How to Pick Towable Tubes and Tow Ropes
Tow tubing is one of the easiest, most beginner- and family friendly boating watersports just about anybody of all ages can participate in. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun too!
Tow tubing can also be enjoyed in just about any natural body of water, be it the ocean, a river or lake. However, if you’re new to tow tubing, choosing a tube and its tow rope can be overwhelming. That’s because the options for tube types and tow ropes are many. When shopping for tow tubing equipment, you’ll find an array of sizes, shapes and designs for various ways of enjoying the watersport.
To ensure your first and future tow tubing experiences are fun and safe, here’s an easy guide to choosing towable tubes and tow ropes.
Choosing Tow Tubes
The first thing to consider when picking a towable tube is who the riders are going to be. How many people are coming? Are you bringing children along for the ride?
Towable tubes are a fantastic way to include kids in your boating activities, and keep them entertained out on the water. However, choosing tow tubes is like picking a car seat when kids are involved. You need to consider both the size and safety of the ride, not to mention taking into consideration that kids will eventually outgrow the seat.
Whether you’re buying towable tubes for kids or not, do your research on the options available, such as rider capacity (single-person, two-person, multi-person), dimensions and maneuverability. Most tow tube manufacturers post demo videos on YouTube, so check those out, as well as online product reviews before buying. Also, know what type of inflation valve the tube has, and make sure you buy an air pump with the correct adapter or fitting to inflate it with.
Choosing the Right Tow Rope for Tubing
The Water Sports Industry Association recommends getting tow ropes that are a minimum of 50 feet long, but no longer than 65 feet. A tow rope less than 50 feet can create a visual impairment for both the rider and the driver due to the spray that's created in the wake.
Ropes that are too short also pose the danger of bringing riders close to the engine, which puts them at risk of injury from the propeller and/or breathing in carbon monoxide emissions.
Tow ropes are made for tubes of all sizes, and of course you’ll want to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for both length and towing capacity. The wrong kind of tow rope can create problems like causing the connection to snap, which could severely injure riders at higher speeds.
Keep in mind too that tow ropes for tubing are not the same as those used for other watersports like water skiing and wakeboarding. Tubing tow ropes are much stronger, and made for length and weight capacities specific to that watersport.
As for where to attach tow ropes, they should be secured to the boat at a suitable point, usually a low transom point. Too low of a tow point can create drag on the boat due to the rope submarining. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on how and where to tie the rope, where it creates enough tension to prevent excess drag.
Tow Tubing Safety
Towing a tube behind a boat is pretty easy, and the watersport itself can be enjoyed by people of all ages, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be somewhat dangerous.
Here are some safety tips to keep in mind when tow tubing:
- Wait for the rider(s) to get comfortable, then start the boat slowly before speeding it up.
- Don’t overdo it when trying to get riders airborne, especially on multi-person tubes, since big jumps can cause back injuries and riders’ bodies to slam into each other or nearby obstacles.
- Make sure the tube is not over- or under-inflated, and that the tow rope is secured properly to the boat before taking off.
- Go over hand signals to communicate with riders about speeding up, slowing down and making turns.
- Keep in mind that fast turns can create a whip effect that swings the tube around at higher speeds than what the boat is going. The whip effect can be dangerous and scary, especially for younger children.
- Check the tow rope slack, because if you accelerate too quickly, too much slack can suddenly jerk the tube forward, which can make riders fly off the tube and get hurt.
- Use a ski mirror and a designated spotter while towing riders on tubes. Make sure the spotter is sober and alert, and has a red flag for signaling that riders have fallen off the tube. The flag also serves to alert other boaters about the wipeout.
- Never tie tow ropes to a tower or tall pylon on your boat, as a tube’s drag could damage or tear them down. Tow tube manufacturers generally recommend tying the ropes to a lower point on the boat, so make sure to follow their recommendations.
- Don’t over-inflate or under-inflate tow tubes. Inspect the tube to make sure it’s firm, and has no wrinkles, tears or holes in it.
- Deflate tow tubes after every use, and store them in an area where they won’t be exposed to punctures or sunlight.
- Slow your boat down immediately if riders fall off the tube, and only approach them from the driver’s side of the boat to pick them up. Make sure to shut the motor off before riders swim back up to the boat.
- Never use a tow rope that’s knotted, rotted or frayed. Inspect the tow rope before each ride to ensure that it’s sturdy enough to safely pull the tubes.
- Make sure all tube riders are wearing life jackets or ski vests, regardless of the fact that the tube itself is a flotation device.
- Don't tow more than one tube at a time, as doing so could lead to collisions and serious injuries.
- Never tow more riders than what’s specified by the tow tube’s manufacturer. In other words, if there are only enough handles for four riders, don’t try to squeeze a fifth one in.
- Know where obstacles such as pilings, channel markers and other boats are before making turns and/or sending the tube airborne, also to avoid serious injuries.
- Familiarize yourself with local water regulations, and make sure tubing is allowed where you plan to go have fun.
Finally, maintain an appropriate speed for your riders. No faster than 20 mph for adults, and slower than that if your riders are younger children.