Build Your Own Tow Boat | Boating Magazine

Build Your Own Tow Boat

These five necessities can turn any boat into a tow-sports platform.

Build Your Own Tow Boat

1. Ski Pylon or Tower
2. Speed Control
3. The Boom
4. Tow Sports Mirror
5. Ballast/Weight

Build Your Own Tow Boat

1. Ski Pylon or Tower
Many boats don’t have a tow pylon, and that leaves the transom eyes as the logical tow points. But attaching the line to the transom eye gives the skier a downward pull, making starts harder and following the boat more difficult. Also, smaller boats can be pulled off a straight course.

So think higher. A sturdy pylon gives skiers a solid, consistent pull. You want to have a pylon that raises the towing point above the height of the boat’s deck. Many family-boat manufacturers offer a removable tow pylon. Attwood Marine (attwoodmarine.com) offers nifty aftermarket models. A pylon makes it easier to attach the line and gives the skier a level or slightly upward pull.

For its smaller boats, Boston Whaler makes a sturdy removable pylon. Also, Whaler’s Dauntless 180 features an optional sturdy bracket-style pylon that mounts on the transom, fitting directly over the outboard motor.

The higher towing point doesn’t stop with a ski pylon, though. In the late ’90s, wakeboarding’s tow point went higher with the advent of the extended pylon. These pylons fit over an existing pylon in the center of a ski boat. The higher pull provides for a lot more air time, making spins and inversions easier. The extended pylon gives existing ski-boat owners the ability to get more air inexpensively.

Shortly after the advent of the extended pylon, the tower came into fashion. The tower, which attaches to each gunwale, gives riders a more consistent pull than an extended pylon does when they veer to the wake and launch into a trick, because it has more support points.

The higher towing point of a tower, about seven feet above the deck of the boat, works for more than wakeboarding. Barefooters feel lighter on their feet with the upward pull, and recreational slalom skiers get up and cross the wake more easily.

The great news is that most family boats can accommodate a tower. They fit on sterndrives, outboards like the Bayliner 190 Bowrider, and even pontoon boats. Towers are an option offered by many boat manufacturers these days, and aftermarket towers like those from Monster Tower (monstertower.com) are plentiful.

To get up even higher, Barefoot International’s Super Fly High ($999, barefootinternational​.com), attaches to the top of the tower and adds another seven feet of height. Since the ultrahigh pull of the Super Fly High makes them feel really light, some wakeboard riders and many competition barefooters are using it.

Build Your Own Tow Boat

2. Speed Control
Since the late ’90s, speed control has been a staple of competition skiing. Top-level skiers and riders can tell when the boat speed is a quarter of a mile too fast or too slow. Getting the speed exactly right is essential for optimal performances. The feature gradually has migrated to all specialized inboard tow boats.

Being exact with the speed doesn’t only matter with competition types. Precise speed matters for all levels, even those water skiers and riders getting up for the first time. Removing the speed variable gives the driver the ability to concentrate on getting the skier up effortlessly and driving a straight, accurate path, without jerking or yanking the skier or giving slack line.

Today, competitive water skiing and wakeboarding have gone to GPS-based speed control like Zero Off ($1,290, zerogps.com). The progress on the high end is great for everyone since speed control, either in GPS version or rpm-based, is a common feature in inboard boats. The option is increasingly prevalent among sterndrive boat manufacturers. PerfectPass, the original speed control, is still a major player with its StarGazer series. MerCruiser and Volvo Penta offer speed control for their V-8s’ sterndrives. On its SmartCraft engines, MerCruiser offers GPS-based Smart Tow. Electronic Vessel Control (EVC) is an option on 2011 and newer V-8 Volvo Penta engines.

