How To Tow A Skier Behind A Boat

How To Tow A Skier Behind A Boat | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

May 24, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • To tow a skier behind a boat, learn boat rules and regulations, get the proper setup, reach desired throttle speeds to get the skier on their feet, and maintain proper speed and distance.
  • Use hand signals often in the water to tell the skier when you are turning, speeding up, and slowing down.
  • A boat needs roughly 70 horsepower for optimal water skiing performance. 

I enjoy the thrill of water skiing, especially as a boat owner. But if you're new to this, take some time to learn how to properly tow a skier behind a boat.

Follow these steps to tow a skier behind a boat correctly. First, choose the right equipment. Next, get the boat set up with a tow rope and allow the skier time to put on their skis. After that, put the skier in the water, tighten the tow rope, and use the throttle to get the skier up.

In this article, we'll focus on the essentials of towing a skier behind a boat, ensuring a fun and safe time on the water. With years of experience, we feel qualified to outline the exact steps that have worked for us in the past. Keep reading to learn more.


Table of contents

How To Tow A Skier Behind A Boat

If you’re a fan of water sports and want to try something outside your comfort zone, then towing a skier behind a boat is the perfect way to do it. Water skiing can be an exciting and thrilling experience that will provide hours of fun and entertainment for everyone onboard.

Below we will break down exactly how to do it and what you’ll need to water ski safely. The process will vary depending on your water skiing style.

For example, slalom skiers absolutely need smooth water for peak performance. Meanwhile, regular water skiing is more fun with some choppy waters. The skier should put on their skis on a swim platform too.

We will explain how to approach towing a water skier in all scenarios. But if you are a slalom skier, be sure to take extra precautions. Follow these steps for the most success and safety.

Choosing the Right Equipment

You'll need a boat with enough speed to accommodate water skiing and a tow rope for the skier. A life jacket is essential safety gear for the skier too.

Don't forget to have a spotter on the boat to keep an eye on the skier and communicate with them using hand signals during their ride.

Proper Boat Setup

Before heading out on the water, ensure you have the proper boat set up for towing a skier. It's important to securely attach the ski rope to a suitable point on the boat. In some cases, boats will have designated U-bolts or tow points specifically for skiing.

To avoid any problems, I always check the boat manufacturer's recommendations. During the ride, keeping a safe distance while towing the skier and maintaining a steady speed according to the skier's capabilities is crucial.

Having a spotter on board will allow you to focus on driving the boat and ensure a smooth experience for the skier. Avoid driving over the maximum speed of around 20 miles per hour when towing a newbie skier too.

Getting The Skier Up

Once the skier is behind the boat, in the water, and on the skis, we need to get them up on the board. A slight throttle forward should generate enough power for them to stand up on two skis.

Turning & Maintaining Speed

After the skier is up, it’s important to maintain speeds between 26-36 MPH, depending on the skier's skill and experience levels. This is a speed preference for slalom skiers.

Use hand signals before making a turn to alert the water skier. Try not to make sharp turns because the skier will likely fall off and into the water.

Safety Precautions and Regulations When Towing A Skier

Wait To Start the Engine

When towing a skier behind a boat, it's important to follow proper procedures to ensure safety and a smooth start. The engine should not be started until the skier is far enough from the boat and away from the propeller.

You should keep the boat neutral as you move forward and tighten the tow rope. This is the best way to maneuver around other boats. Maintain idle speed near other boaters.

It’s common for the skier to lose balance too. A fallen skier should be picked up the same way. Allow them to get back on the board and gradually pull the throttle forward to tighten the rope so they can get back up.

Understanding Boating Laws

I've always ensured that I follow boating laws when towing a skier. Keeping the skier at a safe distance from the boat and other hazards or obstacles is essential.

The tow line should be about 75 feet long, but it could vary based on the skier's experience and the type of water body. It's also crucial to remember that towing a skier during sunset or sunrise hours is prohibited.

Additionally, a boat or PWC must not tow skiers within 100 feet of any stationary object, areas adjacent to a residence, public parks or beaches, swimming areas, marinas, restaurants, or other public use areas.

Use Your Hand Signals

Establishing clear communication with the skier is vital for a safe experience. Hand signals are a great way to understand each other on the water.

Remember always to wear a life jacket while operating the boat and skiing. It should be a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life vest with a high impact rating designed for water skiing.

How Much Power Does a Boat Need To Tow a Skier?

A boat should have a minimum of 70 horsepower to tow a skier successfully. However, there are additional factors that can influence the power needed.

For example, the boat's size, weight, and design can significantly affect the required power. I learned that a 90 HP motor is generally preferred for an adult slalom skier.

This outboard engine size allows enough power for a rider up to 160 lbs to perform a successful deep-water start and slalom at a top speed of 35 mph. It's also essential to consider the boat's weight.

If my boat weighs 800 pounds, I would need a 32-20 horsepower engine. However, boats with at least 150 horsepower are recommended for sports like wakeboarding and water skiing.

When it comes to speed, I found that the boat should be able to reach at least 20 to 25 miles per hour to ensure a smooth skiing experience. For tubing, a slightly lower speed of 15 miles per hour is sufficient.

Towing Hand Signals for Water Skiers & Boaters

When I'm out on the water towing a skier, I pay attention to clear communication between the boat operator, the observer, and the water skier.

Effective communication ensures safety and a great experience for everyone involved. To achieve this, we use established hand signals. Here are some essential hand signals and their meanings.

  • Thumbs Up: This signal means the skier wants the boat to speed up. I always ensure that I gradually increase the boat's speed to maintain control.
  • Thumbs Down: When the skier signals thumbs down, it indicates they want the boat to slow down. Again, I gently reduce the speed to avoid abrupt stops or changes in motion.
  • Waving Hand Side to Side: A side-to-side hand wave signals that the skier wants the boat to stop. I gradually come to a halt, ensuring the safety of the skier and others in the boat.
  • Turn: To indicate their desire to turn, the skier makes a circling motion above their head, followed by pointing in the direction of the desired turn. I always watch the skier and adjust the boat's course accordingly.
  • Back to Shore: Tapping the top of their head is the skier's way of asking me to head back to shore. I acknowledge the signal and head back to the shore while maintaining a safe speed.
  • Skier Down: If a skier falls in the water, they or the observer will raise a hand, ski, or board in the air. When I see this signal, I let everyone in the boat know and return to the skier to pick them up safely.

Remember, before setting off on a water-skiing adventure, reviewing these hand signals with everyone involved is essential. This practice ensures smooth and safe communication while enjoying a fun day on the water.

How To Tow A Skier Behind A Boat
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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