Watersports pros appreciate the importance of good driving, but this key component to success and safety is often overlooked on the recreational level. Learning the skill of driving for wakesports does not have to be intimidating.
Every driver’s goal is to provide a driving experience that allows behind-the-boat participants to perform to their potential while keeping everyone in the boat and behind it safe. To become a good driver for wakesports, one must develop and refine the traits of awareness and sensitivity, traits that overlap somewhat.
When it comes to developing awareness, the driver needs to be visually attuned to what is going on all around the boat: in front, behind, and to port and starboard. In competition, drivers have the luxury of driving in a controlled setting where there are no other boats. However, when towing wakesports on open bodies of water, boats and personal watercraft can be coming from all angles. So the driver needs to develop a 360-degree awareness of what is going on: other traffic, water depth, docks, floating obstacles and the like.
A mirror is a must for towing wakesports. Mounted on the dash or the top of the windshield, a mirror is a standard feature on all specialized wakesport boats. Most boats, however, do not come with a mirror. Fortunately, many affordable after-market mirrors attach to the dash or windshield and fit every type of boat, even pontoons and personal watercraft.
Without a mirror to use, most drivers turn around and look aft while driving the boat, which is unsafe. The mirror allows the driver to keep an eye on the action and boating traffic behind the boat while still facing forward. Different mirrors offer varied widths of view. For tow sports such as wakeboarding, slalom skiing or tubing, in which the rider or skier can swing from side to side, a wider angle mirror gives the driver better visibility and minimizes any blind spots.
In addition to the mirror on the center of the dash or windshield, some mirrors mount to the side of the windshield. Mounted on the driver’s side, the additional mirror gives the driver another tool for viewing the action behind the boat. The driver should always keep her eyes moving, scanning the waterway in front and to the sides and in the rear via the mirror. To add to the driver’s awareness, a designated aft-facing spotter should always be seated next to the driver, to act as a second pair of eyes. In addition to this awareness of the waterway, the driver needs to ascertain that everyone is seated in the boat, hands and feet safely away from the tow line, and that equipment is stowed in storage sections so the walkthrough areas are clear.
The driver should aim for the calmest water possible. Bumpy conditions caused by wind or other boats should cause the driver to slow the boat’s speed. It is better to keep everyone on top of the water rather than risk a bad fall.
Driving a boat, especially for wakesports, is not just getting behind the wheel and pushing the throttle forward. Rather, drivers need to develop sensitivity to the person in tow. The goal is to provide a tow that allows for the individual’s optimal performance, enjoyment and safety.
This begins when the skier/rider is still in the boat. The driver should ask what type of acceleration — slow, medium or fast — the skier/ rider wants during the start. The acceleration should be smooth instead of abrupt. The driver should also ask whether the skier/rider wants a specific towing speed. If the skier/rider does not have a preferred boat speed, the driver should know the boat speeds for the various wakesports.
The driver should always keep the engine off until the person is in the water, safely away from the swim platform. The driver should idle slowly, going in and out of gear until the line is taut.
Speed control is found on all specialized wakesport boats. The driver still needs to accelerate the throttle smoothly, but once the boat nears the desired speed the computer takes over to keep the speed exact. The driver can make adjustments as small as 0.1 mph. Speed control is the best way to maintain exact speed. The pros can tell when the boat speed is off the mark by as little as 0.3 mph. Keeping the boat speed exact and consistent helps the skier/rider perform optimally.
Steering is also critical. The driver should have the boat aligned with the skier/rider who is in the water, to ensure the individual will be pulled on top of the water in a straight path and between the wakes. He should drive as straight as possible, which keeps the boat’s wake consistent in shape and size.
To turn the boat, turn the wheel smoothly and not abruptly, while backing off the throttle slightly, and return back to the boat’s wake. When the skier/rider falls, the driver should slow down to idle, keeping the person in the water on the driver’s side of the boat. Always turn off the engine before anyone climbs back onto the boat.
Wakesports Tow Speeds
Tubing 15 to 20 mph
Wakesurfing 10 mph
Wakeboarding 15 to 20 mph
Kneeboarding (kids) 10 to 15 mph
Kneeboarding (older teens and adults) 15 to 20 mph
Waterskiing on two skis (adults) 25 mph
Waterskiing on two skis (kids and teens) 15 to 23 mph
Slalom skiing (adults) 25 to 32 mph
Slalom skiing (kids) 20 to 25 mph
Barefoot waterskiing 30 to 40 mph (depending on body weight)