As perfect as it would be to have a 300+KW Mastercraft sitting on the driveway for our waterskiing fix, the practicalities of taking a purpose-built ski boat out fishing on the open seas means we need to look at alternatives! So, how do we get a much-loved tinny or fibreglass fishing boat set-up for that day at the beach towing the kids and skiers around? Hopefully this article gives you a few pointers to get you started. 

Towing a Sea-biscuit can be a lot of fun for the kids.

 

Before you start, choose your weapon – towing the kids around on a ski biscuit is very different to dragging an 85kg+ single slalom skier out of the water. The latter needs much more planning and a better setup.

For waterskiing, your outboard should be at the top-end of the rating for your hull for a better hole-shot allowing you to get skier and boat up on the plane as fast as possible. Contrary to popular opinion, skiers don’t enjoy the 30-second seawater enema drowning experience! Depending on boat weight, you will need at least 100hp to tow an adult on a single ski comfortably. If you’re down on power then cavitation plates, or a lowerpitch or 4-blade prop can help you get better low-down grunt. Your local marine specialist can help and may even have trial props.

Attaching the rope to the boat poses the next challenge. The tow-rope should be attached as close to the motor as possible to maintain boat control and attachment points need to be strong. While gunnel cleats look convenient, these are often not strong enough to cope with waterskiing or a multi-person biscuit. A good slalom skier can put
upwards of 450kg of pressure on the rope/boat so its preferable to use a bridle between the transom tie-down cleats. Check with your hull manufacturer if you are unsure. Unless specifically designed, don’t use your fishing rocket launcher as a wakeboard tower! They put huge leverage on the boat, and if they don’t break, can roll the boat very easily.

The writer’s rope and bridle set-up for skiing behind his Stabicraft.

Picking the right rope is often overlooked. There are many low quality ropes on the market that are weak and very stretchy – a bad combination when they snap and spring back into a boat full of kids. A good rope should have a minimum of 500+kg working load and little stretch. I personally use a UV stabilized 16 filament 80 strand InTow rope with custom dyneema bridle for my Stabicraft. The other brands I trust and available locally/ online are Straightline, HO, Hyperlite, Accurate and Masterline. You should certainly consider thicker ropes for multi-person ski biscuits, but these are too heavy for normal skiing.

Now onto the fun stuff! No selfrespecting boatie with kids should be without a water toy or two. In NZ we are lucky to have a huge range of options distributed by Hutchwilco; from the classic ski biscuit to multiperson tubes and available from marine stores like Burnsco and Smart Marine. It pays to keep an eye on the attachment points as the solid nylon/ poly quick attachment blocks can be easily damaged and become a missile speeding back towards your boat!

Junior ski trainers help build kids confidence – just make sure to adjust the handle length on shore first

Getting kids up on skis can be a challenge – so build their confidence on an EZ Ski Trainer, or if you can find one a water ski toboggan (rare as hens’ teeth) before progressing onto smaller skis such as Hutchwilco’s Junior Trainers. The rope goes via the skis reducing the pull and the crossbar on the front helps control the skis in the water.

For adults learning, I often recommend slightly wider skis to provide extra lift – great if your boat is underpowered too. If you are progressing onto a single ski then combo skis often have a rear toe loop, but if you ski frequently you will quickly outgrow this and want to consider a proper slalom ski.

Top end single slalom skis from D3 or HO are in a different league to a combo and feel amazing on the water but come with a hefty price tag – upwards of $2k without bindings. However, models change regularly so it’s worth checking if there are ex-demo or prior year skis available. A great option is to check TradeMe or the facebook group “Ski Bay New Zealand”.

Check the size chart for the correct ski for your weight and boat speed. As a rough rule of thumb, an 80kg skier at 49kph should be on a 68” ski. Increasing weight and/or slower speeds means a bigger ski. In recent years water ski bindings have advanced considerably and systems such as the Reflex hardshell and lace-up boot styles are common. Just be aware it’s easy to over-tighten laces and cause injury – if you can’t get your foot out in the water, it’s too tight!

Wakeboards, wakesurfs and kneeboards are also great alternative options. Being wider, these also make it easier for the skier to get out of the water and kids can paddle around on kneeboards in the surf. If you want some help getting kids (or adults!) up on the water with the right technique, consider contacting your local waterski club. Clubs such as the Auckland Water Ski Club are relatively cheap and can offer great advice on the right equipment and members are often upgrading their gear.

Finally, this shouldn’t need to be said, but safety is paramount. Make sure you have safety gear, lifejackets, stay mindful of moving props, and both skiers and observers know their hand signals.

BASIC WATERSKI TIPS & TRICKS

Get the skier and boat up on the plane as fast as possible
Keep your head up and look forward
Attach the towrope as close to the motor as possible to maintain  boat control
Use a bigger ski for larger skiers and/or slower speeds
Keep your shoulders stacked over your hips
Keep the rope handle low and elbows bent in

Article by: Chris Shaw