerous conditions. Generally, it is not a good idea to go over 26 knots when tubing. Do not execute sharp turns near shorelines or other objects — if riders lose their grip or if the towrope snaps, they can easily fly into nearby objects. If you are new to tubing, start slowly and get up to a speed that is both comfortable for you and exciting for the riders. Try driving the boat in S-shaped patterns. Remember, you are the captain. Exercise caution and safe judgment.
  • Avoid crowded channels. It is not a good idea to tow anything or anyone in heavy traffic. If boats are close behind or in front, you could easily hit a wake that would throw the riders off. Find a quieter, less crowded place. 
  • Do not multi-tube. Some people like to pull two or more tubes behind their boats, but riders then lose control of the tube’s movement. This can lead to collision and injury.

Safety while Towing or Tubing

  • When someone falls, make sure your spotter immediately raises the orange flag. Bring the boat slowly into neutral and check for any nearby boats. Turning around too quickly or abruptly can knock your passengers down, and you might be swamped by your own wake, or you might run over your towrope. Determine the best route back to the rider or tube. Have one of your crew pull in the towrope. Keep the rider on your side of the boat, so you always have him or her in view.
  • Turn the engine off between sessions. When people swim near the boat, it is best to turn the engine completely off for safety.

Wakeboarding, tubing, and water skiing are incredibly fun, and as the captain, you need to ensure both fun and safety for your riders and passengers.