Nothing quite beats taking your kids out on the pontoon boat and then pulling them on an inflatable or inner tube. It’s one of my family’s favorite summer activities. Once the sun is out, my kids just want to get out on the water and I won’t get any rest until I get the tubes out.
The fun of being pulled at speed and bouncing around on the water really can’t be beat, but there are some inherent dangers in doing so pulling tubes behind a pontoon.
It’s key to keep your kids safe, and make sure that you not only reduce any risk, but also ensure that you are sticking to the law in your state, which can differ depending on where you live.
Safety is so important to me and my anxiety levels automatically increase when my kids are on the water. I am sure you are exactly the same, so what I have done is put some safety tips and ideas together, some of which you might not have thought of before.
I hope they help, and you have masses of fun whilst out on your pontoon this year!
Handy Hint: If you don’t yet own a towable tube take a look at these inflatable tube reviews I recently published elsewhere on the Pontoonopedia website.
Tip 1: Choose the Safest & Best Tube
Not all tubes are equal.
There are some that you can buy which are simply designed to let you tow and pull them fast., whilst others are designed to simply provide a leisurely pull. And then there are different tubes depending on how many people you intend to pull in one go.
Most low horsepower pontoon boats will only be able to pull smaller weights, so part of that decision might already be made up for you.
But have a think about how many of kids are going to be towed at one time. I prefer just to pull one, as it just seems safer and reduce the risks of cracked skulls and bumping into each other. But, that’s not to say you can’t buy a two-manner, or even three depending on your own personal preference.
With that in mind, I tend to use inner tubes that are designed for one kid at a time, and when buying take a very careful look at the weight restrictions.
My recommended tube for pulling kids from a pontoon boat would be the Airhead range. They are really stable and have great online reviews which you can read up on Amazon.
I have also put together some product suggestions for 4-person tubes, as these can be more dangerous. You can read those recommendations here.
Tip 2: Use a Proper Tow Rope Built for Purpose
You wouldn’t pull your pontoon trailer with an old bit of rope and towing your kids on a tube should be no different.
The reason that accidents happen when pontoon tubing is invariably down to a tow rope failing. If you buy a proper tow rope and make sure that you attach if correctly by following the manufacturer’s recommendations then you should be safe enough, barring any unexpected accidents you can’t account or legislate for.
But what type of tow rope do you need for pontoon tubing?
Well this depends on how many kids you are planning on towing at once.
The ones that you see available online will have recommended weight limits and guidance on what you need to know.
I would never recommend that you buy second-hand, as frayed and used tow ropes can present problems – which also highlights the need to always check your tow rope before your next tubing session for signs or wear and tear.
And finally, let the rope out slowly from inside the boat. I can be easy for the tow rope to get wound around the prop if you aren’t paying attention.
Tip 3: Understand the Power of Your Pontoon
How much horsepower your pontoon has, including its size and weight will have a dramatic effect on the power you can harness when towing tubes.
I’ve previously written about how horsepower can influence whether or not you can pull a tube behind a pontoon.
Your job here is to figure out how much towing capacity you have and what speeds you are going to be able to reach. There will be some kids who won’t enjoy being pulled fast, whereas you might have older teenagers who will be massively disappointed with a slow tow.
The performance of your pontoon boat will have an impact on how many people you can pull, and therefore the type of tube you can buy as well as the tow rope you will need.
Tip 4: Check the Tube is Inflated Properly
If your inner tube or inflatable is under-inflated it’s going to quickly become damaged when being towed at high speeds behind your boat.
If it’s not inflated properly it won’t last too long, and you also won’t get great performance out of it.
You can go too far the other way too, with over-inflating. Being too pumped up can lead to damage to the PVC bladder of the tube or create rips and tears in the seams. You don’t want the tube to break apart in full flow.
Tip 5: Learn Essential Safety Hand Signals
Whilst I appreciate your kids just want to get on the tube and get going, it’s vitally important that you all have some shared hand signals that are committed to memory.
It doesn’t have to be anything too complex, and the less hand signals there are to remember the better. Just two will do and make them simple.
So, for example, a thumbs-up could mean go faster, whilst a thumbs-down could mean they want you to slow right down. You can also throw a stop command into the mix such as an open palm facing towards the pontoon boat.
Tip 6: Have a Safety Spotter On-Board
If you have a low horsepower pontoon boat, it’s very tempting to get everyone bar the driver off the boat to reduce your load in order to get higher speeds.
But, you are breaking the law unless you have a safety spotter at the back of the deck to watch the person being pulled on the tube.
It’s their job to alert the pontoon driver if a rider comes off the tube, as well as being on the look-out for other people, boats, and potential hazards in the water.
Your safety spotter should be fully aware of the hand signals that you and the riders have learnt and agreed on before setting off.
Tip 7: Avoid the Crowds at Peak Times
Plan your time to go out tubing very carefully, as to avoid busy lakes and waterways.
Peak time on the lake will be when it’s the hottest from midday through to 4pm. I like to avoid this time as firstly it’s going to be busy on the water, and secondly, I want to keep my kids from getting sunburn.
It’s much more fun pulling kids on the tubes when there is little to no traffic on the water, as you will have much more scope for fun, whether that means speed or the area you are boating in.
Tip 8: Get the Kids into Life Vests!
And now it’s time to get going, but there’s one last ingredient, and possibly the most important of them all which is the life vests. Whenever a child is on the water, they must be in a life vest, especially when being towed or pulled.
Always get them to wear a life vest. No arguments here and absolutely no choice. It must be done.
Your choice of life vest should be one that fits and is snug enough so that when you pick the kid up by the shoulder straps it doesn’t slide past their ears or chin. There are plenty of excellent life vests for children, many of which can be purchased on Amazon.
Tip 9: Be Careful Near Waves and Wakes
When you are pulling young kids be really careful when approaching an on-coming wake. This is especially important if you are turning, as hitting them can cause whiplash injury at high speeds.
Wakes can be particularly prevalent when there are water skiers and wake boarders on the water. Whilst tubing in rough water can be fun, I don’t recommend it with kids, as your body can take a real pounding.
Tip 10: Get Them Out of the Water Safely
One essential tip is to tell the kid that if they fall out of the tube then to raise their hand so there are easier to spot in the water.
Drift up to them and always make sure to keep the boat in neutral with the engine off. Don’t just put it into neutral as remember your prop is on the stern.
Approach your kid so that they are on the same side of the boat as the driver is. When picking up, the driver should see the person in the water at all times.
In a real-world example, when I am circling back to pick up one of my kids, I travel clockwise around, keeping them in the middle of the turning circle.
Tip 11: Relax and Enjoy Yourselves
Finally, just have fun. If you are relaxed and know you are safe, then that’s going to rub off on the kids.
And besides, even if you do have a tube attached to the back of your pontoon, it doesn’t have to be pulled at high speeds to be fun.
My kids have just as much fun in the tube when we are parked up in a bay whilst my wife and I relax with a few drinks and a book. Our kids love to jump through and onto the tubes whilst static too, not just when being pulled behind the boat.
The Last Word from Me
When you start planning your day out on the water with your pontoon is so important to be as prepared as you can possibly be.
No matter what equipment you are using, make sure to read all the instructions and safety guides as they are there for a reason, and also be very aware of the state regulations where you are pontooning.