Wild World of Water Sports

There’s no doubt skiing, tubing and boarding are great summertime pastimes. Regardless of your pleasure, there are certain precautions to take to ensure the utmost enjoyment for everyone.

wakeboardingcloseupThe excitement of wakeboarding, waterskiing, tubing, and numerous inflatable water toys have taken the thrill of boating to an entirely new level. Families are spending weekends together more and more, participating in all kinds of activities on the water. But like any pastime, it requires a certain amount of responsibility. In addition to bending to a learning curve, boaters must practice safe boating and be considerate of others on the water.

While, it is unfortunate some boaters end up in trouble due to ignorance, towing a person behind a boat can be lots of fun when it’s done with everyone’s safety in mind.

With more than 50 years of experience on the water, I have heard many fascinating stories about boaters enjoying themselves, but I have also heard (and seen) many unsafe ones as well.

Here are four major examples of what not to do and most importantly, to learn from.


Dangerous Course

wakeboardingA camp councilor told me last summer she was leading a fleet of two-dozen canoes across a calm lake in cottage country. The canoes were evenly spaced in two lines and the pre-teens were enjoying a relaxed paddle after a shore breakfast. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a bowrider was towing a skier up the lake, between the two rows of canoes.

The skier began to cut back and forth around the canoes, making an impromptu slalom course. Just as quickly, the boat and skier disappeared across the lake. Ski, board, and tube away from other boats, no matter how large or small. Everyone likes to show off, but do it safely and with consideration in mind.

Additionally, tow the rider in plenty of water, free of other vessels or obstructions. Before taking the kids, or going out with friends for the afternoon, scout out an area beforehand to ensure it’s not a busy section of the lake with lots of boat traffic.

If you need to, find an alternate, quiet spot on the lake. It may not be in front of the cottage or the most convenient area, but it’s a lot safer for everyone. Additionally, on larger, open areas of a body of water where you see others enjoying water sports, stay clear of their path, avoid getting too close and simply go around them. Respect other boaters on the water, just as you would like them to respect you.

Rough Rides

tubingA novice told me of one of his experiences when he and his buddies were tubing. He was first on the tube and after approximately 20 minutes of “cracking the whip,” his buddy, who was driving and the only one in the boat, headed out of the bay into open water, which was much choppier.

After only a few minutes of bouncing and crashing, his knees were sore and arms were tired. He shouted and waved at the driver, but he was busy looking at the shoreline and waves.

Soon, he fell off in exhaustion and would have drowned if it hadn’t been for the lifejacket and eventually the passing boater who spotted him.

The tubing buddies should have done a few things differently. They should have added a second person to the boat as a spotter (the golden rule to any type of water sports!!) and the driver should have steered a straight course for a few minutes, then signal and circle around to steer back down the same course, eliminating all but one rough crossing of the boat’s wake. As a result, the person on the rope is always just a few minutes from the end of the run, where he can let go for a rest.

Whether skiing, boarding or tubing, the participant must always wear a proper fitting approved jacket and a spotter should be watching at all times.

Tangled Ropes

waterskierA cottager on a popular lake once told me she observed a group of kids waterskiing. Their tow line was a series of old dock lines knotted together. It was so heavy that it dragged in the lake forcing the skier to lose his tenuous balance.

The cottager spotted him fall, and the boat immediately turned back to return the rope to him. The driver tried, but couldn’t get the rope close enough for him to reach it. The rope eventually got twisted in the prop.

My friend at the cottage quickly informed them what they should have done. First, they should use a proper polypropylene ski rope that floats, so when the skier is down, it’s light enough to float, and when up, it doesn’t drag between the skier and the boat. Secondly, to return the rope to the rider in the water, the driver should carefully idle in a half circle around the person in the water to lead the rope and handle to the person.

Dusk to Dark

lastrunI recently heard a story at a local marina of an after dark rescue. Apparently, after a day of towing one of those new, large multi-person inflatable toys that is straddled like a PWC, the group went out for one more run before dusk.

It was calm and everyone was having so much fun they kept going, but soon the sun set and the child at the back of the inflatable was bucked off as they jumped a cruiser’s wake. The spotter didn’t count heads or understand the signals in the poor light of dusk.

My friend just happened to be delivering a customer’s boat up the lake, when he saw arms waving at him. This child was lucky he was spotted and rescued. This group learned a valuable lesson and now knows why it’s not wise or legal to be towed at or after dusk.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying that last run of the day, but do keep in mind darkness does fall quickly, which in turn, limits visibility for the rider as well as those in the boat.

Stay Safe

  • Always pay attention to the person (or in this case persons) being towed. Again, spotters are essential for everyone’s safety.
  • When the water is cool, especially in early spring or late fall, wear a proper wet suit. No matter how much of an expert the rider is, there’s a chance of falling and in unexpected, colder water temperatures, the results can be fatal.
  • boardjumpingFor those who are serious about water sports, manufacturers of towboats offer several features and appointments for added safety, convenience and control. Equipment such as cruise control for consistent speed, integrated onboard heaters, ballast systems with adjustable settings to meet the rider’s ability – to name a few – are all available to boaters.
  • You can avoid the unpleasant consequences yet still enjoy the thrill that water sports offers your family this summer-just be sure to take lessons, and remember to pack safety and common sense when you go boating. No matter what medium of water sports you prefer, it should be enjoyed in clear open water, away from areas of heavy boat traffic.
  • As much fun as tubing is, it’s up to the driver to maintain the utmost safety for those on the rope.
  • There’s nothing wrong with enjoying that last run of the day, but do keep in mind darkness does fall quickly, which in turn, limits visibility for the rider as well as those in the boat.
  • As the driver of the boat, it’s your responsibility to ensure safe and exciting rides. If you are not sure of the skill level of the person on the rope, ask them what they are comfortable with or start the ride slowly, until they demonstrate a certain skill level. Riders only have so much control, it’s up to the driver to ensure the utmost safety.
  • Enjoy Water Sports by Doug Dawson was published in Power Boating Canada Magazine Volume 22 Number 3

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