With boating season about to begin, I’d like to remind everyone about boat driving tips, drivers’ safety and boating etiquette – a refresher course, if you will. Following these guidelines could potentially save you or the life of one of your loved ones, so please take safety and etiquette seriously.
A recreational boat driver should know the hand signal communication between the rider and driver. It’s always best to have a spotter on board to watch the rider. It’s impossible to drive and watch the rider 100 percent of the time. A spotter can watch the rider’s hand signals and relay that information to the driver. If you don’t have a spotter, you should have a good mirror.
Basic hand signals
Thumbs up means “increase speed”
Thumbs down means “decrease speed”
A slashing motion across the throat means “I’m through” or “Cut the engine.”
A fist bump to the top of the head means “I want to get in the boat.”
A pat on the head means “Return to the start dock.”
A circling motion above the head means “The boat is turning” or “Turn the boat.” The direction of the circling motion indicates what direction the boat will turn.
An OK signal between forefinger and thumb, or a simple wave, means “I’m OK.” (This is the most important, and a must-use.)
No signal after a rider falls means “I’m injured; come immediately.”
If you have a rider take a bad fall and you get no signal, that rider is injured. Drivers should never cut the engine upon returning to pick them up. Obviously, keep it in neutral. The boat may not start again and the driver needs to be able to manipulate the boat as needed for the injured rider. You will need to be able to quickly get skis or boards out of the water and keep the rope out of the prop.
For many of today’s riders and wake surfers, the big wake boat is desired for aerials and inverted tricks. Lake Martin has 752 miles of shoreline, of which a high percentage is residential with floating docks. Big waves from the boat and floating docks do not mix very well, especially when there are people on their docks. Most of us riders get early morning and late evening sessions in when nobody is out and the water is calm. However, this is not always the case, so here are some thoughts on riding in residentially populated sloughs. Big wake boats full of water weight should ride in the middle of larger, less inhabited sloughs, or preferably uninhabited sloughs. Nobody wants their boat and docks rocked by our wakes. It’s going to happen, but please do your best to respect the residents’ docks/boats.
It is very important to know that when you are returning to a rider, you should only drive at a high speed or make a “power turn” when there is an injured rider. Instead, when a rider falls, the throttle should be immediately pulled to idle, which allows the follow-up swell to come under the transom of the boat. Then turn the boat, put the boat in gear and idle back to the rider.
Power turns send large rollers all over the surface of the lake, causing problems for riders as well as the docks and boats.
I could write articles for the rest of the season about the “don’ts” in pulling tubers. Drivers pulling tubers are literally inventing new and improper ways to drive as I’m typing this. So, I will just say this to drivers with tubers in tow: busy parts of the day put a driver at a large safety disadvantage with all the extra traffic. Here’s why: One big wave can send a rider off the tube, and a pontoon boat has the slowest ability to return to a down rider. The rider has nothing to hold up for oncoming boats to see like a ski or wakeboard, and is literally a sitting duck. A close eye has to be kept on surroundings and rider(s). Towing small children in big open waters on a busy day behind a pontoon boat is very dangerous. I suggest that tubing or skiing behind pontoon boats be done in uncrowded areas away from the main boat channels, and children should not be towed from location to location.
Also, if someone is skiing or wakeboarding, do not cut in front of them or get near them. The erratic nature of the tube driver doesn’t give you the right of way. If there wasn’t a tube behind you, it’d be called wreckless driving.
Keep it safe and see you on the water,