Can a jet ski or PWC Pull a Skier?

Personal watercraft (PWC’s or jet skis) are great fun to ride alone or with a friend, but you can extend your PWC fun to more friends by using it to pull skiers, wakeboards, and inflatable tubes, just like using a boat. But there are things unique to using a PWC to pull a skier. Additionally, you should be an experienced PWC rider before attempting to pull your first skier with your PWC.

A personal watercraft or jet ski can definitely pull a skier, and many more water toys. PWC or jet ski owners who want to get the most out of their watercraft need to understand the basics of towing and how to do so safely and at the correct speeds.

There are a few factors you’re going to want to consider when you’re just starting out. Most importantly, speeds for towing are typically much slower than the average rider hits when solo.

Pulling a skier, wakeboard, or an inflatable towable is different from just going for a ride. I recommend starting with an experienced skier or wakeboarder to give you feedback on your technique at first.

Can I use a PWC to pull a skier?

The answer to this question is a resounding YES! Obviously, you’ll need some skill in maneuvering the jet ski. You’re also going to want to ensure you properly tie the ropes, utilize safety equipment, and that the skier is secure on the back of the jet ski. In fact, a jet ski is capable of pulling water toys with a jet ski, including, tubes, and knee boards. 

The first factor to consider is whether your PWC has sufficient horsepower (HP) to ensure the skier can get up out of the water quickly on the skis or wakeboard. In addition to needing a little oomph to get the skier up, a slight surplus of power ensures that you’re not pushing your PWC motor to its limit for a long period of time. 

While even the 60 hp Sea Doo Spark can tow a skier, it will take an experienced waterskier with some strength. Obviously with 155 HP, you’re going to get far greater acceleration and response. But, some additional factors worth considering are

  • A skier’s weight
  • Riding conditions
  • How choppy the waters are
  • Towing speed (you don’t need to go more than 20 to 25 mph to pull a skier, tubes speeds are typically under 20 mph)

There are, of course, other safety requirements in place as well that must be accounted for when pulling a skier on a jet ski. 

How can my PWC safely pull a skier?

Safety is always a primary concern for jet skis and water skiers. In many states, you aren’t allowed to use a jet ski to pull a skier unless you have a spotter. Then, there are also safety regulations in place regarding

  • Towing speeds
  • Pulling tubes or wakeboard and other equipment
  • PFD (personal flotation devices) for riders are typically required in all states (even if they aren’t, it’s safe to wear them)

As the jet ski owner or operator, you’re also going to want to take some safety precautions to ensure optimal safety as you’re pulling the skier. First off, you want to have a good set off rearview mirrors or a second rider as a spotter. This is going to ensure the skier is upright, that they’re safe, and comfortable.

If you notice any obstructions or possible dangers, it’s best to slow down and talk to the skier and your spotter. As mentioned above, most states (if they do allow pulling skiers on a jet ski) require a spotter. Your spotter is your second set of eyes. They should inform you if you need to slow down or speed up, go in a particular direction, and check on the skier frequently, to make sure they’re safe. 

The right safety equipment is needed. Skiers are required to wear life jackets, as are the jet ski operator and rider. The right towing ropes and equipment should also be utilized. You’re going to want to scan your surroundings frequently to make sure you’re not pulling your skier into any dangerous situations. Avoid no wake zones, and be cautious of other boats, larger vessels, and watercraft. If there are no riding signs, precautions, high wind conditions, or other safety concerns on a particular day, it might also be best to wait for a different time to pull a skier on the back of your jet ski. 

Lastly, make sure all parties are safe, secure, and feel comfortable. If anything feels off, or if you feel the waters may be too choppy, it’s best to avoid pulling a skier on the jet ski. On a power boat or larger vessel, you have more control and stability to handle less than ideal conditions. With the jet ski, you don’t have as much of a margin for error. So, if something feels off, hold off until conditions improve.

Also be mindful of state laws, local laws, and regulations or rules which are in place for the specific beach you’re riding at. There might be restrictions as to hours you can ride, types of towing, weight limits, speed limits, and other restrictions in place. Make sure you abide by all rules… they’re in place for a reason! 

How can I keep my ropes from tangling?

