How to Safely Tow Passengers to Avoid a Recreational Boating Accident

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Water skiingWater skiing, wakeboarding, and riding on an inner tube while being towed by a motor boat can be one of the most thrilling experiences. Yet, these activities can lead to serious injuries and fatalities when not performed properly. When you combine high speeds, water sports, and motor boats, you can sometimes have a recipe for disaster.

With the parents of a teen killed in a towing accident in Connecticut helping pass a boat safety law recently, the need for establishing greater safety in open waters is more present than ever. However, even with safety laws in place, many boaters and people participating in water sports tend to avoid them. Thus, it is usually up to the individual to stay aware of their surroundings, potentials for disaster, and maintain safety at all times.

So, what are some things you can do to stay safe and avoid a recreational boating accident if you are towing others or participating in water sports? Here are four important tips.

  • Stay alert. Whether you are operating the boat that is towing other individuals or are the one being towed, it is important to stay alert. Boat operators should pay attention to potential hazards and people sharing waterways, as well as avoid making sharp turns, which can cause the person being towed to get thrown overboard. Towing should not be performed in high-traffic waterways or in places where there are imminent dangers, such as high tides, waves, or coral reef systems. In addition, it is advisable that a person other than the boater should keep watch over those being towed. This way, the boat operator can stay focused on maneuvering the vessel safely, while the lookout can stay focused on those being towed and alert the boat operator should something go wrong.
  • Maintain a safe speed. If you are towing others, make sure to closely monitor your vessel’s speed. When towing, a boat should not exceed speeds of 20 miles per hour, as the towed object can reach speeds of up to 55 miles per hour on a turn at this speed.
  • Wear a life jacket. Everyone (boat operator or those being towed) should always wear a life jacket. There are several kinds of life jackets, some of which are specially designed to handle high impacts. If you are planning on enjoying a water sport that involves towing, a high impact life jacket is advisable to ensure maximum protection in the event that you are thrown into the water at high speeds.
  • Learn how to properly retrieve someone in the water. Retrieving a person who has fallen into the water can be risky, especially if the boat operator cannot see the victims floating. This was the reason the Connecticut teen was killed. After falling in the water, the boat operator tried to turn around and rescue her, but instead, lack of visibility caused the operator to strike the victim and with the vessel’s propeller and fatally injure her. To prevent a similar tragedy, never sail directly toward the person. Instead, circle the person (if you can see them), leaving sufficient distance to ensure safety. If you cannot see the person in the water, cut off the boat’s engine and call for backup from the Coast Guard, local life guards, or anyone else in the water. If conditions permit, grab a flotation device and jump into the water (with your life jacket on), swimming toward the location where the victim was last seen. If you retrieve the victim, make sure to turn on the boat’s engine only AFTER everyone is safety back on board and when you verify that no one else is near the vessel.

Aside from these four tips, it is also important that boat operators, passengers, and those being towed review hand signals, inspect the boat and tow rope to ensure all equipment is working properly and that the tow rope it isn’t tangled, and also make sure to use a tow rope that is specifically designed for towing.

When abiding by proper towing safety, boaters and those being towed can reduce their chances of suffering a recreational boating accident.