Wakesports are a fun, healthy way to enjoy your boat, but they add safety concerns. The driver is primarily responsible for keeping everyone safe, but safety is a collaboration between the driver, the observer, the rider and the passengers. Heed a few tips to make every day on the water productive, fun and safe.
Before You Go
Know the waterway. Stay away from docks and the shore. Avoid shallow water, boating channels, areas with stumps or debris, or sandbars. It’s best to perform wakesports in at least 10 feet of water. It is safer and more fun to find calm water, especially for beginners.
Know the ideal boat speeds. Every tow sport has its own range of boat speed:
-10 mph for wakesurfing
-15-21 mph for wakeboarding
-26-36 mph for slalom skiing
Speeds within the range vary depending on skill, weight and personal preference. The driver should develop a sensitivity to the throttle, so he can provide a smooth pull out of the water and help the rider perform better and fall less frequently.
Establish clear communication signals. The rider should know and use the standard hand signals:
-Thumb up for faster
-Thumb down for slower
-Swipe hand across neck to stop the boat
-Pat the head for return to dock
-Hands clasped over one’s head after a fall is the “OK” signal. When starting, the person being towed says “in gear” for a tight line and “hit it” to be pulled up. These commands tell the driver to go from neutral to gear and then to accelerate. If the driver has the boat in gear and the towed person wants him to return to neutral, the command should be “stop” or “neutral.” Never say “no,” since it can be misheard as “go.” If the person falls, the observer should say “fall.”
Check equipment. There should be a Coast Guard flotation vest for everyone on board. Make sure the vest for the rider fits snugly. Bindings should fit firmly around the rider’s foot and ankle but should not be overly tight. You want to keep the foot from moving in the binding but ensure the bindings will come off in a fall.
Lines and handles are made specifically for each wakesport, for both safety and performance. For example, lines for tubing are only 60 feet long, to minimize whipping the riders during a turn, and are of various thickness to tow tubes of different sizes. Wakesurf lines are 20 to 30 feet long and feature a small handle or no handle, to keep the surfer’s hand from going through the handle in the event of a fall while releasing the handle.
During the Action
You know the waterway, the proper boat speeds, the communication signals. You have checked your equipment and secured your observer and are ready to hit the water.
Donning equipment. On an inboard or sterndrive boat, the best place for participants to don a vest and bindings is on the swim platform. With an outboard, riders should put their feet in the bindings in the water near the boat, and the driver should have the engine turned off until their feet are in the bindings and they are in the water away from the boat.
Driver awareness. When towing anyone, the driver must be acutely aware of the other boats on the water. Using a dash- or windshield- mounted mirror is a must. The driver’s eyes should always be moving, scanning in front and behind, to port and starboard. Avoid other boaters. After a fall or when ending a pass, the driver should return to the person in the water, keeping him on the driver’s side of the boat, which keeps him in the driver’s view.
Passenger responsibilities. Passengers should stay seated and never sit on the gunwale. They should not distract the driver or observer. They can help keep skis, boards, vests, lines, etc., stowed in a ski locker or on board racks, to minimize tripping hazards.
Always use an observer. An extra pair of eyes are needed to watch the person behind the boat and for other boat traffic. The observer should focus on the action behind the boat and sit next to the driver to immediately convey information. Keep any music muted so that the driver can hear the observer or the person behind the boat.
Respect the line. Before anyone gets in the water, let the line out in the water and check for knots. Once it is completely stretched, the rider can get in and swim toward the handle. Passengers should never touch the line when someone is being towed. However, when a wakesurfer is ready to release the handle to surf, he should toss the handle to the center of the wake and a designated passenger should pull the line into the boat.
When someone finishes a pass, the person should release the handle before the boat slows down, which ensures the handle will be past her as she sinks into the water. Riders should never put their hands on the line while being towed, nor should they put their hand or arm in the handle. If there’s too much slack line during a pass, the rider should let the handle go and fall back into the water.
Avoid fatigue. Be careful not to get fatigued, which can lead to injuries. The sun and cool water can cause fatigue before anyone is aware of it. Stay under the boat’s Bimini top, wear long sleeves, a hat and sunscreen. Wearing a wetsuit will help conserve energy in cooler water. Eat lightly and stay away from alcohol.