Waterskiing and Towing Rules

Boat and skier navigating through a slalom course

Waterskiing, wakeboarding, tubing and other towing activities are fun and exhilarating boating activities. However, it is an activity which should not be taken lightly. It requires a knowledge of the towing rules and a lot of attention to safety by the driver, observer and the person or people being towed.

Towing Rules

Towing activity rules are set by State Maritime Authorities and are mostly consistent across Australia.

The towing vessel:

  • Be registered if the vessel’s engine has a power rating of 4.0 kilowatts (5 horsepower) or more and if the power or sailing vessel is 5.5 metres or longer.
  • Minimum crew of two – driver and observer.
  • Have a Safety Label or a PWC Behaviour Label.
  • Carry the appropriate safety equipment.

The driver:

  • Hold a Boat or PWC Licence.
  • Responsible for the safety of the vessel and the people being towed.
  • Maintains the safe distance requirements.
    When travelling at 6 knots or more must keep the vessel, towing equipment and anyone being towed 30 metres from another vessel, land or structures (including jetties, bridges, navigation marks  or moored and anchored vessels. shore and 60 metres from people in the water. If it is not possible, a safe distance and speed must be maintained. In areas such as narrow channels or rivers where the safe distance requirements cannot be maintained safely the driver must assess the risk associated with passing within the stipulated  safe distances. If the driver is observed by another boater, member of the public or a Maritime Officer passing a person in the water or another vessel underway at an unsafe distance then, the onus is on the driver to prove that his/her decision to pass within the requirements was in fact safe to do so. If towing aerial equipment (e.g. paraflying) keep both the vessel, towed person and equipment at least 300 metres from any bridge, cable, wire, pipeline or structure.

    New South Wales safe distance requirements
  • Must not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Must not operate the vessel at more than 60 knots if towing anyone under the age of 18 years, unless in accordance with an aquatic licence.
  • Must not tow more than three people at once.

The observer:

  • Must be 16 years or older and or hold a Restricted Boat or PWC Licence.
  • Must not suffer, hearing, sight or other disabilities which could affect their ability to complete observer duties.
  • Must not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Has the prime responsibility for observing the towed person/people and communicating any safety matters to the driver.
  • Tell the driver about other vessels approaching from behind.
  • Should be familiar with standard hand signals.
  • Faces the skier or towed people at all times.

The towed person:

  • Must wear a lifejacket. (Level 50 or Level 50s)
  • Must maintain the safe distance requirements.
  • When returning to shore must do so safely.
  • Must not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Recognised Waterski Hand Signals
Recognised waterskiing hand signals

Safe Towing Practices

  • Keep to the starboard side of the channel, leaving plenty of room for the skier.
  • Travel in an anti-clockwise direction at all times.
  • When towing skiers in a narrow or congested area have safety discussions between other boaters to form an agreement to reduce the number of vessels towing at any one time.
  • Be wary when navigating around blind bends on a river.
  • Always look left and right before commencing a beach start.
  • Make sure the rope is taut before taking off. Have the observer pull in the rope as soon as the skier is finished. Never leave the rope trailing in the water or allow the skier to wrap the rope around a limb.
  • Giveway to vessels dropping skier off ashore before you depart.
  • Maintain a proper look out at all times.
  • Hold a brief with everyone involved in the activity . Review the water skiing hand signals, explain where you’ll go once the skier is behind the boat, discuss how you intend to pick up a downed skier and give instruction on how to re-board properly.
  • Beware of skiers around the boat propeller.
  • Give fishermen, canoes, kayaks and sailing vessels a wide berth.
  • Never cut across the path of an oncoming boat or reverse the boat near a skier in the water.
  • Place the boat between a fallen skier and any oncoming traffic.
  • Continually monitor traffic on the water maintaining a high degree of safety awareness.
  • Check that that area you are planning to go to is not a no towing area. Some areas may prohibit these activities because of local conditions which may make these activities unsafe.
  • Towing activities are prohibited between sunset and sunrise.
  • Teak surfing (being pulled through the water whilst holding the swim platform of a vessel is  prohibited.
  • The tow rope must be at least 7 metres behind the vessel at all times.

If you are operating your vessel near others towing, keep well clear and don’t follow behind in their wake. This is a dangerous practice especially if the skier or wakeboarder falls off.


Have you ever experienced another vessel passing you within the safe distance requirements whilst participating in towing activities?

Written by NATIONAL MARITIME COLLEGE

The National Maritime College (NMC) is a Registered Training Organisation providing competency-based boat training and education. The College offers boat licence and jet ski (PWC) licence courses and tests designed to improve boating skills and awareness. You can expect friendly and professional training from from us. It is the "personal touch" and dedication to improving safety on the water whilst instilling - confidence, knowledge and good boat handling skills that sets us apart.

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