When it comes to wakeboarding there are two important pieces to achieving success and an epic session: the wakeboarder and the boat driver. Ideally, you want both to be experienced out on the water with their respective roles, but everyone has to start somewhere. That is why we have put together this quick, easy guide to help drivers leaning to drive a boat for wakeboarders understand how to set the right speed when towing a wakeboarder (or wake surfer or kneeboarder). This way, even if you’re towing a beginner, you can help set them up for success while keeping everyone involved safe. Let’s start with some basics to get you acquainted with the rules of the water before we get into the details.
Rules of the Water
Before you head out you want to be sure you and everyone going with you, are aware of the rules of the water. This will help keep everyone, including others on the water, safe from harm. A full guide on boating etiquette is available, but here are some quick tips to keep in mind:
- Safety: Ensure that you have the appropriate safety equipment at the ready on your boat. Bring at least one U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket per person onboard, at least one type IV personal flotation device and an orange flag. Keep in mind that these requirements may change depending on your location, so always check local regulations.
- U.S. Coast Guard-approved Life Jackets: Your boat should be equipped with at least one life jacket per passenger. Regardless of age or ability, everyone on your boat should wear a life jacket. Children are always required to wear a life jacket, but it’s recommended that all passengers wear one the whole time they’re on the boat.
- Type IV Personal Flotation Devices: You should also have access to at least one personal flotation device (PFD) onboard your boat. These devices (like life rings and buoyant cushions) are meant to be thrown into the water in the event of a passenger overboard so they should be kept within quick reach.
- Rider Down Flag: To protect your rider in the event of a wipeout, you should be prepared with an orange rider down flag to signal to other boaters that your rider is in the water. Like your Type IV PFD, you should have easy access to this flag at all times. It is highly recommended that you have a passenger act as a spotter while you tow a rider so this flag can be raised immediately if needed.
- Be Friendly and Courteous: Boaters are known for their friendliness and willingness to help others, so try to pass that on! Also be sure to know the rules of the ramp so you’re not holding anyone up as you launch or come back in.
- Stay Clean: It’s recommended to bring a bin or some sort of receptacle on board where you and others can put your trash. Never toss your trash into the water and remember to dispose of it properly once you’re back on land.
- Follow the Rules: Every body of water will have a set of rules that you are expected to follow. This often includes speed limits in certain locations, no wake zones, and knowing how to properly navigate channels. This will be important to know, especially as you are towing a rider that may need certain speeds for specific tricks.
How to Tow a Wakeboarder
To tow a wakeboarder, you first need a boat capable of towing a rider and all the necessary equipment. One of the most important things you need is a high-quality tow rope. When you are wakeboarding, it is highly recommended that you have a wakeboarder-specific tow rope because they have virtually no stretch. This is important to help riders pull tricks and is especially helpful for beginners just starting out and trying to learn. Check out our guide to find the right tow rope.
Towing a wakeboarder puts a lot of responsibility on the boat driver beyond just having the right gear though, so next you’ll want to know how to keep the rider safe while they’re riding. This means keeping an eye on your surroundings and rider, watching twists, turns, and wakes, and monitoring your speed. In general, you want to give newer wakeboarders a smooth and steady ride to help them get used to the water, but with more advanced riders you can start pulling them through the wake with some strategic moves and turns. For more information on how to tow, we have specific guides for driving a double-up and driving patterns for beginner wakeboarders.
Always keep in mind that suddenly accelerating or decelerating will throw off any rider of any experience level and can quickly create a dangerous situation, so this is never a good idea. This is when choosing the right speed really comes into play for towing a wakeboarder.
Understanding Your Boat and Rider's Capability
Choosing the right speed is a harmony between knowing your boat, your rider’s capabilities, and what tricks are going to be performed that day. Know your boat’s capabilities before you start towing any rider, as this is going to decide what you’re capable of in terms of maneuvers and speeds (aside from any speed limits or other rules where you’re towing that day). Then, make sure you talk to your rider to figure out a plan and you can go from there.
Know Your Rider’s Skill Level
As the boat’s driver, communicate with your rider before you start to make sure you are on the same page about their ability level. Knowing whether your rider is a beginner or seasoned wakeboarder is going to have a significant impact on how you drive your boat and what speeds you tow them at. Knowing any specific tricks they want to perform will make sure you know the right speeds and maneuvers you will need to pull as well. If you’re not comfortable with any maneuvers or know something is beyond your boat’s limits, be sure to let your rider know and don’t try to do something that can pose a safety risk.
Getting Your Rider Up on Their Board
If you’ve ever pulled a rider for skiing, you might think you need to hit it for a wakeboarder to get up when you’re pulling them up on the board. Do not do this to your wakeboarder! Instead, acceleration should be slow and steady until your wakeboarder gets up on the board. Wakeboarders can get up with boat speeds barely above idle, so there’s no need to go full speed right away. That said, beginners might need you to hit the throttle a bit if they’re fighting the pull rather then letting the boat pull them up.
Going fast comes after the wakeboarder is on the board, has their balance, and is ready to ride. For smaller riders or beginners, always start at slower speeds after you launch. You can go as slow as 12 miles per hour until your rider feels comfortable for faster speeds.
Setting the Right Speed
Once you’re on the move and your rider is ready, you can set your speed. Twelve miles per hour is the minimum recommendation and is typically for smaller riders. Going somewhere between 12 and 15 miles per hour is ideal for beginners learning how to ride as it is steady speed that helps them gain confidence on the board. As they get more comfortable, you can then start going up in speed to 18 miles per hour. For many boats and riders, 18-20 mph is going to be a comfortable speed that allows for a fun wakeboarding experience and some awesome tricks when you add in some turns with the boat, but you may be able to go as fast as 24 mph. Just keep your boat and rider in mind before you hit these speeds and know that it’s never recommended to go above 24mph when towing a rider.
At 20 mph, you’ll notice that your boat creates a cleaner wake, rather than mushy wakes that are soft and crumble when the rider hits it with their board. So, more advanced riders that know their way across the wake will likely request that you drive at faster speeds, usually around 22 to 24 mph. These speeds will help the rider get a better wake and more air for more complex moves.
Work with Your Rider
Ultimately, knowing how to set your speed when towing a wakeboard comes down to knowing your boat and working with your rider. Your rider should know their experience level with wakeboarding and be able to let you know what they’re comfortable with as well as what moves they want to perform during the ride. Communication is always key to have a safe, fun experience on the water, so just be sure to work together, know the rules to stay safe, and have a good time!
To learn more, be sure to check out our guide to driving the boat for a wakeboarder.