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Fun on the Water: A Guide to Watersports
written by Keith Sutton

Like all outdoor activities, watersports and fishing require that the participants learn and follow certain rules of safety.
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Rule No. 1: Buy a life jacket and be sure you wear it on the water.

For millions of Americans, there's no better way to have relax and have a good time than heading for the nearest lake, river, or beach for some fun on -- and in -- the water. Most of us live near a body of water where we can enjoy fishing, swimming, snorkeling, water skiing, tubing, and other delightful pastimes. But not all of us have the information we need to start participating in a safe, well-informed manner. That's the reason for this guide.


Safety First

of the sports we're about to discuss can be safe and fun for the whole family. Like all outdoor activities; however, watersports and fishing require that the participants learn and follow certain rules of safety.


Rule No. 1: Buy a personal flotation device (life jacket) for each person in your party, and be sure they wear it. Proper use of PFDs is the best way to protect yourself, your family and your friends. And you should use PFDs for all the activities we're about to discuss.


Rule No. 2: Before participating in any water-oriented activity, including all of those mentioned here, study and learn the proper precautions that will allow you to have an enjoyable, injury-free outing. Many businesses, organizations, and government agencies provide safety courses for boaters, fishermen, skiers, and other recreationist. Attend a course near you and learn what it takes to be a safe participant.


Rule No. 3: Read all the instructions and safety tips that come with the equipment you buy and use. Knowing how to use your gear properly will go a long ways toward preventing accidents.



If you're just learning one of these activities, and you're not sure yet if it's your cup of tea, you might want to consider renting or borrowing the necessary equipment for your first few trips, or joining friends or family members who can share their gear and expertise. If you want to learn water skiing, for example, you wouldn't want to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a new boat and motor, skis, and other equipment until you are certain this is something you'll enjoy. Accompany someone you know who already knows the ropes and get a taste of the experience first. Or find an experienced instructor who can teach you all the basics for a reasonable fee.


Even when starting activities such as snorkeling or fishing, which don't require expensive gear, you may want to borrow or rent equipment in the beginning until you have a clear understanding of all your basic needs. Many libraries have programs where fishing tackle donated by manufacturers can be checked out for several days just like checking out a book. Athletic clubs, swimming organizations, hotels and resorts often have watersports equipment to loan to their members and guests. You might want to try it out first -- then think about purchasing equipment of your own.


Some good quality mask-and-snorkel sets can be purchased for a very reasonable price.



Few things are more fun than donning a swim mask and snorkel and checking out life beneath the water. If the water clarity at the location you visit is fair to excellent, you should be able to see a variety of fishes and perhaps other underwater residents such as turtles, frogs and crayfish. Best of all, perhaps, this is an activity very well suited to family involvement. The kids will enjoy it as much as you.


you need to get started is a mask that fits properly, a good snorkel (which attaches to the strap of the mask) and perhaps some swim fins for your feet which will help you move about on top of and under the water with greater ease. You'll probably want PFDs, too, at least for the younger participants, and some waterproof sunblock to keep the rays of ol' Sol at bay.


If possible, try on the mask before you purchase it to be sure it seals tightly around your face so water won't leak in. And when purchasing a snorkel, you should buy one with a one-way valve that prevents water from entering the top of the tube and going into your mouth. Some good quality mask-and-snorkel sets can be purchased for a very reasonable price from sporting goods dealers and dive shops.


Most snorkeling takes place in very shallow water. The best advice is to start slow until you get the hang of breathing through that little skinny tube. The snorkel has a mouthpiece that you bite down on, then you swim horizontally along the water's surface and look down below and see what you can see. Stay in water you can stand up in until you feel comfortable breathing through the snorkel, then move into progressively deeper water if you like, being sure to follow all safety precautions like staying clear of areas where boats are zipping around.

As your level of expertise increases, you can learn how to dive beneath the water's surface for a closer-to-the-bottom look, then come back up and clear the snorkel so you can continue your adventure.



A tube can be one of the most enjoyable water toys fit for all ages. People with little or plenty of behind-the-boat skills can hop on and experience a thrilling ride.


My tubing experiences began during a boating trip with friends several years ago. Children from both families accompanied us on this weekend vacation. Some of the children were too young or too small to strap on my buddy's water skis, but they wanted desperately to be involved in the activities. So we rented a tube at one of the local marinas. This turned out to be the perfect solution for entertaining the youngsters, much easier than pulling a rookie skier out of the water. One of the kids (in a PFD, of course) would climb aboard the tube, we'd give the boat some gas, and the fun began.


There are two basic types of tubes: single rider tubes and multi-rider tubes. As the name states, a single rider tube accommodates only one rider. Single rider tubes tend to be high performance tubes. These tubes are more maneuverable -- they're better suited for tricks, jumping, flying, and high speeds.

Be aware that multi-rider tubes also require use of a heavy-duty towline and a heavy-duty towing harness.

Single rider tubes also tend to be more affordable and easier to store. Single rider tubes can safely use standard strength ski tube towing line and a standard towing harness.


