Skiing, Wakeboarding and Tubing Safety

Although the weather may still be cold and “Ole Man Winter” is still with us, it will not be too long before the warmer weather is upon us. Soon many of us will be getting out sports and outdoor equipment, and maybe getting the boat and water sports equipment ready for the season to enjoy water activities with family and friends. Although we are looking forward to summer fun while boating, we need to be prepared as there are also many dangers associated with water sports activities.

First, get prepared by having your boat inspected to make sure all the necessary equipment is up to date. Secondly, if you have not taken a boating safety course, it is a good idea to do so and may already be mandatory, depending on your age. 1

As a personal injury attorney, I have seen too many people unnecessarily injured through the negligence of the operators of boats and personal watercrafts. Unfortunately, some of these injures have not only been severe, but permanent. Boating safety courses and training, as well as practice, are very helpful in preventing many unsafe situations.

Once you know your vessel is in good mechanical order and properly equipped, you next want to make sure your tow equipment is also in good order. Tow ropes and handles need to be inspected as well for wear or damage. Look for areas that are frayed. If you find any frayed areas, discard the rope and buy another one. Whatever connectors you use to secure the rope to the boat should also be in good condition, as well as the tow mount (eyebolts, cleats, or “ski ring”) on the boat. Check what type of attachment is recommended for the equipment you are using and the type of attachment you have on your boat. For instance, if you have two eyebolts on either side of the transom of your boat, you most likely will need a tow harness. 2

You also need to inspect the water sports equipment itself. For skis and wakeboards, check carefully to make sure the bindings are not torn and that there are no sharp edges which can cause serious injuries. Tubing has become quite popular. If you use a tube, make sure your tube is properly inflated to the manufacturer’s specifications. Inspect the tube for wear and leaks. Note the connection to the tow rope is an especially important area to check for wear or damage. (By the way, I have found that tire dealers are good places to inflate tubes).

Regarding equipment, don’t forget you need to have a lifejacket or life vest on board for every one in the boat. (These are now called “personal flotation devices” or “PFD’s”. Before entering the water, make sure the person who will be skiing, tubing or wakeboarding is wearing a proper personal flotation device. If the PFD is tattered or torn, then discard it and get a new one.

Now that you have checked the boat and your equipment, here are some safety reminders to think about while you are boating. First, the boat engine should always be turned OFF before anyone gets into the water and before anyone re-boards the boat. At all times they should remain a safe distance from the engine while it is running.

Second, never allow someone to dive off the boat as there could be something beneath the surface that you cannot see, such as a broken piling, submerged board, crabpot that has lost its float, or marker. If you are in unfamiliar water, then ask locals or other boaters about hazards, and review current local charts. KNOW YOUR WATER.

Third, always have a “spotter” in the boat in addition to the driver. The spotter can give full attention to watching the person being pulled, while the driver focuses on the safe movement of the vessel and watching for other boats in the area.

Fourth, remember that the person being towed feels as if they are going twice the speed of the boat. Avoid sharp turns as this causes the person to be thrown outside the boat’s wake. Keep a safe distance from other water craft, piers, pilings, and any other obstacle. Once outside the wake, the person does not “track” the boat’s movement which can cause the person being towed to be closer to obstacles. As an example, I represented a young girl who was “whipped” outside the wake while tubing and she struck a partially submerged log causing severe facial injuries. The boat did not strike the log but since the tuber was outside the wake, the driver did not see it. Also, be aware of the age and experience of the person you are towing, and adjust your speed accordingly.

Fifth, if someone is injured, seek help immediately. Keep in mind that oftentimes an injured person may be embarrassed or reluctant to disrupt the good time on the water, and may attempt to minimize their injuries. As captain of the boat, you are responsible and must use good judgment; when in doubt, seek medical attention promptly. Also, remember to report all injuries to your boat insurance carrier. (Your policy requires that you promptly notify the insurance company). Also, many boat policies carry medical payments or “med pay” which covers medical bills incurred if injured by or on the vessel.

Boating certainly brings enjoyment to many, but remember, boats and boating can be very dangerous. Safety must be at the forefront of the captain’s mind at all times. So – be safe and have fun on the water.

About the Author: Trent Kerns is a chesterfield accident attorney. He has handled numerous cases involving water sports accidents.


1 – See previous blog post “Virginia Boating Safety: New Required Operator Licenses and Education”, posted 4/27/2009; for Virginia regulations, see http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/boating/education/boating-safety-education-requirement.asp cited therein.

2 – For more information, check the internet. Here are tow sources of information: http://www.ehow.com/how_4969103_attach-tube-tow-rope.html and http://www.skitube.com/ski-tubes/needtoknowhookingtowsarticle.cfm.