Safe Water Sports
Jet skiing, tubing, and water skiing have grown in popularity, and though much is written about safety for boaters, I believe the safety issues concerning these other water sports require attention. Jet and water skiers and people in tubes are vulnerable as they are unprotected by a hull, so those engaging in the activities must be informed while boaters must be proactive to avoid accidents.
Jet skis, also known as personal water craft (PWC), have grown bigger and faster. Quick acceleration and speed, when combined with the often-impulsive behaviors of younger people who embrace PWCs, has been the cause of injuries and death.
I once asked a jet skier going too fast in a “No boat wake” area to slow down. His response? “But this is not a boat!” There was no time to argue or to teach him that a PWC is a vessel subject to proper operation. Just as sailors must respect the sea, jet skiers must learn to respect the speed and vulnerability of a PWC. While its appeal lies in high speed wave and wake riding, the key for safe enjoyment is moderation. Operators should be aware of their surroundings and keep a reasonable distance away from other craft and obstructions. Don’t get so caught up in the momentary thrill that you relax situational awareness — I know of an incident where a jet skier so misjudged speed and the water depth of the area that he wound up grounding hard into a bog and required rescue.
Disregard current circumstances and you might find yourself in a perilous situation, such as striking a taut anchor line at high speed or in the midst of a crowded channel with boats coming from all directions.
Keep wave jumping activity away from other boaters. Don’t tailgate and leave adequate distance between you and fellow jet skiers as sudden deceleration on the part of another vessel can result in a collision. As we all know, PWCs and boats do not have brakes!
Towed water skiers and those in tubes should also focus on safety. The bulk of this responsibility lies upon the operator and a spotter; a spotter looking back while the operator looks forward is a must in every towing situation.
The towing boat must be equipped with either a ski stanchion or thru-bolted cleats which can withstand the forces placed upon the tow line (always tie off tow lines on both stern cleats to insure the boat tracks straight and doesn’t roll or yaw). The tow lines themselves should be made of polypropylene (it floats) and have high color visibility and tensile strength; they must be approved for skiing/towing.
All tubers and skiers must wear a life jacket in bright green, yellow, or orange colors for best visibility. Before starting any towed activity, the spotter and those getting into the water must work out a set of hand signals between them indicating communications including ready, slow down, stop, and need help.
When a skier or tuber needs to grab the tow line or be picked up, the boater must approach at the minimum speed to maintain steerage. Practice the skills needed to allow the boat to drift down with the tide or wind. Always approach the person in the water by keeping him or her at the side of the boat — never back down onto a skier or swimmer, as contact with a spinning prop can be fatal. Err on the side of caution if you have any difficulty getting the boat close enough or if the skier is too tired to swim. Keep a toss line handy, turn off the engine, and have the spotter throw the line to the skier. The pilot of the boat should never step away from the helm during any maneuver involving a person in the water.
I enjoy swimming while at anchor. For my safety, I anchor in a calm, protected area away from channels and ensure that the anchor has grabbed the bottom — I test this by checking the boat for drift after the hook goes down.
I never go into the water alone — everyone should have a swim buddy and wear appropriate flotation devices (including Fido). Boats should have a swim ladder or platform (there are portable swim ladders available if your boat is not so equipped). Those who remain in the boat should watch the swimmers and look for any boats heading in the direction of your anchored vessel.
A final precaution: alcohol is by far the number one factor in boating accidents and the simplest to avoid. No matter what, don’t drink and ride, drive, swim, tow, bounce, or ski.
By Paul Knieste