Riding a tube behind a boat is a blast. And unlike the rubber tire innertubes those of us of a certain age remember riding — taking care to avoid the sometimes substantial stem — tube designs today offer comfort, safety and multiple rider options. Ideal for kids and novices, since hardly any technical skill is used and not a lot of horsepower is required, tubing works behind almost any boat, even pontoons and personal watercraft.
As with any towed sport, the driver is critical. A driver who is sensitive to the pull enhances the tubing experience, as he does with skiing and boarding. More importantly, the driver is the key to a safe ride. The tube rider has minimal ability to steer the tube or control its speed. Since the rider essentially follows the boat, the driver is responsible for delivering a fun and safe experience.
Stay alert, communicate and develop a sensitivity to the steering wheel and throttle.
Riding a tube is all about fun, but the driver has a serious job to do. A good driver develops a feel for the steering and throttle and for conditions on the water. Before accelerating, the driver should put the throttle in gear at the slowest idle and let the line go taut. A tube has ample surface area, so acceleration and top speed should be modest: 15 mph for children and 20 mph for adults. Turn the engine off when the rider is entering the water or climbing back into the boat.
A driver should encourage feedback from the rider.
Make sure the rider, driver and observer understand basic hand signals. Older adults and young children might want a conservatively paced straight ride. Teens and younger adults might want a more exciting ride, maybe some S-turns and full circles.
During an S-turn, the tube will cross the boat’s wake for a more exciting ride, so make sure the boat doesn’t swing too far out if there is other traffic. When putting the tube through a full turn, make sure there is unobstructed open water and limited or no other boat traffic. Going in a circle puts the tube into a whip, which is fun, but remember the tube rider will be going faster than the boat, so the driver should throttle down in a turn.
The driver should focus on keeping the line to the tube taut. It is common to get slack in the line when making aggressive S-turns, and that springy feel is not appealing to riders. Avoid turning too aggressively, and slow down or speed up smoothly on the throttle.
Safety & Equipment
Use the right equipment for fun and safety.
As with any wakesport, make sure there is a mirror on the boat. Mirrors are not just for specialty inboard ski boats. Many boats do not come with mirrors, but aftermarket mirrors are available for every type of boat, including models for center console fishing boats, pontoons and PWCs. The mirror should not replace the observer, who sits next to the driver, faces aft and focuses on the rider. But the mirror allows the driver to frequently check on the rider and for any traffic behind the boat. When boats or PWCs are following too closely, the driver can adjust course to keep the rider safe, since the rider can fall off at any time.
The best mirror is one with a wide angle panoramic view, since the tube will whip far outside the boat wake during a turn.
Every wakesport features a specialized tow line. Unlike a line for waterskiing or wakeboarding, a tube line is only 60 feet long, which keeps the line more taut when the boat starts or slows down, giving the rider a smoother, more consistent pull. It also keeps the rider from accelerating too quickly or whipping too far out when the boat swerves or turns.
Lines are made to accommodate different tube sizes: 3/8-inch diameter for up to two riders, 5/8-inch diameter for up to four riders, and 3/4-inch diameter for up to six riders. Match the line to the size of the tube, to reduce the chance of the line breaking. At the end of a tubing session in salt water, someone should rinse off any salt. UV rays will weaken the tube and line over time, so keep them out of the sun.