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Boat Safety - Water Skiing/ Wakeboarding

As a team, the boat operator, skier, and observer need to learn safe skiing skills. Before your team hits the water, know your equipment, teamwork, boating laws, and the fundamentals of the sport.

Be alert for cross-wakes, partially submerged objects, swimmers, rafters, or anything that might come between you and the boat. It is highly recommended that you wear a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device designed for water-skiing at all times. It will allow you to rest in the water while waiting for the boat, it protects the rib cage and cushions falls, and its bright color will help others in the area to spot you.

If you are going to fall, relax! Try to make a smooth water entry. Never fall forward over the top of your skis. You cans top suddenly by sitting to the back of the skis and dragging your hands. After you have fallen, hold one ski out of the water in an upright position to warn approaching boats.

Skiing in cold water or cold weather increases your susceptibility to hypothermia. Special precautions, such as wearing a wetsuit, should be taken. For a great entry level wetsuit on Amazon check out this O'Neill wetsuit on

The Boat Operator

  • Before pulling up the skier, double check the path ahead for obstacles and make sure the towline is not caught in the propeller or wrapped around the skier. Never accelerate until the skier is holding the towline handle, with the ski tip or tips showing above water and in front, and signals "hit it."

  • It is important for skiers to have a smooth acceleration as they come up on a plane. As the operator, you should ease the throttle at first with a slight increase in speed.

  • Never attempt sharp turns with the boat, especially if the skier is cutting sharply outside the wake on either side. If an approaching obstacle forces you into an unexpected turn, throttle back as you turn. Signal the turn to the skier, remembering that it is better to dunk the skier than risk an accident.

  • When a skier falls, return without delay. Other boaters may not easily see a skier in the water, and the presence of the tow boat may keep other boaters away from the general area. Since a large percentage of serious water-skiing injury accidents are a result of improper operation by the driver during skier pickup, approach with caution from the driver's side so the skier is always in view and on your side of the boat.

  • NEVER back the boat up to a person in the water. The engine should be shut off when you are near the skier so there is no danger from the propeller. Remember, when boat engines idle, even in neutral, the propeller may still turn and injure the unwary skier or entangle and cut the tow lines.

  • If a skier falls and is injured, it is wise to proceed with caution. Any injury may be aggravated by pulling the person aboard. Get into the water to support the skier until the nature of the injury is known.

  • The rules of the road do not provide any special privileges for vessels towing skiers.

The Observer

  • In addition to relaying the skiers and operators signals, the observer is responsible for watching the skier at all times. Having an observer on board allows the driver to give full attention to the variety of tasks necessary for safe motorboat operation. Statewide boating accident statistics indicate an alarming increase in water-ski accidents resulting from improper lookout.


  • START: Shout 'hit it' or nod head.

  • JUMP: Raise hand up sharply, imitating a jumping arc.

  • SLOW. thumb down motion.

  • FAST: Thumb up motion.

  • RETURN TO DOCK: Pat crown of head with open palm.

  • SKIER OK after fall: Hold hands above head, making a circle with arms

  • SPEED OK: make circle with thumb and forefinger

  • TURN LEFT: Palm left

  • TURN RIGHT: Palm Right

  • STOP: Palm forward

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