What to know before you tow

Tips for waterskiers and wakeboarders

Get informed: Touch base with a club

Waterski and wakeboard clubs and associations can provide beginners with some valuable information about how to get into the sport.

Associating yourself with a club is a great way to improve your knowledge and ability and to get involved with the wakeboard and water ski community. 

If you’re just starting out, this is an opportunity to connect with others who share the same passion.

If you’ve been skiing or wakeboarding for years, it’s the chance to hand down some practical advice and guidance to newcomers.

To find a local club in your area, contact one of the following peak bodies and associations:

Know the sport: Know your abilities

If you haven't been around watersports or boats, you will need to keep a few simple things in mind whether you are in the driver's chair or being towed behind the boat.

Learning the little quirks that surround your chosen watersport will help you enjoy it more. Take a few moments to soak in some tips:

  • Sorting out your boat
  • Requirements for driver and observer
  • Communication and hand signals
  • Speed
  • Double skis, kneeboarding, wakeboarding
  • Tubing
  • Slalom and bare footing
  • Knowing your abilities
  • Wear an appropriate lifejacket
  • Wear the right gear to prevent injury
  • Check the course every time you go out
  • Consider other waterway users and the environment
  • Stay in shape: get fit to avoid injuries

Sorting out your boat

Before you go out, make sure that your boat has all the required equipment. Check your trailer, engine, fuel system and electricals. Don’t forget that the boat must have current registration.

Regular servicing of your boat and its trailer will go a long way to avoiding problems on the water – after all, who wants to waste their day?

If your boat has an inboard engine, take extra care to make certain all fumes have been cleared from the engine space before turning the key – otherwise you might get a bit more ‘bang’ than you bargained for. More about fuel safety.

Also ensure that your boat has the correct size engine and is not overloaded with passengers or gear.  Most boats built since 2006 will have an Australian Builders Plate which contains information on maximum engine power rating and maximum load and person capacity. Overloading or over-powering a boat creates a hazard not only for the occupants but also other waterway users.

Driver and observer

When towing waterskiers or wakeboarders, or even towing tubes, etc. you must always have an observer in addition to the driver. The driver needs a boat licence to drive a boat at more than 10 knots – the equivalent of a reasonable jogging speed.

If you are using a personal watercraft (PWC, also known as a jetski), the driver will need a licence whatever the speed.

The observer must be at least 16 years old, or hold a Young Adult licence.

The driver and observer work as a team. The observer is the link between the driver and the skier or boarder – the driver’s job is to keep a good lookout ahead, while the observer (who faces backwards) tells the driver about anything affecting the person(s) being towed – including other vessels coming up from behind.

Both the driver and observer must not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs – and this applies to the person being towed too.

Always remember the other boating rules – like how close you may approach other vessels, objects and people in the water, and the areas off limits to waterskiing and wakeboarding.  These rules exist to help make everyone’s time on the water safe and hassle-free.

Check out Water skiing, wakeboarding and towing for more info on towing rules.

Communication and hand signals

The need for communication between the driver, observer and person being towed is the most important thing to understand before you go afloat. There are many hand signals that you will need to learn as you venture further into your sport, but the four cornerstones are:

  • Faster - thumb up
  • Slower - thumb down
  • Turn around - circular helicopter motion above your head with your arm or hand
  • Home (or in the boat) - patting your head with your hand.


Towing watersports include:

  • Tubing
  • Double skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Slalom skiing
  • Bare foot skiing.

Each activity has a different operating speed.

Double skiing, kneeboarding and wakeboarding

These are generally in the slower category and you don't need to be hurtling around the water at high speeds to do these activities.

The average speed behind the boat in this category will be between 27 and 38 km/h.


Tubing, or biscuiting, is a great activity for anyone who wants to get out on the water and have a splash. Its simplicity means that anyone can have a go and anyone who has their boat licence can tow the tubes around the water for hours of fun.

There are a few things to keep in mind that are essential to your tubing experience and the safety of others.

Inflatable tube riders have little or no control over their direction and cannot physically steer from side to side. It's up to the observer and the person in the driver's seat to ensure that the riders are safe from any hazards, either above or below the water surface, which could cause serious injury.

Tubing doesn't have a specific optimum speed but the actual tube will have its limits, as will the rider. Make sure you trust the driver and can communicate clearly about the speed you want to ride at.

A slower speed will reduce the chances of mishap. Remember that at high speed, a tube will tend to slide or ‘whip’ outwards every time the boat towing it makes a turn. Uncontrolled slides can cause a tube and its rider(s) to hit the shore, trees or other hazards.

Keep your eyes open for vessels approaching you from ahead or coming up from behind at a faster pace and allow them to pass safely.

