Centre for Maritime Safety

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Towing activities

Always tow at a safe speed and distance. Keep your boat and anyone being towed well clear of other vessels, shorelines, obstructions and people in the water.

Towing activities are high risk, and are associated with a significant proportion of fatal and serious injuries on the waterways of NSW. For this reason, towing has been identified as a priority safety issue in the Maritime Safety Plan.

Because towing activities are usually carried out at high speed, it becomes even more important that boat operators maintain a proper lookout, keep well clear of hazards and to stay under the 0.05 alcohol limit at all times.

Environmental factors can also contribute to towing incidents. Places such as coastal and inland rivers are popular for towing activities. These environments can have a number of hazards including fixed and floating objects, vessels, other people using the waterways, cold water, fast currents, riverbanks and infrastructure that skippers and observers need to watch out for.

The Boating Handbook includes the rules for the driver, observer, the towed person and the requirements for the tow rope, as well as information on safe distance and speed.

Tips to stay safe:

  • Anyone being towed must wear a lifejacket
  • When towing, the skipper, observer and the person being towed must all stay under the 0.05 alcohol limit
  • Skippers must not tow more than three people at once
  • Always check the waterway for hazards before you begin your towing session
  • Always ensure the skipper is a licenced driver and an observer is in place when towing
  • At high speeds, it is even more important to maintain a proper lookout, not just for the boat, but for the person you are towing
  • Before you go, ensure your boat and towing equipment is safe and suitable
  • Know the limits of your boat, your equipment, the person you are towing, and yourself - and don’t push them
  • Watch for the whip effect when towing someone through a turn – it can accelerate them into a dangerous situation
  • If using petrol inboard engines, avoid fires on board –and clean up any fuel spills as soon as they occur, and properly ventilate any fumes before starting the engine.