Tender Driving 201: Water Sports

6 February 2009 By Matt Brown

Often deckhands have a tremendous amount of responsibility when it comes to managing the affairs of their guests in the water.

Of course there will charters with guests who cannot swim very well, as well as charters young children. This becomes more complicated when adding in water sports such as wakeboarding and Jet Skis that can do up to 60 mph (100 kph).

Here are some of precautions to take in order to ensure that your guests have the best possible time in the water and come back to the mothership in one piece.

#1-Check Safety Equipment

The primary responsibility of any tender driver is the safety and security of the guests. Before doing any sort of water sports away from the yacht, always make sure to take both a UHF and VHF radio. Prior to departure, inform the bridge of what VHF channel you'll be standing by on in case you are out of range of your UHF signal. Also, double-check that the tender has a GPS, flare kit, life jackets for everyone aboard and an EPIRB in case anything should go pear-shaped while you’re out at sea.

#2-Check Local / Municipal Maritime Regulations

Before using PWCs or towing guests on skis, wakeboards or towing toys with the tender, consult a maritime reference book or check in with the local marina as to what restrictions are enforced in the area.
John Beal of M/Y Happy Days says, “In many places, natural reserves have been marked out where the use of Jet Skis and anchoring is forbidden. There may also be further restrictions like reduced speed limits or allocated times of day for Jet Ski use. Failure to abide by these rules and regulations can result in hefty fines being issued by the local maritime police, which is highly embarrassing for both crew and their guests.”

#3-Use a Towing Bridle

Some crew tow guests without using a towing bridle. A bridle is much better than a cleat or D-ring as it's far more secure and thus safer for your guests. Cleats bend and D-ring shackles can pull out of non re-enforced housings. Using a bridle also keeps the towing line away from the engines when stopping, and when turning to port or starboard, away from the top of the outboard engines.

#4-An Extra Pair of Eyes

When towing guests during any watersport, it is vital that to maintain a proper lookout at all times. Be sure that there are always two crew in the tender at all times – namely, the driver and a lookout. The lookout can inform the driver what at to is happening with the guest(s) behind the boat, and let him/her know if they would like to speed up or slow down, if they wipe out or if something goes wrong. The lookout also can focus on helping the guests while the tender driver can focus solely on driving.
Also, with two people in the tender there is a constant 360-degree lookout.

#5-Figure Eights

When towing inflatable toys like donuts, steering the tender in a figure eight will give the guests the most enjoyment, as they usually go airborne when the inflatable hits the wake. Accelerating at the top and bottom turns will have them squealing — especially children.

#6-Find an Optimum Speed

For both skiers and wakeboarders, the optimum speed is 22–30 mph. Have the lookout check with the guest(s) while they are up on the water if they would like to speed up or slow down. A simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down will do.

#7-Watch the Engines

This goes without saying, but always turn off the tender’s engines when a guest is attempting to enter or exit the boat. Turning off the engines at the appropriate time will also help you avoid wrapping the tow line the prop when stopping to collect a guest.

#8-Use Approved Equipment

Always use a professional and approved water ski tow line that is specifically designed for the purpose. Don’t get fancy and use some spectra line that's stored in the lazarette if  previous ski line broke.

#9-First-Time Skiers

Having a person in the water with a child who is learning to ski for the first time is a great help. He or she can help the child with the skis should their feet pull out of the bindings, and can help the child steady himself or herself in the water before the driver powers forward with the tender.

#10-Jet Ski Instruction

Jet Skis are without a doubt the most dangerous water toys onboard the yacht—they do crazy speeds and with an inexperienced guest driving one, the chances of disaster increase dramatically. These water jet-powered craft don’t act like normal boats—stopping and backing up takes practice.
Kyle De Wet of M/Y Allegria says there are two precautions you should take. “Always give clear instructions to the guest as to how they operate, and make special mention as to how [the guest] should approach the stern of the yacht—using the reverse lever as a break! I’ve had guests plough into the back of the swim platform before and at a rate of knots, and it’s not a pretty sight,” he says. “Secondly, always let your guests know of any speed limits or area restrictions being enforced.”