There are a few general guidelines for how to tow a tube with an outboard motor. Check out our list of Best Towables which we think are the safest to significantly reduce the risk of tipping while tubing.
The location of where you are tubing matters. After living on a lake, I still shake my head when I see people towing their kids in the middle of the channel. As good as the towable tube are nowadays, they are not full proof and excessive speed and wake will cause any towable to catch air and send kids flying. Pick a location that has a low amount of boat traffic. Bigger coves and inlets are perfect areas as safety is always priority number one.
The length of the rope used to tow a tube is also important. The Water Sports Industry Association (WSIA) says that anything over 50 feet is a good length for towing, however it should not exceed 65 feet. The rope itself should be attached to the ski eyelet or fitting at the stern center. You can also attach the rope transom eye or low transom point if your boat is not equipped with a ski eyelet. Something that we use while tubing to keep the rope out of the water and reduce line drag is the Sportstuff Towable Booster.
I have seen all sorts of people driving erratically like it’s their mission to through their kids from the tube. Safety being a priority, we do not drive like that. What we have found to be the safest way and still give the kids a rush is to get up to speed and basically drive in big figure 8’s all over the lake and then flip around and go the opposite direction. As far as directionally driving is concerned, there is no right or wrong way to do it as long as you adhere to the water regulations. A zig zagging fashion when driving straight will cause the tube to float back and forth which we prefer.
While driving it is important to know where your tubers are so having someone who can act as a spotter on board is essential. I tend not to take the kids out without someone on the board. Although I could rely on the rear view mirror or rear camera (if your boat has one of those), I would advise against this. It’s always best practice to have two adults on board in case of emergency.
This goes without saying, but I am going to say it anyway, life vests for all minors are a must. We have our list of favorites that you can check out HERE, but make sure they are USAG certified for the kids. They should fit snugly and shouldn’t ride up above your neck line when jumping in the water.
There is some debate over how fast is too fast to tube. Keep in mind that because of the length of rope when you turn the boat, especially a tight turn, the arc of rope travels twice the distance of that boat which means it is also travelling twice as fast. So taking that turn at 20mph means your tuber feels like they are going 40 mph.
We typically pull the kids around 20-25 mph. That seems to be fast enough to give them a thrill however if they fall off their bodies don’t bend like a contortionist at a circus. Depending on the age of the kids you’ll need to adjust how fast you go and how comfortable they are with holding on.
With your younger kiddos, start slow around 10-12 mph but soon they’ll get bored and you’ll need to quicken the pace in our experience. If you are towing some adults, you can really go as fast as you’d like. Keep in mind that breaking speeds in excess of 30mph is not advised, but I just was talking to a buddy of mine who said when they were in high school his dad would pull them around the lake easily at 40 mph and one time they broke 50 mph. You can only imagine how painful it would be to hit the water at 50mph so stick around 25mph even if your an adult.
At some point your tuber is going to fall off so it is important to teach your kids some safety procedures when they fall into the water. Have the kids stretch their arms in the air as high as possible. Their life vest will keep them afloat and and having their hands in the air will help to let know other boaters know to avoid the area with someone being in the water.
Picking Up A Tuber
Once your tuber falls in the water it is important for the “spotter” on the boat to communicate to the captain as quickly as possible that the tuber has fallen off. With other boats around, putting your boat in between the tuber and other boats quickly is important for the tubers safety.
We have found that approaching the downed tuber on the starboard side and coming into them in a controlled slow manner works best. We keep a distance between them and the boat of about 10-15 feet and once past our downed tuber make a “U” turn. The rope and tube will drift into the tuber for them to get on. You can either wait for the tuber to give you the OK to continue with another round of tubing or pull them in.
If you are pulling in the tuber make sure to turn the engine off. You should never pull in a tuber if the engine is running, even if the engine is in neutral. An accidental prop strike because you thought the engine was in neutral and wasn’t, would be devastating. So best to shut the engine off completely.
We love tubing and it is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon for kids and adults alike, so be safe out there and have a great time!