Water Toys and Inflatables & Towables for Your Boat

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Whether you water ski, wakeboard, barefoot, or just like to go boating, towables are a must-have for a true water sports experience and family fun. New designs, materials and features have allowed tubing to cover the spectrum from cruising securely with family and friends to a hi-tech, thrill-seeking extreme sport. Multi-rider models now allow friends and family to ride together and share in the thrills. It is essential that you select a towable that fits with your family's needs, skill level and expectations. Tubing is the number one water sports activity and no matter what skill levels you possess, the fun will be enjoyed by all.

Understanding Towable Materials

Nylon is used in most covers for towables. Nylon comes in many different weights or thicknesses referred to as denier. The larger the denier number the stronger the nylon will be. Higher denier numbers usually are used on more expensive towables or ones that are designed for multiple riders.

  • 420 denier is typically used on less expensive or single rider towables. It is lighter and thinner and should only be considered when purchasing a single rider towable.
  • 840 denier is the heaviest nylon used in towables. It is not only heavier but stronger and used primarily in more expensive, larger towables.

A 600 denier polyester coated with PVC is as strong as 840 denier nylon. "Solution dyed" polyester is commonly used for boat lift canopies and awnings for buildings, due to its improved color retention and non-fading properties. Towables using these "treated polyesters" will exhibit good durability and sun fade resistance.

  • 600 denier "treated polyester" is found in place of nylon on 1- and 2-rider towables.

PVC (Vinyl)
PVC is not only the coating used on the bottom of some of the new towables, but is also what all of the bladders or inner tubes are made of. PVC comes in several thicknesses which are measured by gauge. PVC comes in several colors and is easily shaped to match perfectly within its covers. All the PVC used in towables is considered heavy duty (24-gauge to 30-gauge). In contrast, PVC used in inexpensive pool toys or "Slip and Slides" would be considered standard or light duty material (10-gauge to 14-gauge).

Neoprene is a soft, four-way stretch nylon or polyester material covering a soft foam layer. Neoprene is primarily used in wetsuits but is also used as a soft covering over nylon or polyester towable covers. It provides added comfort and helps prevent skin chaffing in high-rub areas. These areas are under the handles, knees, ankles, head, and elbows. Neoprene is expensive and therefore is used primarily in more expensive towables.

Determining What Shape Fits Your Needs

Towables come in a variety of shapes and sizes. These shapes help determine how the towable performs on the water. Other contributing factors to performance are boat driving and body position. The following are descriptions of tube shapes and performance characteristics when the boat is driven appropriately and safely.

Round donut style towable with partial cover
This is the oldest shape and most economically priced towable on the market. Originally designed as a single-rider tube, it now comes in several sizes and multi-rider configurations. For adults, it is a lay-on-top towable that is extremely easy to get outside the wake, but it also tends to roll over quite easily due to its small footprint and high center of gravity. For children, it is somewhat uncomfortable to ride, due to the hole in the center that can be too small to sit in and for younger children, too big to lay on. Recommendation: Priced right for a first-time buy, but not recommended for young children, due to the tippiness and ride comfort.

Deck Tubes
Deck tubes are flat, lay-on-top towables that are round, D-shaped, or delta shaped in design. They hold anywhere from 1 up to 4 riders. Deck tubes are usually fully covered and provide an exciting experience in tubing due to the fact that they cross the wakes easily and your face is close to the water, giving you the true feeling of speed. Deck tubes can flip over easily due to the large flat surface exposed to the air when going over bumps and during whip turns. Body position is critical for staying on board as long as possible. Recommendation: Best for teenagers and young adults, looking for the thrill of speed, and the challenge of trying to stay on the tube.

"Ride-In" Tubes
"Ride-in" tubes come in a variety of shapes and sizes and accommodate anywhere from 1 up to 4 riders. "Ride-in" means the rider sits down inside the towable similar to sitting inside of a small boat. Many models come with inflated floors or seating areas, which provide comfort and dryness for the rider. Some of the more expensive versions feature neoprene padded head rests and fully nylon-covered sides and floors. "Ride-in" tubes provide the feeling of comfort and security while still producing a thrilling experience for the riders. They are usually difficult to tip due to the low center of gravity. Recommendation: Best for young children to adults who prefer dryness and comfort over exhilaration and potential roll overs.

