Water tubing is one of the most enjoyable family-oriented boating activities you can do on the water. Still, safety should always be at the forefront of your mind. The best way to limit injury risk while water tubing is to maintain proper boating speeds on the water. But what exactly is the best boat speed for towing a water tube?
For kids, you should keep the boat’s towing speed between 8 to 12 mph. For teenagers and adults, you should keep the boat’s towing speed between 15 and 20 mph. The ideal towing speed of a water tube ultimately depends on the rider. You should tow kids at lower speeds for safety purposes.
For your reference, there’s a table provided below of the relative towing speeds for tube riders of all age ranges. Read until the end to learn more about other factors that affect what boating speeds are considered safe for water tubing.
Proper Tubing Speed by Age Group
Tubing is undoubtedly one of the most effortless activities that you can do on the water. There’s not a considerable degree of skill, strength, or balance involved. The only task demanded of you is to hold onto the tube handles and enjoy the ride.
Although tubing is reasonably simple to do, it has its risks like any other water-based activity. A significant component of the tube riders’ safety is the speed of the boat towing the water tube(s). The faster the boat moves, the faster the water tube moves. Higher speeds may make for a more adventurous ride, but they also increase the level of danger and potential injury risk.
Plus, it’s important to keep in mind that the boat towing the water tube and the water tube itself do not move at the same speeds. Depending on the circumstances, there may be instances where a water tube may be moving twice the speed of the towing boat, like during an abrupt turn, for example.
So if you don’t seem to be moving all that fast onboard the boat, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the riders on the tube feel the same way. For example, if a boat turns at 15 mph, this can easily mean that the people onboard the water tube may be turning at 30 mph due to the effects of the centripetal force (source).
Falling off the tube at these kinds of speeds hurts! You don’t want to ruin a person’s day on the water just because you didn’t know how fast to drive the boat.
The boat operator should fine-tune their speeds to fit whoever is currently going on a water tube ride. Different age groups require different speeds.
|Age Group||Recommended Boating Speed|
|Teenagers & Younger Adults||15-20 mph|
|Older Adults||10-15 mph|
The table above is merely intended to be a helpful set of guidelines for those that are new to water tubing. This information is not meant to be perceived as the hard and fast rules for boating speeds.
There will be exceptions to these listed guidelines. You should factor in your own judgment to determine what boating speeds match the interests of the tube riders. By combining these recommendations with your intuition, you’re bound to create a better, safer tubing environment for everyone involved.
Other Factors that Dictate How Fast You Should Go
While age does play a significant role in how fast a boat should go when towing a water tube, it’s not the only variable to consider. There are additional factors that dictate how fast a boat should tow a water tube. We will explore the most important of these factors on a case-by-case basis next.
Water & Weather Conditions
As you might have expected, the conditions of both the water and the weather significantly influence how fast a boat should go when towing a water tube.
In choppy waters and rough weather, you have to slow down to keep the tube riders safe. Moving at 15 to 20 mph with a strong current and volatile winds can be a recipe for disaster, particularly when towing kids on the water tube.
If a water tube is towed through choppy waves at high speeds, the water tube is more than likely going airborne. As the water tube smacks back down onto the water, it heavily impacts the riders still aboard.
Over time, repeated impacts like these can put excessive strain on the muscles and joints, resulting in injury. There’s also a strong likelihood that the tube riders will fall into the water due to the heavy impact of these airborne jumps.
In rough weather, high winds can limit the visibility of the tube riders. When moving behind a speedy boat on an inflatable tube, visibility is already reduced significantly. Further limiting this visibility makes for a far less enjoyable experience for tube riders.
Level of Boating Traffic
Summertime can quickly fill the waters up with people who are out on vacation. This means more tubers, water skiers, wakeboarders, and just boaters in general.
Ideally, you want to find a secluded section on the water where you can tow a water tube safely without fear of other boaters getting in your way. But, unfortunately, this is not always possible.
