My father grew up on a lake in Michigan and he had a boat before he had a car. He and his brothers and sister lived in the water and were active members of the local water ski club, the Ski Devils. It was only natural that when he had kids, he had them on water skis at early ages. Although we did not live at the lake when I was a kid like my father did, we lived less than an hour away and we spent every summer weekend there swimming and water skiing. And though my brothers and I quickly learned how much fun boating sports can be, we also learned how to be safe while doing them.
The most popular boating water sports include:
All are very fun, very challenging and potentially, very dangerous. Accordingly, it is important to be prepared and informed before hitting the water. The Boat Ed course offered for Utah offers extremely valuable information for boating sports enthusiasts. The information is broken down for boat operators and those in the water.
Before towing a skier, the operator should:
- Have a second person on board to act as an observer.
- Review hand signals with the skier to ensure proper communication.
- Make sure the skier is wearing a U.S. Coast Guard—approved life jacket (PFD) designed for water-skiing. Keep in mind that ski belts are not U.S. Coast Guard—approved. A PFD with a high-impact rating is recommended.
- Be familiar with the area and aware of any hazards such as shallow water, rocks, or bridge pilings in the water.
- Make sure the tow lines are of the same length if towing multiple skiers.
- Never tow a skier at night. It is both hazardous and illegal.
While towing a skier, the operator should:
- Start the engine after making sure that no one in the water is near the propeller.
- Start the boat slowly until the ski rope is tight. When the skier is ready and there is no traffic ahead, take off in a straight line with enough power to raise the skier out of the water. Once the skier is up, adjust the speed according to the signals given by the skier.
- Keep the skier at a safe distance—at least twice the length of the tow rope—from the shoreline, docks, hazards, and people in the water.
- Avoid congested areas, beaches, docks, and swimming areas. Water-skiing takes a lot of room. Some areas may have designated traffic patterns.
- Maintain a sharp lookout for other vessels and obstructions in the water. Let the observer watch the skier.
- Always respond to the skier’s signals. If you need to turn the boat, signal the skier of your intentions.
- Once the skier has dropped or fallen, circle the skier slowly either to return the tow line to the skier or to pick up the skier. Always keep the skier in view and on the operator’s side of the boat. Some states require the display of a red or orange skier-down flag to alert other vessels that a skier is down.
- To avoid propeller injuries, always shut off the engine before allowing the skier to board the boat. After the skier is on board, retrieve the tow line unless you are pulling another skier.
When in the water, the skier should:
- Wear a PFD. You never know when a fall will knock you unconscious.
- Learn to use hand signals.
- Never ski under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is illegal and extremely dangerous because of the damage to your judgment and reflexes.
- Never spray swimmers, vessels, or other skiers. Such activity is illegal, dangerous, and discourteous.
- Never wrap any part of the tow rope around your body.
- Always hold a ski up out of the water after falling or after dropping the rope so that the boat operator and other vessels can see you.
- Never approach the back of the boat unless the engine has been shut off. Otherwise, you could be seriously injured by the boat’s propeller
The course also offers one additional admonition concerning the "pendulum effect" created by towing an object/people behind a boat with a rope. Because of the wide swing allowed by tow ropes, make sure you maintain a distance of least twice the length of the tow rope from the shore or any object in the water.
As you can see from the videos, boating activities can be a blast but you can also see the potential for danger and injury and, potentially, death; learn how to enjoy these activities safely.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.