Jet Ski Tubing (and Skiing): Can You Pull A Tube Or Skier With A Jet Ski?

PWCs (personal watercraft) are an excellent way to entertain your family and friends this summer.

Compared to the price of a boat, a PWC (or jet ski) is highly cost-effective.

PWCs are also fast and exciting. Though, you will sacrifice a little on space.

The question is, can a PWC do the same things a boat can do?

When you see skiers and tubers being towed along by a larger boat, you might wonder if there’s a way to join in the tubing and skiing fun.

Can you pull a tube or skier with a jet ski?  The answer is YES!

Jet skis are more than capable of towing your friends and family along on water toys.

But before you head out to buy a tow rope and collect your passengers, there are some things to consider.

In this article, we offer insider tips on how to best approach towing with your jet ski.

Several factors need to be addressed – with the jet ski, riders, and more – before you can be confident in towing with a jet ski.

Let’s go through them one by one.

jet ski pulling raft
jet ski pulling a raft

Horsepower 

The first question many PWC owners ask when launching into the exciting and energetic world of jet ski towing is: “what size jet ski do I need to pull a tube?”

Well, when it comes to towing objects and people, the answer usually boils down to horsepower.

The general rule of thumb is that jet skis with at least 110 horsepower will have the strength to tow a man or woman of roughly 200 pounds.

If you’re running at lower speeds (it’s always a good idea to go slower with a skier onboard to assure safety), then you’ll be able to tow slightly more weight.

While it may seem inviting to up the number of people being towed when you’ve got a more powerful engine, you need to consider how towing changes the handling of a jet ski.

When you turn with tubers or skiers behind you, it increases a PWC’s centrifugal force, which can endanger your tow load and cause you to spin out or worse.

Ultimately, you might be surprised how powerful most PWCs are at towing.

Even a 60 hp Spark can tow a heavier-set man at reasonable speeds.

You don’t need a 300 hp jet ski to get the job done. But it helps!

Weight 

After the horsepower consideration, the next factor to consider when towing with a jet ski is the weight of your tow load.

There is very little difference between the weight of a skier or of a tuber.

Weight pulled behind your PWC is weight pulled behind your PWC and it behaves roughly the same.

As stated above, a 110 hp machine will have no trouble towing anyone under 200 pounds.

For heavier skiers and tubers, 110 hp machines might get a little drag, which makes the engine work harder.

If you want to keep your engine running for the most possible hours, this is not a good idea.

Need to pull more than 200 pounds of person? Get a more powerful machine.

Sea-Doo’s towing models and Yamaha’s model that comes with a tube clock in at 170 hp and 180 hp, respectively.

Tow Rope Issues

One of the most common headaches jet ski owners face is running against the tow rope.

If you drift over a tow rope and it gets pulled into the engine, at the very least you will upset (and possibly topple) your skiers.

It’s an ‘avoid at all cost’ sort of thing.

The good news is, there are a few foolproof preventative measures you can take to minimize the chances of running over your tow rope.

  • Invest in a Shock Tube. These handy gadgets lead the tow rope away from the back of a PWC, keeping the rope from drifting beneath it.
  • Check out if your model of PWC has an option to install a ski pylon. This pole brings the tow rope up out of the water near the machine. 
  • Use the correct length of rope for your jet ski or tube.
  • Ride at a lower speed than you would normally ride your PWC. The tow rope will bounce and swing around less.
  • Choose a Booster Ball for your tow rope. A Booster Ball works like a regular tow rope, but has a floating ball in the middle designed to keep your rope up out of the water.

If your tow rope does get pulled up into the engine while towing, stop and shut off the engine before investigating whether you can safely (easily) extract it.

More likely, you will have to tow it back to land. Never force a tow rope free from a PWC once it’s stuck.

Local Laws

Before you jump on your jet ski and start towing your friends, make sure you know the state and local laws in the area where you plan to ride and tow.

Each state has slightly different regulations and requirements, but there are some coast-to-coast laws every jet ski owner or renter should know before towing:

  • In most states, your towing PWC must have three seats: one for the driver, one for a spotter, and a space for the tuber or skier to rest.
  • PWCs can legally hold no more than three passengers. This includes tubers or skiers. You cannot have three people on a jet ski and pull another person behind it. Three people means three people total, both those on the PWC and those being towed.
  • Almost all states require regulation mirrors. 
  • You must have a special U-bolt or ski eye attachment for the tow rope. You can’t just tied a rope to your jet ski.

The US Coast Guard has a well-organized list of state laws on their page

Ride Comfort 

After all proper regulations are covered, the next thing many jet ski owners turn to is maximizing the ride comfort for their tubers and skiers.

Though it’s not a science, there’s an art to comfortably towing with a jet ski that will keep your riders happy.

One of the most important skills when towing friends and family is keeping up a steady speed. 20 mph is plenty to keep a skiier on their feet (15 mph is plenty for a wakeboarder) and should still provide reasonable excitement.

It will also protect against whipping in the case of sudden stops.

Tow ropes for tubes should be at least 50 feet, but no longer than 65 feet, while the standard 70-foot rope is ideal for waterskiers and wakeboarders.

(Beginner waterskiers and wakeboarders may want to start out with slightly shorter ropes and work their way longer.)

Dangers of Jet Ski Towing

Though towing with a PWC if fairly safe, there are some risks involved to both passengers and the watercraft itself.

If you can avoid running over the tow rope – the most likely possibility – you’re off to a good start.

But here are some other things to keep in mind –

  • When towing with a jet ski, you should try to maintain a linear ride and avoid sharp turns. Whether on lake or sea, the most likely cause of a poor ride is rapid turning. A quick turn can topple a skier or wakeboarder or capsize a tube. That’s why it’s best to also keep speeds low.
  • High-speed turning can also whip anything being towed, sending skiers or tubers flying or potentially running them into other vessels or swimmers.

Just keep things slow and steady, and you’ll have a safe towing experience.

Some Final Tips For Pulling Tubes and Skiers Effectively

To close out our primer on towing with a PWC, here are some tips and reminders for having the most fun while towing with your jet ski –

  • Lower horsepower jet skis don’t necessarily mean less towing enjoyment. But PWC manufacturers give their towing models a little more oomph to keep their engines running smoothly.
  • Plan for choppy waters. When you’re riding alone, you may not feel the water disturbances that your towed passengers will feel. If things are uncomfortable, they might also be dangerous. Look for calmer waters.
  • Tubes – even the best manufactured ones – will take a lot of wear around the seams with fast towing. Check your tubes before each tow.
  • Entrust only people with good eyes and alert sensibilities to be your spotter. Having to stop abruptly poses a great risk to your tuber or skier.

Final Thoughts

Entering into the world of jet ski towing offers a lot of opportunity for playful, happy summers on the water.

For many PWC enthusiasts, it’s hard to beat the sense of camaraderie, responsibility, and ecstatic fun that comes with the pleasures of towing with a jet ski.

Know your state laws, check your equipment, and plan for safety, and you should be all set to jet ski tow!

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