Towing a person

Towing a person with a vessel is a high-risk activity. Knowing and following these rules will help keep everyone safe while having fun.

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Towing activities

Towing involves a vessel pulling a person and watersport equipment with a rope (or line) to skim on the surface of the water. Towing activities include:

  • water skiing
  • kneeboarding or aquaplaning
  • parasailing (open parachute)
  • wakeboarding
  • riding on an inflatable inner tube, raft or biscuit.

Towing a person with a vessel is a high-risk activity. It's a leading contributor to death and serious injuries on NSW waterways. When you're towing a person or you're near someone being towed, take extra care. Follow the rules to keep everyone safe while having fun.

See What to know before you tow (PDF 221.78KB) for detailed information about the rules and safety when towing.

When you can tow

You must never tow at night (between sunset and sunrise).

Where you can tow

It's strongly recommended that you only tow where you can keep a minimum distance from people in the water, other vessels and structures, as set out in the safe distance rules - for example, in more open and less congested areas.

Always keep a lookout for floating logs, shoals, snags or other unexpected hazards and structures in the area.

When towing on coastal and inland rivers, be aware of cold water, fast currents and riverbanks.

In some areas, you must not tow. This may be because of the excessive wash caused by the vessel or nearby hazards. You must follow any signs showing what activities are not allowed. See Exclusion and restriction zones.

Rules for vessels


There must be a driver and an observer on a boat when towing.

The boat must:

Personal watercraft (PWC)

There must be a driver and an observer on a PWC when towing. The only exception is tow-in surfing, where there can be just a driver. In this case, you must follow the special rules for tow-in surfing without an observer, including carrying the required safety equipment.

The PWC must:

The tow rope

The tow rope must be long enough for the person being towed to be a minimum of 7m behind the vessel.

This is to avoid any risk from carbon monoxide emissions or contact with the propeller. The only time the rope can be shorter is when you’ve considered and reduced the risks associated with carbon monoxide emissions and the propeller is forward of the back of the hull.

Avoid a heavy or sudden load on tow ropes, for example, when the tow rope is slack and the vessel speeds up quickly. This can cause serious injuries to people on the vessel or in the water.

Rules and responsibilities for drivers

As the driver of a boat that’s towing a person, you must:

As the driver of a PWC when towing, you must:

As the driver, you're responsible for:

  • the safety of the vessel
  • the safety of the person being towed, including making sure they're wearing a lifejacket
  • keeping a proper lookout
  • making sure the tow rope is the correct length
  • making sure the tow rope or equipment does not cause any danger or obstruction to yourself or others
  • keeping both the vessel and the person being towed a minimum distance from people, other vessels, structures and land.

As the driver, you must never:

  • tow more than 3 people at one time, or
  • pull a person through the water while they are holding onto the back of a vessel ('teak surfing').

The observer

There must also be an observer when towing so the driver can concentrate on driving and keep a proper lookout.

As the observer, you must:

  • have a boat licence or PWC licence if you're aged under 16
  • wear a lifejacket when required - see When to wear a lifejacket
  • always wear a lifejacket on a PWC
  • be under the alcohol legal limit
  • not have any hearing, sight or other medical condition or disability that could affect your ability to observe
  • be familiar with the standard hand signals – see Towing hand signals (PDF 102.33KB)
  • keep a proper lookout
  • always face backwards to watch the person being towed.

As the observer, you’re responsible for:

  • watching the person being towed
  • communicating with the person being towed
  • reporting any safety issues to the driver
  • telling the driver about other vessels approaching from behind.

The person being towed

As the person being towed, you must:

  • always wear a lifejacket, including tow-in surfers and wakesurfers
  • be under the alcohol legal limit
  • keep a minimum distance from people, other vessels, the shore and structures
  • return to the shore safely by keeping well clear of people on the shore and in the water, and approaching the shore at a safe speed.
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