Drive Like a Pro

A lot of skiing, from absolute beginners through to pros, relies heavily on the driver’s ability and know how. Understanding the differences on how you can adjust your driving to get someone up for the first time, or how to counter-steer for the more experienced skier or wakeboarder, can make a massive difference to those out the back.

This issue we have a look at some of the main areas to concentrate on in order to become a better driver.
Safety is more important than anything when you are out on the water. Remember when you’re towing a skier, your boat is no longer 4-6m. Instead, you should keep in your mind that your boat is actually 22-28m long. You must take this into account when towing skiers at all times, but especially through;
• Narrow rivers
• Crowded waterways
• Areas where you are passing other boats
Whenever boarding a skier, turn the engine off so you cannot bump into gear while the skier is at the back of the boat.
A marine mirror is a must for every ski boat. This allows the driver to watch the skier without having to look over his shoulder. A good mirror mounted on the windscreen should give the driver the ability to see 10m each side of the wakes.
Making sure the boat is straight and the line is taut is very important. Slack line for beginners is a nightmare, as they cannot control their skis or board. Your observer, by running the ski line out, can work with the driver to make this a lot easier. Idling in gear will drag the skier or boarder through the water, and beginners don’t have the ability to stay in position when this happens. By touching in and out of gear you can control this at the beginning.
A common thought is that if the tip of skis or the nose of the board is sinking that the driver needs to take off faster. This is wrong; instead, take off slower so the boat’s pull is not dragging the skiers’ upper body over their feet so quick. This is what sinks your ski or board. Don’t be afraid to take 300-400m to get up to the speed you need to be going. If your skier stands up too quickly again, do not speed up, gently ease back on the throttle slightly so your boat does not get up on the plane. This will help steady them out rather than wobble off into the drink.
The start is a matter of gently working the throttle up and down smoothly to help the skier. Nine times out of 10 the skier will get up if the driver slows down a little and plays with how he approaches pulling a skier out.
Turning with a skier
When turning with a skier on the back you must remember less experienced skiers or boarders cannot control where they are going and can easily reach speeds twice that of what the boat is going. This is commonly known as the “whip”, which can be great fun to watch for those in the boat, but can be terrifying and off-putting for the new skier out the back.
As a driver you can slow down so the boat is not going as fast (even to the extent that you are off the plain). Also if you have enough room you can widen your turning radius. Both these techniques will grub speed off the poor joker out the back dropping nuggets out his boardies!
Again, if the skier is caught on the inside of the turn he will be sinking, so again widen your turn so you don’t put them further inside you causing them to sink further. Secondly speed up to get them “out of the hole” so to speak. Just remember, not too much gas that you end up sending them at sonic speed across onto the outside of the turn because that never ends pretty.
Controlling speed.
There is nothing worse than riding out the back of the boat and your driver is up and down the speeds like a yo-yo. When you hold the throttle, the lower down the better. This means you will move in smaller speed increments rather than larger if you hold it at the top. Never let go of the throttle as they are designed to “ease back”, so a bit of constant pressure is needed to keep the same speed.
I find if I am driving manually it is easier to be consistent with your speed if you drive off the tachometer and not the speedo. Speedos often read differently one day to the next.
If you have a cruise system, most these days need to have the throttle pushed all the way down (to the stops) to work correctly.
Speed selection.
When selecting speeds for your skiers, or wakeboarders, there are a couple of tips to remember. There are no set speeds for any levels. The driver needs to know what they need to look for at certain levels to be going the right speed.
Beginners. Drive at a speed where the skis or board are on top of the water but not flittering about. A lot of beginners look like they cannot control what’s strapped to their feet because the ski or board is simply travelling too high out of the water. Slow down a little so the skis or board sit a little deeper in the water. This helps the ski or board track truer. A good indication for the driver is to see a spray of water shooting out the front of the ski or board (typically between 16-34kph).
Intermediate. Once your rider out the back is moving around a little, increase the speed a touch so their skis or board ride a little higher in the water. This will make edging easier as they will feel lighter and freer on the water. A good indication is seeing the spray from the front of the ski or board disappear as it now goes behind the skis or board as they ride higher (typically between 27-43kph).
Advanced. Really, these advanced riders will know what speeds they prefer. Skiers generally will adjust slightly during their sets. (typically between 34-58kph) Wakeboarders will set their speed to the size if the wake and rope length (typically between 30-40kph).
Counter steering
A lot of drivers don’t realise that to keep the boat straight means countering the wheel to the riders pull out the back. This helps keep a smooth ride out the back and also keeps a tighter tow line. As a rider pulls from out one side of the boat, they are trying to drag you over towards them; smoothly counter this action by steering away from them as they pull you. As they pass behind you and head out the other side you must counter the other way so they don’t take you out with them. Being smooth and not pre-determining the pull is what makes you a good driver. This allows you to “pick them up and release them”, as it’s known in the sport.
Imagine the boat is never going to move an inch, but your ski pole is going to zig zag only 2-3cm either side with the skier. This means you stay straight and strong, but aren’t hard on the rider out the back.
Hopefully these tips assist in less family feuds and arguments on the water .
Experience and patience also play a huge part in becoming a better driver. Stay safe, and have a great summer behind the wheel.

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