Water Sports

As one of the most popular water sports in the United States, water-skiing is subject to specific regulations to ensure the safety of the skier, other boat passengers, and the surrounding area.  

Legal Requirements in Towing Devices 

Operators of vessels towing persons on water skis or similar devices must meet specific equipment and observer requirements.

  • There is an additional competent person (other than the operator) who can always keep an eye on the towed person. 
  • A mounted wide-angle rearview mirror is present to monitor the person being towed.
  • The towed person must wear a properly fitted and fastened ski belt, ski jacket, and a US Coast Guard-approved PFD.
  • The boat has enough seating space to accommodate the towed person.

Several provisions have been enacted regarding the time of day towing persons are not permitted. Many factors contribute to this decision, including the darkness, which limits the ability of the operator and additional passengers to monitor the skier’s progress. As a result, no skiing must occur after sunset or before sunrise. 

chart showing proper way to waterski

There is a high risk associated with water skiing due to the strong forces generated by the skier. Consequently, each boat must maintain a specific distance from the skier. According to the regulations, a “ski corridor” must be 200 feet wide, meaning 100 feet on each side of the boat and behind the skier.

Common Waterskiing Hand Signals 

While waterskiers cannot verbally communicate, hand signals are used to confirm to the spotter and driver that they are okay, ready to go, and any other information. 

chart of waterskiing hand signals

“OKAY” Signal

Forming a circle with the arms around the head while holding hands above the head

Back to Dock

Tapping the head with a hand 

I’m Done

Making a motion across the neck with a hand as if slicing the throat with it

  • A thumb up indicates going faster 
  • A thumb down means slowing down
  • A flat hand out indicates stop
  • A circular motion with the pointer finger and thumb indicates the speed is okay
  • A flat hand pointed to the left suggests turning left
  • A flat hand pointed to the right indicates turning right



Take My Boat exam on a tablet