"Ride-On" Tubes
"Ride-on" tubes also come in a variety of shapes and sizes and accommodate anywhere from a single rider up to 6 riders. "Ride-on" means the rider sits on top of the towable either straddling the fuselage in a torpedo design or sitting in a recumbent position. Torpedo shaped towables are designed for multiple riders and follow predominantly behind the boat. These tubes offer the least amount of whip but can be somewhat "tippy" due to their long narrow shape and high center of gravity. Recumbent style tubes come in D-shaped versions and provide the thrill of a deck tube with the rider remaining in the seated upright position and the head and back areas supported. Recommendation: Torpedo-styled "Ride-on" tubes are recommended for multiple riders to enjoy being towed with all their friends. Recumbent styled "Ride-on" tubes are recommended for thrill seakers looking for whip while seated in a supported, upright position.

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"Rocker" Designed Tubes
Rocker designed tubes are towables that flow upward from side to side, creating a rocker effect on the water. There are two types of "Rocker" designs.

The first is a continuous rocker which flows evenly from side to side like a "U" shape.

The second is called a 3-stage rocker which has turned up wings and a flat area under which the riders lay or sit. These tubes are thrill rides that in extreme whips will actually ride up on the wings but yet seldom roll over. These tubes are typically very stable when airborne over a wake, which makes for a thrilling ride with fewer spills. These designs come in all 3 configurations "ride-on", "ride-in", and "lay-on". These are new concept tubes that produce an exhilarating ride without losing the riders. Recommendation: For all rider types of any age or ability.

Concept Tubes
Concept tubes are towables designed for specific performance criteria. Concept towables can fly, roll, or produce some type of unique experience. Concept tubes are normally more expensive and are limited to one or two specific experiences. Recommendation: Best for extreme riders looking for a unique thrill that cannot be provided by other towables.

Driving Instructions

Unlike water skis or wakeboards, which are controlled by the rider, towables are reliant upon the boat driver exclusively. The boat driver creates the experience by changing direction which in turn causes the towable to go in the opposite direction due to centrifugal force. The boat driver needs to follow certain rules to make sure the tube riders are safe, surrounding boats, tubers and skiers are safe, and that they are not scared out of their minds.

1. Make sure you have legal seating on your boat for each rider in the towable.

2. Select a safe area in which to tow your water tube. There should always be a minimum of 100-feet of unobstructed water on either side of the boat to allow for the tube to swing from side to side. There should be at least 3,000 feet of unobstructed water in front of your boat.

3. Towing speeds should never exceed 15mph for children and 20mph for adults.

4. Choose a direction by locating a point on the opposite shore and drive toward that point. This means even though the boat turns from right to left, it is consistently going in the direction of that original point of land.

5. To produce the whip effect, if so desired, make long, 45 degree sweeping turns while keeping constant pressure on the tube and tow rope. Never start accelerating into a new turn while there is slack rope. This will cause whip lash to the riders and put tremendous strain on the towable and tow rope. The driver needs to accelerate as the boat turns to the right and continue accelerating until the tube crosses the wake, at which time the driver decelerates and lets the tube continue its path until the rope tightens before turning to the left. Remember, a tube in a whip will travel much faster than the boat itself. Always decelerate the boat after the towable has crossed out of the wake!

6. When turning the boat around to pick up fallen tubers or simply to go in a different direction, always make a large gentle turn with no acceleration. It is advised as a courtesy to other boaters that you maintain a general direction while pulling tubes. Make obvious to other boaters your directional intent so they can predict where you are going and adjust their path accordingly.

7. Discuss and coordinate hand signals between driver and rider(s) so there is clear communication during the ride.

8. In addition to the driver, you should always have one additional person in the boat with a ski flag. This person's job is to watch the towable at all times. If riders fall out, he/she will use the flag to signal other vessels to stay clear until all riders have been picked up.

Tow Ropes

1. Tow ropes, or more commonly referred to as tube ropes, are specifically designed with higher break strengths and less stretch than standard water ski ropes. These ropes are recommended by the WSIA (Water Sports Industry Association) and are designed for the number of riders the tube is designed to pull. In other words, purchase a two person tube rope for a tube that is designed to pull two people, a three person tube rope for a tube that is designed for three people and so on. Never pull a multi-rider towable with a rope that is not recommended for the size of the tube, no matter how many people you have on board!

2. Tube ropes should be a minimum of 50' in length and should not exceed 65'.

3. Tube ropes should have a loop at both ends for quick connection and should never be tied to a towable or boat harness.

Tube Tow Rope Specifications & Guidelines

WARNING: Always check with the manufacturer of your specific towable product for tow rope specifications. Offered here as a GENERAL GUIDE ONLY are the WSIA (Water Sport Industry Association) recommendations.

Number of Riders Weight of Riders Rope Tensile Strength
One 170 lbs 1500 lbs
Two 340 lbs 2375 lbs
Three 510 lbs 3350 lbs
Four 680 lbs 4100 lbs