Towing Tubes Safely
Riding on towable tubes is one of the most accessible and inclusive ways there is to enjoy the water.
By Steve Griffin
Pulling something is pulling something, right? Whether it’s skis, a wakeboard or towable tube?
And securing a towing rope is securing a towing rope, right? Whether to a wakeboard tower, ski pylon or transom tow eye?
And a rope is a rope is a rope, right?
The answer to all three rhetorical questions is an emphatic, “No!”
Riding on towable tubes is one of the most accessible, inclusive and just plain fun ways there is to enjoy the water. But the greater surface area on a tube produces several times the drag of skis or a wakeboard.
Wakeboard towers just aren’t made for that kind of load, nor are tall pylons. In fact, if the tube submarines—gets pulled under, which they sometimes do—a towline connected to a high tower or pylon can actually pull the boat over. A tube’s drag could also tear the tower or tall pylon from your boat, with plenty of damage and injury possible. Towers are made specifically for wakeboarding and surfing, and most bear stern warnings against other use. For these reasons, tube manufacturers say their creations perform best when tethered from a lower point.
That leaves a shorter transom ski pylon (usually about 2 feet off the floor, compared to 6 or 8 feet for the taller ones) or a centered transom tow eye as your best bets for tubing, or a harness tied between port and starboard transom rings.
(Note: If using transom tie-down eyes, confirm with the boat manufacturer that they’re strong enough for the towing force listed on the tube’s packaging, a force that can exceed 1,000 pounds. One company makes a bracket that bolts directly onto the transom using motor mounting bolts; it calls it the only tube-rated tow bar on the market.)
And the rope? Just like towing points, it should be made specifically for towing inflatables. Compared to wakeboard and ski ropes, tubing ropes are much stronger, rated at 2,000-, 4,000- or 6,000-pound breaking strengths and for a specified numbers of riders, and measuring at least 50 but no more than 65 feet long.
Got the right rope? Check it for fraying, fading, knots or other damage—and if they show, chuck it.
A proper, low tow point can make it tricky to keep the towrope above the water. A workaround is a booster ball or bobber, which holds the rope high and visible, and aids tube performance.
And isn’t big-fun performance what tubing is all about?
More tube tips:
- Only tow a tube if the boat has a qualified driver and capable observer.
- Tow in control; ‘getting air’ is fine, but overdoing it, especially on multi-person models, can slam riders’ bodies into each other or objects and cause severe injuries.
- Remember to use hand signals and a red flag to communicate between the boat, tubers and other boaters.
- A tube on the outside of an arc can be moving more than 50 percent faster than the boat towing it, so slow down! A good guideline is a 15 mph max speed for kids, and 20 mph for adults.
- Also, make an allowance for the width of the boat and the tube’s path, to avoid swimmers, shallow water, other boats and obstacles.
- All passengers should wear a USCG-approved life jacket or PFD.