Rescuing Water Skiers


Water skiing accidents are very dangerous because of high speeds, crowded ski areas and loose equipment such as the tow rope or skis.


^ The operator should be aware of the surroundings at all times. The operator should take great care to avoid other boats, skiers and objects in the water such as skis, tow ropes, buoys, swimmers and other skiers.

^ The observer should observe the skier at all times, know the hand signals that the skier may use, and communicate with the operator. The observer should also have the signal flag ready for any time that a skier or his equipment is in the water.

^ When a skier, ski or tow rope is in the water, the boat operator and passengers should take great care. You should always keep a sharp lookout for other boats.

^ The skier should be looking for floating objects, other skiers and boats. The skier should pay special attention to the tow rope to keep from getting it entangled.


If the boat is put into neutral while the engine is running, the propeller may continue to spin for a short time and cause serious injury. You should make sure that the propeller is no longer spinning before allowing a skier near it.


O The downed skier should hold up a ski or arm to warn other boats and skiers.

O The observer should raise the signal flag designating a downed skier, watch the position of the skier and alert other boats.

O Approach the site from downwind or into the current using slow to idle speed.

O The boat should return to the water skier as quickly as possible, making sure that the skier's tow rope is not caught in the boat's propeller.

O An operator should keep a skier on the operator's side so that the skier always remains within the operator's view.

O If the skier is re-entering the boat, the operator should turn the engine off before the skier comes on board. You may be able to leave the engine on if your boat design has the propeller a good distance away from the skier. For instance, many boats specially designed for water skiing have a swim step on the stern and a propeller that is mounted amidships. In either case, the water skier should be brought into the boat over the stern.


Case Study: A person had just finished skiing and was sitting on the swim step of a vessel, pulling in the ski line. The ski flag was raised, as there was still a ski line in the water. A second vessel came very close to this vessel at a high rate of speed and ran over the ski rope, which became caught in the propeller. The line then broke, and snapped back, striking the person on the swim step in the stomach and leg. She sustained third degree burns and a fractured pelvis.


1. Identify the mistakes that the people made and the proper actions they could have taken.

2. What could this person have done differently to prevent this accident?

3. What steps could you take to rescue the victims and/or make the situation better?

Accident Assistance

A vessel operator involved in an accident is responsible for helping other people in the accident, as long as it does not endanger his or her vessel, crew, and passengers. Any person offering help in "good faith," without objection by anyone being helped, can't be held liable for the results of that help.

Accident Reporting

If you are in a boating accident, you must report it to the Department of Boating and Waterways or the local marine law enforcement authority. This may be the local harbor patrol, county sheriff or the U.S. Coast Guard.

If a person dies, disappears, or needs medical attention beyond First Aid, the incident must be reported to the enforcement agency responsible for the waterway. Report the following information:

^ Date, time, and exact location of the accident.

^ Name of each person who disappeared, died or was injured, and the vessels involved.

^ Names and addresses of the owner, operator, and passengers of all boats involved.

A formal report must be filed with the Department of Boating and Waterways:

✓ Within 48 hours if someone has disappeared or died, or if a person has injuries that require more than first aid.

✓ Within 10 days if the accident involves more than $500 damage, or the boat is a complete loss.

A vessel operator involved in an accident that causes damage to a moored boat or other property must notify the owner or person in charge of the property. If the operator can't locate the owner or person in charge of the property, the operator involved in the accident must leave a written notice in an easy-to-see place on the property damaged. This notice must give the name and address of the operator and of the owner of the vessel involved, and a statement describing what happened.

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