Q&A with Tim McKercher
Hardcore wakesurfers or wakeboarders are probably going to tend toward a purpose-built boat that’s going to throw a huge wake, but for the more casual shredder or folks on a tighter budget, a personal watercraft could be the ticket to ride. We asked Sea-Doo’s PR pro Tim McKercher for a little insight into the hows, whys and whats of PWC tow sports.
Q / What are some technological advances that have made using a PWC to tow skiers, tubes and boarders more manageable?
Towing behind a PWC began in 1990 with the first three-seater, the Sea-Doo GT. In 1992, when wakeboarding was a brand new sport, Sea-Doo sponsored the Pro Wakeboard and Kneeboard tour, which was part of Budweiser’s hot summer nights and literally helped wakeboarding launch into a mainstream sport. In 2005 Sea-Doo launched the first tow-specific model with the Sea-Doo Wake model; what made it different was that it included a retractable tow pylon, which raised the tow point and pulled the rider up rather than down. Since then it has added removable board racks and Ski mode, which is a power control system that makes every driver an expert driver by being able to program the ramp acceleration and maintain a set speed via GPS.
[Ed. note: Yamaha and Kawasaki have versions of cruise control, which can help maintain a consistent towing speed.]
Q / What’s the minimum horsepower needed to tow a typical, buffet-loving American?
Ultimately the boarder has to be able to ride or it doesn’t matter what is pulling him. I’m not necessarily a buffet fan, but I am over 200 pounds and I can get up behind a 90 hp Spark, but I also know how to help a lower-horsepower unit get me up.
Q / What’s different about towing skiers behind a PWC rather than a ski boat?
The difference between a PWC and a boat pull is simple physics related to mass. A boat is going to provide a more sturdy pull and usually track true, whereas a hard cut behind a PWC can pull the back end off line, and more speed adjustment may be needed. But a PWC is much quicker to turn around and get to a downed rider and is much less intimidating to new riders compared to a big boat. Of course, there is the added safety of no props.
Q / Many PWCs these days have lots of horsepower and tremendous acceleration, so how can the driver keep from accelerating too fast?
It’s important for people to get the right watercraft for what they are really going to do. Someone who’s going to do a lot of family towing doesn’t need 300 hp. Modern technology also helps make towing easier. Sea-Doo models come standard with Touring mode, which has a very linear, smooth acceleration power delivery, and a more relaxed throttle response. This is the preferred power mode for towing. And of course they can always add Ski mode to help provide a custom, consistent power delivery.
Q / How hard is it to hold a steady speed when driving if you don’t have cruise assist?
Holding a steady speed on a PWC without speed control technology ultimately comes down to feel and watching the speedometer. The driver needs to adjust to hard cuts and when turning around. Learning to provide a good pull without speed assist is a skill.
Q / Is it OK to forego having an observer if you have a mirror?
The laws regarding having a mandatory spotter and/or mirrors are different in each state. PWC owners need to check the laws in their state.
Q / Should the observer and driver shift their weight in response to the rider?
Most modern, full-size watercraft are stable and solid enough to where driver and/or spotter weight adjustment isn’t that necessary. Also, with units that have trim systems, the trim will help provide a quick, level acceleration to plane. I recommend simply sitting in a neutral position and letting the watercraft do what it does.
Q / When towing young kids on tubes, what are some important things to keep in mind?
When towing young kids, keep in mind it doesn’t take a lot of speed or aggressive acceleration to get them on plane. Most kids are on plane under 15 mph, so keep the power light. And always be mindful of where the rope is while idling, because the kids may not be paying attention, and nothing stops the fun faster than when the tow rope is sucked into the watercraft’s impeller.
Q / When a slalom skier really digs hard for a turn, is there anything the driver can do to mitigate the force?
Slalom skiers generate a lot of force when they cut, up to 1,000 pounds of force, and with a 1,000-pound watercraft the physics of the watercraft are certainly affected. For people looking to slalom ski, we recommend a PWC model with the deepest deadrise hull, because a deeper hull sits deeper in the water and will help hold its line better than a model with a shallower hull.
Q / What unsafe things have you seen PWC driver do when towing skiers?
My number-one piece of advice for people towing someone else is stay away from shore. More accidents happen when a tube or kneeboard or whatever is slung into an object — a beach, rock, boat, dock. My golden rule is if you are 100 yards from everything, you won’t hit anything.