Top 10 Summer Watersport Safety Tips for Skiers, Tubers, Wake and Kneeboarders

October 14th, 2009

For many Americans, being pulled from the end of a long, slim tow line attached to a speeding motorboat is a summer rite of passage. The BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety has these top 10 summer watersport safety tips for waterskiers, wakeboarders and tubers that will guarantee everyone has a great time:

1. Float first: Ensure anyone being towed has a properly fitting life jacket that won’t ride up over a wearer’s head if they take a spill. A Type III vest is best because it has the extra buckles to provide a snug fit and is built for taking a hard fall.

2. Talk to the hand: A rider has very little control over a tube, and skiiers and boarders need control help, too. Before anyone jumps in the water, go over a few standard hand signals, such as stop (hand slashing the neck), slow (thumb down), speed up (thumb up), OK (tip of index finger and thumb together), turn (point finger upwards in a circular motion) and return to dock (pat head).

3. Engine off: Always turn off the boat’s engine when a rider is entering or exiting the water. Not only can a prop rotate while the motor is in “neutral,” the engine exhaust produces carbon monoxide. Also never back up to retrieve a fallen rider.

4. Wait for the OK: Once a skier is in the water, wait until they are far enough away from the boat and signal that it’s OK to start the engine.

5. Spotter is a must: It’s very important to have constant visual contact with anyone being towed. It’s also the law in most states.

6. Look before turning: Let’s face it. It’s the turns that really make watersports fun. But don’t leave those at the end of towline guessing when the next turn is coming. The hand signal for turning is a pointing finger upwards in a circular motion, then pointing to the direction of turn.

7. Think big: Keep in mind that with kids on the end of long towline, your boat’s safety “footprint” is now much larger. That means being extra cautious when near other boaters, docks, navigational aids, and crossing wakes.

8. Two head turns for every “drop”: As soon as someone falls off the tube or a skier or boarder drops, the boat operator should always look to both sides before turning around for a pick-up.

9. Good to go: For riders after a knock down, clasp your hands over your head so those on the towboat know you are OK and ready for retrieval. In some states a red or orange “skier down” flag may need to be displayed.

10. Tip up and be seen: A skier who has fallen in the water can seen by others much more easily if they keep the ski tips above the water.

For more information on your state’s safety requirements, go to and click on State Boating Regulations.