Multi-rider tubes can accommodate 2-6 people, depending on design. These tubes are inherently larger, slower and heavier than single rider models. Multi-rider tubes are great for families that want to slowly pull a group of kids. They're also good for a group of sociable adults who just want to play around. Multi-rider water tubes are larger, more expensive, and bulkier to store.

Be aware that multi-rider tubes also require use of a heavy-duty towline and a heavy-duty towing harness. Careful attention to equipment weight and stress limitations is required. Without heavy duty lines, the towrope will snap. The snapped line may fly back like a whip and injure the riders.


Additional safety tips you should know:


  • Always read warning indicators on the tube before you begin to check on weight, age, and speed limits and requirements.
  • Be constantly aware of oncoming boat traffic. Never start to zig-zag your boat with another boat approaching. The oncoming boat driver may not see the tube you are pulling and mistake you for a reckless or out-of-control driver. Allow the boat to pass before you start turning from side to side.
  • Be aware of obstacles on each side of you so that you do not sling your tuber into a dock, another boat or some hazardous object.
  • When driving over boat wakes, slow your speed, especially if your tuber is laying stomach-down on the tube. Excessive bouncing can cause back injury.
  • It is preferred for your rider to ride stomach down. If they ride in a sitting position, as speed increases, so does the chance of the tuber's knees bouncing into their head.
  • And finally, never tube without a life vest.
  • A good way for riders to get used to a new tube is to first experiment with it away from your boat. Use it in a swimming pool or near shore. See how it sits. See how easily it tips over. Practice climbing aboard as if boarding after a fall. Float around and enjoy it. This will give you a better idea what the tube will do in different situations. You'll feel more confident with it and better be able to control it when it's behind your boat. Playing with the tube in advance of towing is especially helpful to children.


Learning to ski on your own is not too difficult for most people.

Water Skiing

On sunny days in summer, it seems like every lake, river, and bay with a smooth patch of water has water-skiers on it, their feet fastened to shaped planks of fiberglass or wood so they can zoom along in a rush of joy. The uninitiated may see this sport as something reserved for daredevils and adrenaline junkies, but water skiing is actually a fun and safe activity that's easy to get started in.

Before you begin, you need to know that safe water skiing always requires at least three people: the skier, the boat operator and an observer who knows all the proper hand signals. Attending a safe boating course will help you learn all the particulars, so make it a point to get your certification before you head to the lake.


You also may want to consider learning correct and safe water-skiing techniques from a qualified instructor. The instructor will teach you how to hold the towline, how to "get up" on skis while keeping your balance and how to control your skis. Learning on your own, however, is not too difficult for most people. Young people, old people, men and women all use the same basic principles to get up on skis. Here are a few basics to get you started:


Put on your PFD first. Then begin by putting one ski on each foot and holding the skis straight up with the tips pointing out of the water. Your knees should be bent, and the rope should be out in front of you.


When you're ready, give the boat driver the thumbs up, which is the signal to gun the engine and pull you up out of the water. As you feel the boat pull, keep your arms out straight and your knees slightly bent.


When you feel the skis start to plane out, try to stand up. Keep your arms straight out and locked at all times; when you're up, keep your knees in that slightly bent position so your legs will absorb any bumps or shocks.


As a beginner, you'll want to stay inside the boat's wake where the water is likely to be smooth no matter what the condition of the surface water elsewhere. Later, as you become more experienced, you can try to go back and forth over the wake to add thrills to your ride. As your skills continue improving, you can work on your turns and add new tricks to your repertoire so you can really impress your friends.



When you're not doing all those other fun activities at the lake, you may want to try some fishing. First, be sure you know the local fishing regulations and buy a fishing license. Folks at the local tackle shop or marina should be able to help, or contact your state fisheries department. These people also can provide tips you'll need to catch certain kinds of fish as well, such as the best bait to use, the right size hooks, the best lures, the best time of year and so forth.


The equipment you'll need can be quite simple and inexpensive. You might want to start out with just a cane pole or long fiberglass pole, some fishing line, a few hooks and sinkers, a bobber or two and some baits such as crickets, worms or minnows. Cut a piece of fishing line as long as the pole. Tie the line to the tip of the pole and a hook to the other end of the line. A small sinker, called a "split shot," is squeezed on the line above the hook. The sinker makes it easier to swing the bait out into the water and keeps the bait under the surface. You may also want to use a bobber or float. By moving the bobber up or down the line, you can change the depth of your bait in the water. With a pole and line, you can fish along the shore where many fish often live.


Spincasting equipment also is good for beginning anglers, including children. A spincasting reel has a push-button release on it that is easy to use. Tie a lure on the line, or a bobber/sinker/hook rig with bait, push the button and hold it, bring the rod back behind your head, then as you bring the rod forward to cast, you release the button and your rig soars out into the water in front of you. It may take a little practice, but you'll soon be casting like a champ. And with a little luck, maybe you'll have some fresh fish for dinner!


Of course, snorkeling, tubing, water skiing, and fishing are just a few of the many fun activities you can enjoy on the water. You may also want to try sailing, canoeing, surfing, kayaking, scuba diving or any one of the dozens of other water-oriented activities that add spice to a day on your favorite body of water.


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