First thing’s first, you need a rope float. You’ll want to use the right equipment to keep the rope in place and prevent it from getting sucked up in the first place. You’ll also want to avoid backing up, as this can cause your rope to tangle, jam, and eventually get sucked up by the propeller. 

The Airhead rope float is a little smaller and cheaper, and may be perfect for the combination of using a jet ski to pull a skier or a single rider tube. Click the above image or here to check latest Amazon price.

It’s also important to take precautions to prevent the rope from tangling in the first place. Some ways to do this are

  • Having a spotter (it’s a legal requirement in most states, and just best for safe practice) – Make sure the spotter is experienced, pays attention, and makes sure the rope remains on course
  • Choose the right rope float, and use a knot in the rope if needed to hold it in place near the PWC.
  • Turn the engine off immediately at the first sign that the rope is under your jet ski
  • Make sure there’s little to no slack in the rope line, this will prevent it from kinking or tangling in the first place
  • Having an impeller protector in place will also help prevent rope from getting sucked up into the propeller

Also, never leave the rope in the water alone. Even after you’re done riding and shut the jet ski off for the day. Make sure your spotter brings the rope in with them. This prevents you forgetting that it’s in the water, and accidentally backing up the next time you’re ready to take the jet ski out for a spin. 

Paying attention goes a long way. Having people in place who know what they’re doing, and will properly guide you, is also a great way to ensure ropes aren’t tangled, and in the event they do get tangled, that you take the proper steps to prevent jamming the propeller. 

A larger rope float or booster, like the Sportsstuff Booster from Amazon pictured above, may be needed when towing a multi-rider tube behind a jet ski or boat. It also helps keep slack from developing in your rope, making the tube riders less susceptible to sudden jerks. And in some cases keeps the rope from splashing water directly into the riders’ faces.

What if my PWC sucks in a rope?

In the event the rope does get sucked into the propeller, what steps should you take?

  • Shut the engine off immediately
  • Remove the key to prevent accidental restarts and/or disconnect the battery
  • Check the intake to see how loose the tangle is
  • If in a safe area without high boat traffic, you may be able to clear it while still in the water (I’ve done this once)
  • If not, you’ll need a tow your jet ski to land or dock
  • If you use a floating dock, you may be able to roll the ski on its side to access the grate (I’ve also done this once)
  • If you can find a sandy beach, you may be able to roll it on its side there as well
  • Never roll a PWC over while in the water. You risk water damage to the electronics and the engine
  • The final option while out is to manually pull it onto your trailer then cut it out from underneath
  • If all of the above fails, a trip to your shop will likely be needed

If you shut the engine off early enough, and you see the rope, it may be easy to clear. It’s tedious, but I have cleared one tangle by manually unraveling it. Otherwise you’ll need to cut it away from the shaft.

Once you’re able to get the rope out safely, start your PWC and let it run for a few minutes. This will give you an indication as to whether anything is jammed that you didn’t see. If it’s running normally, you should be good to go. On the other hand, any strange noise, slow response, vibration or anything else that feels wrong means you’re done for the day. Further work will need to be done in your garage or by your favorite shop.

What else can a PWC tow?

Tubes, wakeboards, and knee boards, are a few other items which can be used to tow a skier behind your jet ski. Obviously, sufficient HP is necessary and sufficient speed is required. With these heavier objects, a little more HP goes a long way in towing. It’s also important to ensure you’re utilizing the right towing rope and safety equipment, so skiers and jet ski controllers are safe. Some things to consider when pulling these items include

  • Using a jet ski with a stable hull
  • Having a powerful enough tow hook for added weight
  • A wakeboard tow rope (similar to a traditional tow rope, however, these ropes have close to 0 stretch so they’re more responsive)
  • A booster ball like those shown above to prevent slack, avoid impeller rope problems, and eliminate water spray from the towing rope.
Two person towable inner tube
A jet ski with more power can double the fun

A PFD should obviously be worn by wakeboarders, skiers, or tubers. And, jet ski operators should wear a jacket as well to ensure everyone’s as safe as possible. 

There are laws to ensure safety for pulling a skier with a jet ski for a reason. However, if everyone’s experienced, has knowledge of the laws, and wants to enjoy skiing, boarding, or tubing with a jet ski, it’s possible! 

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Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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