Tow Toy Safety

Tips for boaters to tow water toys safely behind their boats

Tubing is a catch-all term. Whether you a tow your crew atop a six-seater sea serpent, a torpedo for two, or a bona fide single-person tube, tubing provides a ton of fun for all age groups. The skill level required for riders and boat skippers might be less than that required for wakesurfing, wakeboarding or water skiing, but the attention to safety must be maintained. No article can cover all scenarios. But these tips should serve as a primer to those boaters new to tubing and a refresher course for old hands at the helm.

Keep Clear
Stay at least three towrope lengths away from shore, docks, navigation aids, moored boats, and any other obstructions and shallow water. If your crew wipes out, they can be hurt.

Throttle Back
Keep your speed ­under 20 mph, max. Hitting the water going fast can break a neck, a limb or cause other horrific injury. We skippers need to keep our responsible hat on and put the welfare of our crew first—even if they disagree.

Wear Life jackets Everyone wears a life jacket. It doesn't matter that your 34-year old cousin Jethro worked as a lifeguard and reached all-county status for his swimming exploits back at old Horace Harding High. (Go Jaguars!) If there is a wipeout, an injury might occur that can turn a rider into a victim faster than you can say, "But he was such a good swimmer."

Tow Low
Even tied to a flush ring off the transom, a nose-diving tube can cause loss of control and/or a blown-out prop hub. Do not tow from wake towers or tall ski pylons. When tubes nose-dive, they exert tremendous boat-stopping power that can pull a boat over on its side if the tow point is too high.

Keep A Lookout
Some tube riders just keep going and going and going until the captain and crew aboard the boat become complacent and, subsequently, casual about watching what's going on in the wake. That's exactly the time your lulled-by-the-fun rider will fall off or another boat will dart toward your wake from behind a point or out of a cove. Maintain a vigilance and formally assign one crewmember aboard to be the lookout.

Pick up? Shut down!
There is no reason to leave the engine(s) running when picking up tubers. Even if you are simply pulling them in from atop the float, the engine should be off to eliminate the risk of injury from propellers, exhaust, and a boat that might lurch if its engine is left idling. If your boat is equipped with a generator, shut that down too.

The Right Rope
Don't repurpose a ski towrope for a tube towline. For one thing, the handle or handles will bounce and skip and splash water onto the tubers. For another, tubes, most of which carry multiple riders, exert much more pressure than a skier or wakeboarder, and so require a stronger line. Usually the tube itself will be imprinted with the minimum breaking strength required to tow it safely. Invest in that towrope.