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How to Tow Water Sports Responsibly
We all got into water sports to have fun, right? Well, it’s not much fun to get stranded, injured or worse. As a result, the first step to ensure everyone has a good time on the water is for all of us to take the time to be responsible boaters. Here are seven ways to get you out on the water in a safe manner.
Know the Laws and Follow Them First and foremost, make sure you follow all applicable laws while you’re out on the water. Some rules apply to everyone — not exceeding your vessel’s capacity and not operating a boat under the influence, for example — but each state and in some cases even each waterway has its own set of rules and regulations. The U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Resource Center [http://www.uscgboating.org/] is a great place to start.
Keep Up with Maintenance Frequently checking and maintaining your equipment is another must before heading out on the water. Many problems are preventable with just a bit of maintenance: for example, checking all of your fluid levels and making sure your battery has a full charge. Little things like this take very little time to check, but they can maximize your fun on the water and help you avoid embarrassment.
Get Familiar with Your Surroundings Each waterway is unique and has its own set of challenges and potential perils. Depending on where you boat, you might have to contend with currents, tides, underwater hazards, shallow spots or any number of things that could end your day, cause harm to you and your boat, and cost you thousands of dollars. Once you’ve identified the line you want to run, take a pass or two through at idle, keeping an eye on water depth and an eye out for any potential hazards.
Communication Is Crucial One of the unique challenges of water sports is that the driver and the person being towed are separated by the length of the towrope. As a result, verbal communication isn’t possible. Instead, you should establish hand signals up front to maintain constant communication. Some of the basics are thumb up and thumb down to adjust speed, patting the top of your head to end your set, or swirling your pointer finger in a circular motion to turn around. (Click here for Shaun Murray’s essential water sports hand signals.) Whatever hand signals you choose to use, make sure the driver and each participant are on the same page before each ride.
Set Your Speed Each water-sports discipline has its ideal tow speed. For example, you might pull a beginner wakeboarder as slowly as 10-12 mph at times, while an advanced slalom skier will go as fast as 36 mph. As a result, it’s very important to know the proper speed for the sport you’re pulling in order to ensure everyone’s safety and fun.
Wear Your Life Jacket One thing I’m really passionate about is wearing a Coast Guard-approved PFD. A lot of wakeboarders and water skiers are opting to wear comp vests these days, but it’s important to note that those vests are designed exclusively for the incredibly controlled environment of competitions, where safety and medical staff are at the ready. Bottom line: If your vest doesn’t float you after you’ve wrecked and blown all your breath out, don’t wear it. It’s not worth struggling in the water — or worse, drowning — after an injury just to look cool.
Don’t Drink and Boat Last but certainly not least, never under any circumstances operate the boat or participate in water sports under the influence of alcohol or drugs. I know everyone wants to have a good time, but wait until you are off the water. No one performs better under the influence, so do what you want to do out on the water first before you partake of the libations.