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July 2013

Stay Safe on the Water This Summer

The tug of the tow line, the rush of the water beneath you. If you've ever tried water tubing, you probably agree that it can certainly be fun. It can also be hazardous. A recent study has documented an alarming rise in the number of water-tubing injuries. Being smart about boating can help you stay safe while water tubing this summer.

Waves of injuries

Water tubing is similar to skiing-sans the skis. Pulled behind a boat, you skim along in an inner tube or another floatable device. Unlike skiing, though, you don't have much control over your movements, including how you hit the water. That's often a contributing factor to many water-tubing injuries. Another leading reason for injuries: Colliding with others who are also enjoying the ride.

Photo of a person waterskiing

In the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, researchers analyzed data on the number of water-tubing injuries treated in U.S. emergency rooms from 1991 to 2009. During that timeframe, they noted a 190 percent increase in such injuries. They speculate the rise may be linked to the activity's growing popularity.

Nearly 60 percent of those injured while water tubing were ages 20 and older. The most common type of injury: a strain or sprain, followed by bruising. Upper parts of the body, including the head and neck, were most often hurt. Children were especially prone to head injuries-possibly because they are more likely to ride with and collide with another person. Adults were more likely to injure a knee or another lower body part.

Water-tubing tips

Although researchers have found an upsurge in water-tubing injuries, you shouldn't feel bound to the shore. You can help prevent many injuries related to tubing and other boating activities. Follow these safety tips:

  • Make sure everyone on the boat wears a properly fitted life jacket. It's the best way to protect against drowning. All life jackets should be in good condition and U.S. Coast Guard approved. If you plan to water tube, use a life jacket designed for such a high-speed activity.

  • Avoid alcohol and other drugs when on the water. They can impair your actions, making accidents more likely.

  • Check the condition of all tow lines before use. Make sure the lines aren't frayed or damaged. When towing more than one tube, ensure both lines are the same length to prevent crashing.

  • Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for any tubing equipment. Don't exceed the number of riders, any weight restrictions, or speed limits.

  • Confirm that your rider is ready. Don't start the boat until the rider has signaled it's OK to do so. Watch for any obstructions, such as boulders and buoys, while towing.

  • Obey all boating regulations, including speed limits. Slow down when crossing wakes or when towing more than one tube.

  • Assign a spotter to watch riders. He or she can quickly alert the driver in the event of a fall or accident.

  • Return immediately to a fallen rider. Approach carefully and shut off the engine when close to avoid hitting the person with the boat or the propeller.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.


Are you current on the basics of water safety? Find out with this quiz.


Online Resources

American College of Emergency Physicians - Swimming and Boating Safety Tips

CDC - Stay Safe While Boating

U.S. Coast Guard - Boating Safety Resource Center