Towed sports

Towed water sports include activities such as waterskiing, wakeboarding, tubing and kneeboarding.

Remember: Inflatable items being towed tend to be pulled to the outside of turns as they have little grip on the water, resulting in high speeds and little directional control during turns. Multiple occupants of inflatable devices have an increased risk of injury due to collisions between occupants.

Legal requirements

The Marine Safety Act and the Marine Safety Regulations require that:

  • Towing is only permitted in the period from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset
  • A maximum of three persons can be towed at any one time
  • When towing multiple skiers it is safer to have tow lines of the same length
  • A person being towed is required to wear a type 1, 2 or 3 lifejacket at all times. Types 2 or 3 are recommended
  • Once back in the vessel, the person who has been towed must wear the appropriate lifejacket for that vessel on the waterway being used if required
  • The holder of a restricted marine licence must not act as the master of a vessel while the vessel is towing
  • The master must not cause or allow the vessel to tow a person unless the person is wearing a lifejacket
  • Speed and distance restrictions apply to the vessel as well as anything being towed. 
  • The vessel must have carrying capacity for the master and observer. You should consider seating for any person/s being towed.

Lifejackets

Under the Marine Safety Regulations a person being towed is required to wear a type 1, 2 or 3 lifejacket at all times. Types 2 or 3 are recommended. 

Once back in the vessel, the person who has been towed must wear the appropriate lifejacket for that vessel on the waterway being used if required.

Our Wear A Lifejacket website has everything you need to know about: lifejacket laws in Victoria; what jacket you need to wear, when; choosing the right lifejacket for your lifestyle; and looking after your lifejacket.

Speed and distance

All vessels are required to travel at a safe speed at all times. Vessels engaged in waterskiing often travel at high speeds, so vessel masters and crew members should arm themselves with appropriate skills and acquaint themselves with the local waterway rules.

The rules are generally displayed on noticeboards at each waterway and are contained in the Vessel Operating and Zoning Rules (VOZR).

Image instructing PWC riders about the speed and distance rules

Our safe operation section includes more information about speed and distance rules.

Access lanes

An access lane is an area set aside for vessels engaged in towed water sports, such as water-skiing, to access the shore at unrestricted speed while towing. 

Vessels may only operate in an access lane for the purpose of dropping off or picking up a water-skier or accessing a launching ramp located within the access lane. 

Vessels must follow the correct direction of operation when entering or leaving the access lane – keep as far right as possible or, if the lane specifies travelling in a clockwise direction, keep as far left as possible.

Vessels in an access lane must give way to vessels that are proceeding past the access lane or are currently in, or about to enter, the lane to drop off a water skier.

Communication and hand signals for towed sports

The need for driver, observer and rider communication is the most important thing to understand before you even step near the water. There are many hand signals that you need to know as you venture further into your sport, but the four cornerstones are:

  • Faster - thumb up
  • Slower - thumb down
  • Turn around - circular helicopter motion above your head with your arm or hand
  • Home (or in the boat) - patting your head with your hand

A diagram of hand signals for towed water sports as described

Stay in shape

Waterskiing, wakeboarding and most other towed watersports place large physical stresses on the body. Due to the open environment and the nature of the activity there is always the possibility of injury. The most common injuries include:

  • Broken ankles
  • Knee injuries
  • Sprains and soft tissue damage to the extremities.

Physical fitness plays a crucial role in preventing or decreasing serious injury. A good idea is to work on your fitness pre and post season to ensure you're giving yourself the best possible chance to enjoy your activity.

Photo of a water skier