Build Your Own Tow Boat

3. The Boom
A boom is a bar that extends about 11 feet from the side of the boat, perpendicular to the side. Just hold directly onto the boom, or onto its short handle extension, and let it help bring you up on top of the water. A boom is primarily associated with barefooting, since skiers learn much more quickly to barefoot on the boom than on the traditional 75-foot line. However, a boom does much more and is excellent for teaching anyone to get up for the first time to ski, slalom, wakeboard or wakesurf. Because a boom places the skier next to the boat crew, real-time communication and coaching are possible.

Today, booms are available for any type of boat. They can attach to the gunwale of a boat or even directly to the side of a wakeboard tower, as in the case of the Barefoot International Tower Boom ($700, barefootinternational.com). Set it up and you’ll only raise the learning curve

Build Your Own Tow Boat

4. Tow Sports Mirror
To give a safe and precise pull, the driver needs to see the action in tow constantly and quickly without turning around. That’s why all specialized inboard tow boats come with a driver’s mirror. If the boat does not have a mirror and the driver must turn about to look at the skier, the boat veers from a straight pull. A boat that tracks straight provides consistency, and this allows the skier to better focus on body position and technique.

When it comes to watching, think wider. New on the market is the wide-angle PTM Edge mirror that attaches to the windshield of almost any boat. This wide-angle view allows the driver to observe the skier or rider even as he or she pulls out far to the side. The mirror works really well for slalom skiing and wakeboarding. Of course, safety is part of it, because the driver will know immediately if the skier has fallen.

Build Your Own Tow Boat

5. Ballast/Weight
For decades, competitive water skiers have used 50-pound weights as ballast, placing them in various spots in the boat. This levels the boat to create a perfectly balanced wake, even matched on both sides.

Today, wakeboard riders have transformed the concept by adding bladder-style ballast to various sections of the boat to put the hull deeper into the water. More weight means a bigger wake, and more wake means more air time for the rider.

Ballast bladders come in a variety of shapes and sizes that hold from 500 to 1,500 pounds of water weight. They’re available in cylindrical, rectangular and various other shapes to fit well in the aft portion of any boat’s cockpit, in the bow or in storage sections under the floor.

Companies like Liquid Force and Fly High also design water bladders to fit the V-shape area in the bow. They even make bladders for the aft cockpit that double as a lounge seat for several passengers, giving the rider a bigger wake and the passengers a better view of the rider.

Wakesurfers are really using the bladder ballast. The goal is to place additional ballast near the gunwale of a preferred side of the wake to create a mega-style surf wake on one side. The bigger the wake and the more defined it is, the better the wakesurfing experience. Typically, the bigger cylindrical-style bladders work well here in creating a surf-style wake.

Build Your Own Tow Boat

Rinker’s Captiva runabouts can be had with an MTX tow package.

Build Your Own Tow Boat

Cobalt’s SD series is equipped to shred.

Build Your Own Tow Boat

Body Glove Custom Competition Vest
Get a life jacket that matches your boat’s gelcoat pattern, your favorite team’s colors or whatever you wear best. The life jackets are made to fit your specific body shape in zip or pullover style. They are not Coast Guard-approved jackets. $199; bodyglove.com

Build Your Own Tow Boat

House of Marley Bag of Rhythm
So you don’t have the space or budget to put a kickin’ sound system on your boat? Bring one with you. The Marley Bag of Rhythm is battery-powered and iPod and MP3 ready. $349; thehouseofmarley.com

At some point the kids are going to move beyond tubing, and their goal will be to carve or shred or elevate like their heroes on YouTube. Suddenly, the family boat won’t seem so cool. But have no fear. You don’t have to upgrade to a specialized inboard ski or wakeboard boat to get a rad towing experience. There exists a number of innovative products that can enhance the tow behind any boat to give water skiers and board riders a better, more mission-specific pull.

As the various tow sports continue to mature, and as each becomes more specialized, manufacturers of inboard tow boats design features to match. These features then migrate to family boats, giving many more boaters the ability to improve the water-skiing or boarding experience, regardless of skill level. So what can you do to ramp up your boat’s tow-sport performance potential?

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