It is true that you can tow a wakeboard behind a variety of different boats with the right equipment, but before you delve into safety tips there is one important thing every boat driver who plans to tow a rider should know: Inboard boats are the safest style of boat for pulling a rider.
Why inboard? Safety. An outboard boat exposes the rider to the propeller, which puts the rider at risk of harm. That said, it is still possible to tow a rider with an outboard or inboard/outboard boat, you just need to be extra careful and know the limits of your driver, rider and boat. Basically, take some extra precautions so you can enjoy the experience without any harm coming to your rider. Before we get into the specifics of how to make this happen, let’s start with some general safety tips that will apply no matter what kind of boat you are using to pull a rider.
Safety Tips for Boat Drivers
As the boat's driver you have a lot of responsibility. Not only are you responsible for keeping an eye on the water and knowing your surroundings, but you are also responsible for the boat (which means following proper boating etiquette), any passengers that may be on board and your rider. This means you need equipment, gear and accessories to make sure you have everything covered. Here are some quick safety tips for boat drivers:
- Be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times and be sure to stay at least 150 feet away from the shore and other structures.
- Know local rules and regulations and always follow posted signs on the water.
- Drive safely. When you are pulling a rider, you should know how to set the right speed and which driving patterns are best for the watersport.
- Have at least one U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket on board the boat per passenger and rider, including yourself.
- Have at least one type IV personal flotation device within easy access somewhere on your boat. This is important in the event someone falls overboard or your rider wipes out.
- Know what to do if your rider falls into the water. This is critically important to keeping your rider safe! Always have an orange flag on board, as this is a universal signal to boaters that someone is in the water around a boat. This should also be kept in an easy-access location in case a rider goes down.
- Know your local regulations. Your state may have certain laws in place requiring you to use a rider down flag when you have people in the water. Being aware of these requirements can help to ensure that your wakeboarding trip is a safe one.
Safety Tips for Riders
Much of the safety while wakeboarding relies on the boat driver and having the right safety gear (like a wakeboard vest and helmet), but the rider is responsible for their own safety as well.
First, as a rider you should always know your own limits, and stick to them! It’s tempting to try advanced tricks and do new things for the adrenaline rush, but if you’re putting yourself at risk of harm then it isn’t worth the risk.
Second, stay alert and be aware of your surroundings. Your boat driver will be keeping an eye on things for you, but you should be doing the same.
Finally, have shared signals with the boat driver to alert them of anything that may be going on. Common signals include those that relate to speed and turns as well as safety signals such as “retrieval” or “I’m okay.”
Wakeboarding with an Inboard Boat
Wakeboarders ride in close proximity to the boat, sometimes within just a couple feet of the transom. This is why an inboard boat is recommended for watersports like wakeboarding. With an inboard boat, the prop is under the transom, which helps keep the rider safely away from the propeller. These boats are also typically better equipped for wakeboarding with features such as speed control. If you have an inboard boat, you won’t need to worry as much about the rider coming close to the propeller, but there are still some safety tips to keep in mind:
- Know where your rider is at all times and pay attention to hand signals. If there are no other passengers, the driver should have a mirror to allow them to check the location of the rider.
- Have a spotter when you can. A spotter is another passenger on the boat who can watch the rider and communicate with the boat driver to let them know of the rider’s position and if the rider goes down. This spotter would also be in charge of the orange flag.
- Do not drive in circles, or you’ll just be creating rollers that run into each other and create a mess for the rider. There are better driving patterns you can follow that include turns and arcs for a much safer wakeboarding experience.
Wakeboarding with an Outboard or Inboard/Outboard Boat
Inboard boats are the safest style of boat for pulling a rider, but if you do plan to pull a rider with an outboard or inboard/outboard boat then all of the same safety tips for wakeboarding with an inboard boat will apply, plus some extra precautions. These extra safety measures are necessary to keep your rider safe because they will ride in such close proximity behind the boat. Here are some safety tips for wakeboarding with an outboard or inboard/outboard boat:
- Always have a spotter. This is optional with an inboard boat, but with an outboard or inboard/outboard boat there always needs to be eyes on the rider.
- Do not let the rider on the water without a proper safety equipment (including wakeboarding helmet and life vest).
- The rider should be extra cautious when knowing their own limitations and avoid performing tricks too close to the boat.
- If the rider goes down, the driver needs to slow down and shut off the motor immediately and check the rider’s location. Use the orange flag and wait for the rider to be in a safe place before turning the motor back on to retrieve them.
Ultimately, it’s up to everyone involved to ensure that you have a safe wakeboarding experience no matter what type of boat you plan to use. For the best experience, know your boat and keep these safety tips in mind. If you ever have any questions, always be sure to reach out to local organizations for more information on how you can stay safe while participating in a watersport. There are also boater safety courses and other resources in most areas for drivers and riders alike, so be sure to check what’s available!
To learn more about boating safety for wakeboarders, check out our full guide to safely driving your boat.