When the water is crowded with other boaters, you should slow down your speeds to keep your own boating passengers safe, as well as the other people boating nearby. This way, you minimize the risk of accidentally colliding with another boat or towing your water tube riders too quickly through another boat’s wake.
Number of Tube Riders
The more people you’re towing behind the boat, the more careful you have to be. It should come as no surprise that pulling more people on a water tube is riskier than just towing a single rider.
Plus, a higher number of tube riders means that your boat has to tow considerably more weight. Your boat will require more power to carry the additional weight of all of these people.
For this reason, you should be able to reasonably give your boat slightly more horsepower to carry this extra load. However, it’s still safer to maintain the recommended boating speeds because of the greater degree of risks associated with more tubers.
The last thing you want to do is cause an unnecessary accident because you thought your boat needed a bit of extra gas to tow around the extra weight.
Weight of Tube Riders
Going off that same note, some tube riders weigh considerably more than others. Therefore, the number of riders isn’t always indicative of how much horsepower you will need to reach standard tubing speeds.
For example, say that there’s one mature adult who goes water tubing. Then, for the sake of argument, let’s say that two lightweight kids go water tubing immediately after the adult. Which one required more horsepower?
It ultimately comes down to the weight of the tube riders. The adult may weigh 200 lbs, whereas the two kids may only weigh 80 lbs each. In this case, the adult would require more horsepower compared to the two kids.
You may have to experiment somewhat when you interchange tube riders to find the ideal amount of horsepower and reach safe boating speeds. The heavier the weight of the riders, the more horsepower you will need. On the other hand, the lighter the weight of the riders, the less horsepower you will need.
Risk Tolerance of Tube Riders
Not everyone is born to be a daredevil. Some people are natural-born risk-takers and other people who are about as risk-averse as you can get.
Keeping this in mind, it’s a smart idea to personally ask the tube riders what their preferred speeds are ahead of time so that you can get a general idea of their risk tolerance. If you know the tube riders well enough, you may already have a solid handle on what their risk tolerance is just through your social interactions.
You don’t want to traumatize any risk-averse riders by electing to go at high speeds. But, at the same time, you also want to give the adrenaline-seeking water tubers the taste of adventure they’re looking for.
How to Maintain Safe Speeds While Tubing
We’ve established that safe speeds are critical in water tubing, but we haven’t really addressed how to maintain these safe speeds. To help clear this issue up, here are several quick tips that can help you to keep boating speed in check and pay attention to the people you’re towing behind the boat.
Communication with the Spotter via Hand Signals
As a quick reference, a spotter is a person assigned to watch the water tubers behind the boat. This way, the boat operator can focus on what’s in front of them instead of diverting their attention to the back of the boat.
You can find additional information on why spotters are so important for tubing by clicking over to Why Spotters are Needed for Water Tubing (Explained).
The water tubers should stay in constant contact with the spotter. Since it’s difficult to yell over the ruffling of the boat’s motor and the lapping of the waves, you should use hand signals instead.
Hand signals can be quite helpful in determining whether or not the water tube riders want you to slow down or speed things up. Popular examples of hand signals often used in water tubing include the following:
- thumbs up = speed up
- thumbs down = slow down
- side thumb = maintain speed
Refrain From Speeding Up During Turns
This is arguably one of the most important tips that the boat operator should keep in the back of their mind when water tubing.
Things can get really rough for the people on the water tube when you’re turning. This is because the water tube accelerates during turns due to the centripetal force, which can cause the water tube to move faster than the boat in certain instances. If the boat is already moving at high speeds, this can put a ton of pressure on the riders’ muscles and joints, to the point of injury.
Although it may not be as adventurous, it’s far safer to slow down during a turn so that none of the water tubers experience any severe injuries. Plus, you probably don’t want to go through the extra work of picking up a fallen tuber out of the water. It’s much more convenient to keep them out of the water and safely on the tube.