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Boating Hand Signals

Boating Hand Signals

Whether you are the person driving the boat or the person being towed behind it, the ability to communicate with one another is a key factor to staying safe while water skiing, wakeboarding, or doing any other boating-related sport. Trying to yell is the method that many people will attempt to use, but the problem is that it is extremely difficult to hear what another person is saying, especially if they are 70 feet from you and there’s a boat motor running between the two of you. So what’s the best way to communicate? Well it is suggested that the best method for communication is via hand signals. Whether you are the puller or the pulley, these universal hand gestures will allow you to understand what the other person is trying to say without anything getting lost in translation.


Understand that you don’t need to use hand signals at all times, only when the boat is in motion. If the rider is still floating in the water verbal communication is fine, but once the boat accelerates and the rider is being towed, it is suggested you stick to the hand signal communication. Also, keep in mind that you should always have at least two people in the boat at all times, the driver and the spotter. This way the driver can concentrate on where the boat is going and the spotter can watch the rider’s signals and relay them to the driver faster.


I’ll get to the hand gestures and their meanings in just a moment, but before I do that, let me go over some pre-ride instructions that will also help to eliminate confusion.


When the rider is ready for the boat to accelerate and their hands are tight on the handle of the rope, he or she should signal to the spotter in the boat that they are ready with a slight head nod. The spotter should then yell, “Ready?” The rider should then acknowledge the spotter by yelling “Hit it” if they want the spotter to inform the driver to accelerate. If the rider is not ready, he or she should yell “Wait!” DO NOT USE “Go!” or “No!” These two sound far too similar and can cause confusion that could lead to serious injury.


Once the boat is in motion, this is the time that using hand signals will be effective. The following sections will show each hand signal along with its respective definition. It is suggested that you go over each hand signal and its meaning with the rider and spotter prior to the rider getting in the water. Even if you have pulled the rider before and they know the signals, it is strongly suggested you do this each time to make sure everyone is on the same page.


Rider OK: When a rider falls, they should bend their arm in a crest-like shape towards and above their head and touch their fingertips to their head. This signals to the driver/spotter that the rider is OK and free of injury. Another way to communicate that the rider is OK is to raise both arms above the head and touch both hands fingertips together, forming a circle.


Cut Motor/I’m Finished: If the rider wants to let go of the tow-rope they should use a hand to simulate a “slice across the neck.” This will indicate to the driver/spotter that the rider would like the driver to cut the motor so they can release their grip on the handle.


Oncoming Wake: Beginner water skiers and wakeboarders usually appreciate someone in the boat signaling to them that there are approaching wakes. A way to indicate this is to have the spotter extend one arm straight out to their side and move it up and down. The rising and falling of the arm communicates to the skier oncoming wakes.


Stay Behind The Boat: When the spotter wants the rider to stay directly behind the boat he or she should extend one arm straight in front of their body and move it up and down. This is done because the people in the boat can usually foresee a questionable or dangerous situation before the rider can. Staying directly behind the boat is the safest place for the rider to be until the danger passes.


Return to Launch: If the rider or the driver would like to return to the launch, this can be signaled by patting the top of the head several times with the hand.


Rider in the Water: After a fall the rider will be waiting in the water for the boat to circle back around to pick them up. Other boats may not be able to see the rider, therefore it is suggested that the rider raise whatever equipment they may have as high in the air as possible. This way the rider can be seen more easily by other boat vessels who may be nearby.


Turn Around/Boat Turning Around: If the rider or the driver would like the boat to turn around, this can be signaled by bending the arm upward at a 90 degree angle and rotating the forearm and hand around in wide circles. If you are the driver and plan on turning the boat around, be certain that you give the rider plenty of warning so they may position themselves correctly behind the boat, and in a fashion in which they feel most comfortable. Aggressive riders usually position outside the wake to create speed, while non-aggressive riders will generally stay directly behind the boat for a more controlled, slower ride.


Speed Up: If the rider would like the driver to increase the speed, this can be signaled by extending the arm outward and giving a thumbs up. The driver will then know that it is OK to increase the speed gradually to the rider’s liking. Cranking up the speed by thrusting the throttle forward is not recommended because it may still take the rider off guard, which may cause injury.


Slow Down: If the rider feels like the speed is too fast or would simply like the driver to dial down the speed a bit, this can be signaled by extending the arm outward and giving a thumbs down. The driver will then know it is OK to decrease the speed gradually to the rider’s liking. Abruptly slowing down by pulling back on the throttle is not recommended because it may still catch the rider off guard and send towards the rear of the boat, or otherwise. This has the potential to cause injury.


Speed OK: When the driver is increasing or decreasing speed, whether at the request of the rider or not, the rider can indicate that the speed level is desirable by signaling Speed OK. This is done by bending the arm at an upward 90 degree angle and touching the index finger to the thumb, with the 3 remaining fingers pointed up. The driver will then know that the current speed should be maintained.


Stop: If for any reason the rider or driver needs to stop the boat, this can be signaled by bending the arm upward at a 90 degree angle and showing the palm side of the hand with all fingers pointed upward, like a Don’t Walk sign. This will indicate that either the rider wants the driver to stop or the driver needs to stop the boat and the rider should prepare and position accordingly. Abruptly stopping without warning, unless absolutely necessary, is dangerous and can cause injury.


Possible Injury: Following a fall if the rider shows little or no movement, this suggests to people in the boat that the rider may be injured. The boat should approach the fallen rider as soon as possible to tend to injury and prevent other boaters from not seeing the rider and causing potentially fatal harm.


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