What to Know About Towing Skiers on a Vessel or PWC
Before Towing a Skier
Water-skiing, along with being towed on a tube, kneeboard, or similar device, is very popular with boaters. These activities are both fun and challenging; however, towing people on skis or other devices requires additional knowledge and skills.
Before towing a skier, the operator should:
- Have a second person on board to act as an observer.
- Review hand signals with the skier to ensure proper communication.
- Make sure the skier is wearing a U.S. Coast Guard—approved life jacket (PFD) designed for water-skiing. Keep in mind that ski belts are not U.S. Coast Guard—approved. A PFD with a high-impact rating is recommended.
- Be familiar with the area and aware of any hazards such as shallow water, rocks, or bridge pilings in the water.
- Make sure the tow lines are of the same length if towing multiple skiers.
- Never tow a skier at night. It is both hazardous and illegal.
While Towing a Skier
While towing a skier, the operator should:
- Start the engine after making sure that no one in the water is near the propeller.
- Start the boat slowly until the ski rope is tight. When the skier is ready and there is no traffic ahead, take off in a straight line with enough power to raise the skier out of the water. Once the skier is up, adjust the speed according to the signals given by the skier.
- Keep the skier at a safe distance—at least twice the length of the tow rope—from the shoreline, docks, hazards, and people in the water.
- Avoid congested areas, beaches, docks, and swimming areas. Water-skiing takes a lot of room. Some areas may have designated traffic patterns.
- Maintain a sharp lookout for other vessels and obstructions in the water. Let the observer watch the skier.
- Always respond to the skier's signals. If you need to turn the boat, signal the skier of your intentions.
- Once the skier has dropped or fallen, circle the skier slowly either to return the tow line to the skier or to pick up the skier. Always keep the skier in view and on the operator's side of the boat. Some states require the display of a red or orange skier-down flag to alert other vessels that a skier is down.
- To avoid propeller injuries, always shut off the engine before allowing the skier to board the boat. After the skier is on board, retrieve the tow line unless you are pulling another skier.
Pulling a Skier with a PWC
Some personal watercraft are capable of pulling water-skiers. Even if it's not required in your state, it is recommended that the PWC be rated for at least three people—the driver, the observer, and the retrieved skier.