Proper Tow Sports Etiquette

Tow sports require proper etiquette on the water.

May 3, 2017
Tow Sports Etiquette
Tow Sports Etiquette Tim Bower

Surfing behind a boat on an endless wave, without the need to hold on to a towrope, is one of the most liberating feelings you can get on the water.

Because of that, count me among the recent converts to the wakesurfing craze that’s sweeping through the boating culture. But at the last Miami International Boat Show, a conversation between contemporaries about it caught me off guard. They had no use for wakesurfing; in fact, they loathed it. The reason? Operators of wakesurfing boats had been cutting too close to them. The wake these boats throw is no joke — some can rival decent ocean swells — so having to deal with it can be less than enjoyable.

The conflict between watersports enthusiasts and other boaters is not new. I’ve heard cruisers and anglers complain about tubers, skiers and wakeboarders for decades. What needs to happen is everyone who throws a wake for entertainment needs to adhere to some guidelines to keep the peace with other boaters, shore anglers and waterfront property owners. Here are a few suggestions.


Don’t Rock the Boat
I’ve long practiced the common courtesy of coming off plane and minimizing my wake to scoot past boats anchored up and fishing, particularly those positioned close to shore. Odds are they will never free their anchor in time to escape a large wake. At best, it’s a bone-rattling nuisance; at worse, it can lead to injury or cause capsizing. Same goes for canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. Boaters of any stripe — not just watersports practitioners — should provide the same courtesy.

Don’t Knock the Dock
Try to pick a line that doesn’t cut too close to shore, as the peak wave generated by a surf boat will slam into any other boats tied off to docks or moored along the shoreline. Stay out in deeper water so that the waves you generate subside by the time they reach shore. This shouldn’t be a problem, as most surfboats need at least 9 feet of depth to generate a proper wave. And since surfing occurs so close behind the boat, finding smooth water isn’t as much of an issue as with other tow sports. Go deep and enjoy.

Get in Line
When you find another skier, boarder or surfer in your preferred spot, the first instinct is to head to one on the opposite side of the lake. However, one professional boarder recently told me that you’re better off working the same patch of water and establishing a rotation. That way, everyone is throwing wakes in the same direction and not generating conflicting waves. It’s common practice for anglers to set up shared drift patterns and trolling lineups — can’t watersports fans do the same?


Keep Watch
Too many times on the water, I’ve had to perform evasive maneuvers to make way for a tow boater who was watching the tuber or boarder behind him. That’s what spotters are for. A boat operator should ­always focus on what’s happening around him, and he still has a responsibility to heed the nautical rules of the road.

Work to share the water and, who knows, maybe the nonbelievers out there will see how much fun it is and decide to drop in too. Trust me, it’s a blast.


More How To