Towed sports

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

Never wrap a tow rope around your hand or arm, as this can lead to serious injury.

Marine safety legislation states 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 water skiers it is safer to have tow lines of the same length
  • the vessel must have carrying capacity for the master and observer. You should consider seating for any person/s being towed.

When you are the master towing a person or persons, do not turn around to watch or allow yourself to get distracted by other people in the vessel.


The obligation is on the master of a vessel not to tow without an observer on board. The observer must be at least 12 years of age.

In NSW waters, including the Murray River, observers must hold a boat or PWC driving licence or be 16 years of age or older. The observer must watch the water skier at all times and give the master directions to keep the water skier safe. This allows the master to concentrate on operating the vessel.


Lifejacket types: Type 1 is also known as Level 100+, Type 2 is Level 50, Type 3 is Level 50S.

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.

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.

Safe operation

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.

  • on inland waters, vessels are required to travel in an anticlockwise direction in relation to the approximate centre of the waterway, except in a speed restriction zone or where local rules provide for travel in a clockwise direction
  • all turns on the Murray River must be in an anti-clockwise (left-hand) direction. This helps you keep to the starboard side in the direction of travel at all times
  • handle wake with care by slowing the boat down when crossing wakes. Persons being towed at high speeds can be seriously injured by bouncing on the wakes of other vessels

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

Speed and distance

Do not exceed 5 knots:

  • within 50 m of a person, vessel, fixed or floating structure and the shore on inland waters
  • within 50 m of a person, vessel, wharf, jetty, slipway, diving platform or boat ramp on coastal and enclosed waters
  • within 100 m of a dive flag
  • within 200 m of the shore on enclosed and coastal waters
  • or as per the scheduled waterway rules.

Remember: 5 knots is equivalent to 8-9 km/h.

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

No wash zones

Vessel wake may impact other waterway users such as moored and anchored vessels, bathers, human powered vessels such as kayakers and onshore anglers.

Wake can cause moored or anchored vessels to be damaged and persons to fall overboard. Human powered vessels, such as kayaks and canoes, may be impacted by large waves, which could also lead to an overboard, capsizing or swamping incident.

Swimmers may also be swamped by wake waves. Masters of vessels need to be aware that ‘No Wash’ zones are where a vessel must proceed at a speed that creates minimal wash.

Access lanes

An access lane is an area set aside for vessels engaged in towed water sports to access the shore. In an access lane, the operator must not go faster than is needed to effectively pick up or drop off the skier and maintain control of the vessel.

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 dropping off a water skier. Further information can be obtained from the relevant waterway manager or our waterway maps.

Hand signals

Boat operators, observers and waterskiiers should learn the following hand signals. They are the most commonly used to communicate when participating in towed water sports.

  1. Speed up: Thumbs up
  2. Slow down: Thumbs down
  3. Turn: Circling motion above head followed by pointing in the direction of the turn
  4. Back to shore: Pat top of head
  5. Cut motor: Slashing hand across throat
  6. OK after all: Hands clasped over the head
  7. Stop: Hand raised with fingers outstretched
  8. All OK: An ‘O’ made with the thumb and index finger

Graphics of hand signals

Safety tips

Towed water sports are exciting, however consideration needs to be given to the combination of relatively narrow waterways, conflicting usage, crowds during busy periods and the relatively high speeds involved. All of these factors create risks.

Things to take into consideration are:

  • waterway courses and water levels constantly change, so be aware of submerged or floating objects
  • if applicable, check waterway levels with the local waterway manager before you go out
  • check your intended course to look for any hazards in the area every time you go out
  • speed and distance restrictions apply to the vessel as well as anything being towed
  • avoid towing in areas being used by others, such as swimmers or anglers
  • seek out boating areas with plenty of room and not too much boating traffic

Fallen skiers and dropped gear

  • slow down to reduce wake before commencing a turn to pick up a fallen skier
  • dropped skis, ski ropes, biscuits etc must not be left in the water where they can be a hazard to other traffic

Keep fit

  • physical fitness plays a crucial role in preventing or decreasing serious injury. Work on your fitness pre and post season to ensure you’ve given yourself the best possible chance to enjoy your activity


  • 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

Photo of a water skier

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