Ten Things to Know Before You Tow

Top Ten Safety Tips for Drivers and Riders

According to accident reports from the U.S. Coast Guard, tubing is the towed water sports activity with the most injuries in recent years. It is important for both boat drivers and inflatable riders to understand that the sport can cause serious injury or death and to use common sense and good judgment at all times. However, tubing can provide a lot of fun and entertainment when practiced with these safety tips in mind:

1) Be aware that inflatables are not steerable by passengers and that the driver is responsible for the safety of the rider(s). Inflatables travel at a wider arch and at greater speeds during turns than the boat travels, so the driver and spotter should be mindful of the towable’s trajectory at all times. For example, if the boat speed is 20 mph, an inflatable can reach speeds up to 55 mph during a sharp turn (commonly called a “whip”). Contact during a whip with other boats, shoreline, shallow water, or other fixed objects such as docks can cause serious injury or death.

2) Do not mix driving a boat or participating in water sports with alcohol, drugs or any substance that can impair your judgment and always follow warning labels on inflatables and guidelines in your boat owner’s manual. Also, become knowledgeable about the area you will be towing and be aware of any obstacles, shallow water, and wake and / or speed restrictions before you start out.

3) Riders should always wear a life jacket and make sure it is in good condition, fits properly, and is not worn out.

4) Inspect the inflation level of your towable and be aware that temperature fluctuations can cause changes in the firmness of inflatable towables.

5) Check your tow rope’s strength to be sure it is appropriate for the number of riders in your inflatable and that the rope does not have knots, frayed edges, or sun damage; affix tow rope only to the boat manufacturer’s recommended attachment point on your boat.

6) The driver should use a rear view mirror and always have a spotter in the boat so the driver can focus on looking in front of the boat, not behind; both must always be aware of other boaters and fixed objects such as docks, swim platforms, and buoys.

7) Discuss hand signals with the rider before the ride and have the spotter communicate the rider’s signals to the driver during the ride:

--- OK (tip of index finger and thumb together)
--- Faster (thumb up)
--- Slower (thumb down)
--- Stop (hand slashing neck)
--- Turn around (index finger pointed up and going around in a circle)
--- Back to shore or dock (pat top of head)

8) Check for rope entanglements and gently pull slack out of the rope before increasing throttle speed; wait until rider(s) indicate readiness and is / are free from rope entanglements (it is common to instruct riders to yell “hit it!” when they are ready).

9) Boat speeds should not exceed 20 mph and should be appropriate for the experience of the rider(s). Riders should also know their limits and communicate them with the driver before and during the ride. In addition, large waves and wakes should be avoided to keep the inflatable on the water, not in the air. When tubes become airborne the safety of the rider(s) becomes jeopardized and can result in severe injury to the muscles, spine, internal organs due to collisions with other riders or falling off the tube.

10) Injuries also occur when elbows, knees, and heads of riders collide with other riders, so passengers should always stay put and avoid horseplay or moving around. It is also dangerous to pull more than one inflatable at a time or with other towables such as water skiers or wakeboarders.

Above all, safety should always be the first priority with all water sports, but especially when water tubing. Review these safety tips before you head out on the water, as everyone will have more fun when they are tubing safely.

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