Seek out areas with plenty of room and not too much boating traffic. This will give the driver more scope to add variety to the ride by changing the boat’s direction – and the irregular wake that results will be less of a problem for other waterway users.

Tubes come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can often carry two or three people at a time. When you have more than one person on any tube there is always the risk of heads coming together, so consider getting some protective head gear if you plan to tow multiple people on a tube. Remember the maximum number of people who can be towed at any one time is three.

When choosing a tube think about how it will behave when being towed. Some inflatable towing devices are designed to get airborne. Such devices can pose increased risks and extra care must be taken to avoid injury. If you’re the skipper – you’re responsible.

Slalom and barefoot skiing

These activities are more advanced and can involve speeds of up to 65 km/h.

This requires advanced knowledge and skill to be able to negotiate your path. Excellent communication and knowledge of the waterways is a must for the driver, observer and person being towed.

Knowing your abilities

Thinking about trying new tricks on the water is exciting, but knowing your abilities will help to avoid injuries putting you out of action for the season.

For example, if you wakeboard and want to try a flip but haven't mastered the basics of handle position or jumping the wake yet, then you could end up injured.

Getting a coach to help you with your technique is the smartest and fastest way to improve your ability. The best way to find a coach in your area is to contact your local club or association so they can point you in the right direction.

Remember, drugs and alcohol seriously impede your ability, including your judgment and ability to take quick action in response to sudden hazards. If you are under 18 it is illegal to have any alcohol in your system while participating as driver, observer or the person being towed. Those over 18 must stay ‘under 0.05’.

Wear an appropriate lifejacket

From November 2010 it has been compulsory to wear an appropriate lifejacket at all times while being towed on NSW waters. The lifejacket can be a Type 1, 2 or 3 and it must fit properly and be in good order and condition.

Children must wear a lifejacket at all times in any vessel less than 4.8 metres in length and whenever they are in an open area of a vessel between 4.8m and 8m that is underway.

More information on lifejackets.

Wear the right gear to prevent injury

Having the right equipment is essential to all aspects of your safety, enjoyment and overall experience on the water.

Each piece of equipment and hardware, including skis, boards, ropes and lifejackets, has been designed for a specific type of person and it's important to find the right fit for you. Skis and wakeboards range from beginner to advanced. You will need to tailor your equipment to suit your body size and skill level.

Trying to save some money by having a ‘one size fits all’ wakeboard for the family isn't the best way to go. For example, if someone in their 20s weighing 80kg with a size 10 foot has a wakeboard lying about and a 13-year-old child who barely weighs 45kg and has a size 6 foot tries it out, there is huge potential for the younger boarder to be injured.

The same rules apply for other necessities like helmets, gloves and lifejackets.

Specialist retailers have an abundance of knowledge and by staying in regular contact with your local outlet, you can be correctly fitted with the appropriate gear.

It is also important to always keep your gear in good condition and check it regularly. Keep your gear up to date and safe.

Check the course every time you go out

There are several questions to ask yourself before towing anyone:

  • Has it rained lately?
  • Have the water levels changed?
  • How will the waterway respond to the weather?

Every aspect of your waterway is constantly changing, and whether it is the tides, river flows or changing water levels that are responsible, you must always know what's in the water around you.

For example, rivers and lakes often have logs and debris floating just under the surface, so if you haven't checked the course and found where these 'hot spots' are, a collision can seriously injure the person being towed or cause thousands of dollars damage to your vessel.

Be extra careful when the sun is low in the sky, as it is easy to miss seeing another boat or people in the water at these times. And remember, you must not tow anyone between sunset and sunrise.

Consider other waterway users and the environment

Towing sports can affect the peace and enjoyment of other waterway users and can contribute to riverbank and foreshore erosion.

Always try to:

  • Avoid towing in areas being used by others, such as swimmers or anglers
  • Watch your wake, especially near worn or collapsing banks, or where other people are using the shoreline
  • Avoid power turns, as these are unnecessary unless in an emergency and will impact on river banks and effect other waterway users
  • Keep your engine noise down; make sure your engine is well maintained and has appropriate noise control measures fitted
  • Think before ‘pumping up the volume’ on your sound system; loud music can travel a long way, irritate others and disturb wildlife
  • Properly dispose of your rubbish.

Stay in shape: Get fit to avoid injuries

Waterskiing, wakeboarding and most other towed watersports place large physical stresses on the body. Due to the open environment and the nature of the activity there is always the possibility of injury.

Physical fitness plays a crucial role in preventing or decreasing serious injury.

The most common injuries include:

  • Broken ankles
  • Knee damage
  • Shoulder strains
  • Sprains and soft tissue damage to the extremities.

Towed watersports require strength, power, endurance, agility and flexibility. Talk to your local club about what types of physical training will be best for the type and level of towing sport you are into.

Share this page: