Centre for Maritime Safety


Email Facebook
Print the page

Towing from a boat

Waterskiing and wakeboarding can be great fun with family and friends but it pays to plan and prepare. With any tow activities, there is a need to pay particular attention to the boat and its tow equipment, and to ensure those with responsibilities such as the skipper and the observer understand their roles.

Before you get out on the water, you need to know the rules for safe boating. Visit the RMS website to order an up-to-date Boating Handbook and make sure you consider the following:

Rules and regulations
Checking your equipment
Navigating safely


    Rules and regulations

    • You need to carry a current General Boat Licence. And your boat must be registered with the rego number clearly visible
    • You need at least two crew – a driver and observer
    • You must have a safety label near the controls where the driver can see it
    • Your boat should be in good working order
    • You must find out about towing restrictions – check boating maps, look for signage, and ask locals.

    Never tow at night. Even if you have navigation lights, it’s illegal.

    Checking your equipment

    Every time you go out on the water, make sure your boat’s in good working order and you've got all the right equipment needed for towing.

    • Check for petrol odours and fix any leaks or faults straight away
    • Inspect the bilges. If there is more bilge water than usual, find the fault and fix it
    • Keep your fuel, engine oil and coolant levels topped up
    • Check the fire extinguisher
    • Check the tow ropes and attachments are in good condition
    • Check all ropes and lines, steering cables and connections
    • Don’t forget the bung!


    Lifejackets are the most important item of boating safety equipment. You must carry a lifejacket for every person on board. You must wear a lifejacket at all times in open waters, when you’re being towed, and for any children under 12 years.

    Navigating safely

    While tow sports can be a lot of fun, it's important you know how to stay safe on the water. This applies to the people on the boat, those you are towing and the people around you.

    Driver and observer

    When you’re boating and doing tow sports, the driver and observer need to work as a team. As a driver you keep lookout ahead and also control the boat. As an observer, you face backwards and keep an eye on the person being towed and any craft approaching from behind. When you’re observing, you tell the driver if there are any issues.

    If you’re towing from a PWC, you still need to have an observer. The guidelines for an observer are the same, no matter what type of craft.

    If you’re driving, you must:

    • hold a General Boat Licence if the boat will be going at 10 knots or more
    • be responsible for the safety of the boat and the towed people
    • be aware of, and keep, the minimum distances-off that apply to boat and the people being towed
    • know all the standard hand signals
    • not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs
    • not tow more than three people at once.

    If you’re observing, you must:

    • be 16 years or older, or hold a Young Adult Licence
    • observe the towed people and report any issues to the driver
    • tell the driver about any craft approaching from behind
    • know all the standard hand signals
    • not have hearing, sight or other disabilities that could affect their capacity to observe
    • not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

    When you’re towing, the observer faces backwards to watch the people being towed while the driver faces forward and looks out ahead.

    Loading or ballasting

    Make sure you take extra care when you’re loading or water ballasting wakeboard boats. It’s not just for your safety but also for the good of the environment.

    • Water ballasting changes the handling of your boat and creates large wakes that can damage shorelines.
    • Don’t overload your wakeboard boat beyond your ability – it’s dangerous and not much fun.
    • Load your boat evenly to maximise your boat’s performance and your safety.
    • Be aware of the effect your wake has on others.
    • Do not water ballast in confined waterways and fragile environments.
    • Remember, an overloaded boat is heavy on fuel.



    Loading or ballasting


    Check your boat




    Navigate safely