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Towing safety

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Towing involves a vessel pulling a person and watersport equipment with a rope (or line) to skim on the surface of the water. Towing activities include:

  • water skiing

  • kneeboarding or aquaplaning

  • parasailing (open parachute)

  • wakeboarding

  • riding on an inflatable inner tube, raft or biscuit.

Towing a person with a vessel is a high-risk activity. It's a leading contributor to fatalities and serious injuries on NSW waterways. When you're towing a person or you're near someone being towed, take extra care. Follow the rules to keep everyone safe while having fun.

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.

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.

As the driver, you must keep the vessel, towed equipment and person being towed a minimum distance of:

  • 60m from people in the water, including swimming and surfing areas

  • 60m from the boundaries of designated swimming areas and surf zones (marked by signs)

  • 60m from a dive flag or float

  • 30m from other vessels, the shore and structures when driving faster than 6 knots or more.

If these distances are not possible, keep a safe distance and safe speed.

Structures include jetties, bridges and navigation markers. Other vessels include both moving and moored or anchored vessels.

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 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.

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