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.
Standard towing hand signals. Image source: NSW RMS reproduced for educational purposes.

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.

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?

Sail the Endeavour

Source: Australian National Maritime Museum

Here’s your chance to take the voyage of a lifetime, to challenge yourself, to experience seafaring as Captain Cook and his crew did as part of the crew on the magnificent replica of James Cook’s 18th century tall ship HMB Endeavour.

The Australian National Maritime Museum has announced Endeavour’s 2019 voyage program and is calling for applications to sail aboard her.

Upcoming voyages include:

Tasmanian Voyage – 11 days
On 28 January 2019 Endeavour will depart from Sydney for Hobart, to take part in the “Parade of Sail” at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival in Tasmania.

The Festival is a four-day celebration of maritime culture and the biggest event of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, bringing together over 500 boats in Hobart’s iconic historic waterfront precinct.

The Endeavour will then depart from Hobart to Sydney from 13 to 24 February.

Caledonian Voyage – 11 days
In April Endeavour will undertake its first international voyage since the museum took ownership of the vessel in 2005.  Voyagers will be able to immerse themselves in French and Melanesian history and culture when Endeavour sets sail from Sydney to New Caledonia from 22 April – 3 May and New Caledonia to Sydney from 9 May – 20 May.

Each Endeavour voyage has 56 people on board. There are 16 professional crew, 36 voyage crew plus 4 supernumeraries who learn first-hand what it would have been like to sail the oceans during the era of great discovery and exploration.

Voyage crew members sleep in hammocks and stand watch, learn how to set sails, and helm the ship.  Full training is provided.

Supernumerary berths will suit those who prefer a more leisurely sailing experience. Supernumeraries can choose their own level of involvement while enjoying the privacy of their own cabin.

To book on a voyage or submit an expression of interest visit https://www.anmm.gov.au/whats-on/events/sail-the-endeavour or phone 02 +61 2 8241 8323.

Departing and arriving at marinas

It is common for every Skipper to experience some concerns when departing or arriving at a marina whether it is your vessel’s regular berth, or you are entering an unfamiliar marina.

You can encounter another vessel departing, arriving, backing off a slipway, or cutting across your path. Wind and current may effect your vessel, causing you to lose steering control or your engine may stall. These occurrences are real possibilities. So, it’s best to be prepared, have a departure/arrival plan and refresh your knowledge and understanding of the give-way and steering rules. (also known as the International Collision Regulations COLREGs) These rules are paramount to safety on the water.

NMC Image
Outbound vessels from a port or marina have right-of-way over inbound vessels.

Departing a marina

  • Deliver the crew departure brief ensuring they know which lines to slip first and last.
  • Test engine controls and astern propulsion prior to slipping the lines.
  • It is good practice to announce your departure details on VHF Ch 16 or your local port operations Channel. (Ch12 or Ch13)
  • Ensure you have a clear departure area from the berth.
  • Once clear of the berth sound one long blast to indicate you are underway and need room to manoeuvre.
  • If you encounter another vessel backing off a berth or slipway you are required to stop and stand-by.
  • Look out for other vessels moving within the marina.
  • Your vessel has the right-of-way over another vessel arriving, as you are operating in a close quarter situation with limited sea room.
  • Adhere to designated speed limits within the marina whilst maintaining steerage.
  • Don’t forget-marina areas are 6 knot- no wash zones.

NMC Image
Larger vessels traveling in or out of a marina need greater turning circles, so give them plenty of room to manoeuvre.

Arriving at a marina

  • Do some research in advance. Study local charts or google maps that show an aerial view of the marina.
  • Call ahead to the marina by mobile or marine radio. Marina personnel will appreciate advance warning of your arrival. They will allocate your berth, provide you with updates on marina traffic, wind and current conditions, give berthing recommendations or provide you with assistance if needed. They may also request the following information: Your current location in relation to the marina. Your estimated time of arrival. Type of vessel. (sail or power) Beam, length (including tender) and draft.
  • Deliver the crew berthing brief. The conditions at the time and the gangway access location will determine which side (port or starboard) to berth.
  • Prepare lines and fenders.
  • Test engine controls and astern propulsion prior to entering the marina.
  • Ensure decks are clear and passengers are seated.
  • Just before entering the marina, check wind direction and speed. Use visual indicators such as flags and observe other vessels swing direction at anchor or on moorings.
  • Give way to any marina outbound vessels.
  • Adhere to designated speed limits whilst maintaining steerage.
  • Don’t forget – marina areas are 6 knot- no wash zones.
  • Listen carefully to any instructions issued by marina personnel.
  • If you encounter another vessel backing off a berth or slipway you are required to stop and stand-by.

The motivation to write this article stems from questions asked by our students and other people simply seeking advice. Tell us about your marina arrival and departure experiences. Good and bad we’d like to hear them. Your personal experiences will help us to develop better training programs.