When the sun appears and the temperature soars, the water beckons and calls like a siren's song until it becomes irresistible. The lakes, rivers, and bays are dotted with boats, many of them pulling towable tubes behind them.
There's something about these towable boat tubes that seems to bring out the kid in nearly all of us who love the water. Maybe it's the bright, fun colors and graphics splashed across the surfaces of these towables. Or the imaginative--and sometimes even slightly wacky--shapes and designs of the towables tubes themselves.
Types of Towable Boat Tubes
After all, what could be wackier than a full-tilt wild ride through the water on a hot dog? If you're not ready to get quite that crazy but still want something different, you could always tone it down a bit with a fighter jet towable tube, or blast off aboard a space shuttle.
For those who always wondered what it would be like to ride a dolphin as it speedily cuts through the water, look no further than this friendly-looking towable tube. For the person who thinks a dolphin might be a touch too cliche, try riding a salamander instead.
Looking for something a bit more mainstream? How about a nice triangular boat tube, or a round one? There are also towables tubes that are somewhat akin to pool loungers.
Airhead is an extremely popular brand not only for towable tubes for boating (and their accessories), but also for pool loungers and even snow tubes. Airhead even makes a floating cornhole game for the pool. Who needs Marco Polo?
But for all the fun shapes and artistic colors and designs, the main reason many water-lovers go for these towable boat tubes is the need for speed. The sensation of speed seems amplified to the person skimming over smooth water on a towable tube and can be quite exciting. Add a slight chop or some waves and the thrill can accelerate exponentially.
Another great thing about boat tubes is you don't have to possess any athletic ability whatsoever, unlike with other water sports. Age isn't much of a factor either, depending on the water, the tube, and speed. Even little ones and their great-grandparents can enjoy a slow ride on serene water while sitting in a stable two or three-person towable tube like the Mach 2 Double Rider or the Mach 3 Triple Rider.
Best Towable Tubes for Safety and Comfort
The best towable tubes are constructed with durable materials, sport a reinforcing cover of some type, provide comfort with strong handholds, and allow easy water entry for the riders. Mounting a towable is where the fun starts, and how easy or difficult it is for passengers to climb aboard is something to consider.
One of the first things to think about when looking at towable tubes is the riders. How many might you have at any given time, what ages are they, and what experience (if any) do they have riding towables? To help you decide, we'll take a look at several types of tubes.
Ride-In - Small children should have a cockpit style tube that they can sit down inside of and be encircled, rather than the type of tube you sit or lie on top of. Especially if they're new to tubing, being able to sit in a well and having handles to grip will help them feel safer and more in control. And since the cockpit design makes these tubes more stable, parents will feel better about letting their little ones go for a ride.
Two highly-rated cockpit style boat tubes are the Airhead Mach 2 and Mach 3, which carry two and three riders respectively. Small children and their parents are not the only ones who will appreciate the stability and lack of hair-raising rides in a cockpit style. Anyone of any age who is new to the sport or is not an adrenaline junkie will love these.
Banana Style - These towables are long and narrow, and designed to be sat upon and straddled, like riding a horse. Or a hot dog. Yes, that hot dog tube mentioned earlier, as well as the salamander and dolphin, are banana style tubes.
This style is great for pontoon boats because they don't need a lot of speed to get started. As with any towable tube style, find out from the manufacturer what their speed recommendations are, as this style is not as stable as the ride-in type, plus it's easy for unwary riders to bang their heads together.
Donut - This is the original style tube, modeled after the old-school car or truck inner tubes. Unlike their predecessors these have a floor, and while many of these are built for one rider, some can carry two. You might even find a three-person tube, and Airhead makes some that will hold up to four riders.
Because of their smaller size (at least the one-rider type) and the high center of gravity, donut tubes tend to flip fairly easily, so keep that in mind when shopping for towables tubes. For some people, getting tossed into the water is half the fun...for others, not so much. Not recommended for young children.
But not all the donut types are your traditional donut. Think two donuts, or even three, all joined tightly together in a delicious line, and this is what you'll get with these two and three rider donut water tubes.
Deck Style - At the opposite end from the ride-in / cockpit style place in the towable tube spectrum are the deck style tubes, which may not be best for the uninitiated--unless the uninitiated is an adrenaline junkie with fairly strong arms. These are the sleek, fast race boats of the tubing world.
Lie face-down, hold on as tight as you can, and pray that your driver is not also an adrenaline junkie. Because deck tubes are large and flat, they tend to flip easily after hitting a wake or wave. But for many thrill-seekers, falling off is a blast, and anyway that large flat surface makes it easy to climb back on.
What's That Combination Called?
Hybrids - Although there are other styles out there in the world of tubing, the purpose of this article is to introduce the basics to those new to the sport. So, the last style we'll focus on here are those assorted tubes that many refer to as hybrids, as they combine two or more features of different styles. Triangular donuts,deck style-lounge chair combos, and more.
Airhead's Great Big Mable is a giant deck-style tube with a supportive backrest that makes it look and feel like a pool lounger, and has seating for up to four riders. For a tube with a bit more of a thrill ride while keeping the comfort, try the Chariot Warbird Two-Rider. Dual tow points let you either sit back in comfort or turn around and kneel against the backrest.
If you like the Chariot Warbird but need a three-person towable tube, never fear, the Warbird's big brother of the same name will fill the bill. Lounger-type tube not for you? If you want more of a thrill yet a bit more than the simple design of the deck-style towable tubes, check out the Poparazzi.
Its high winged shape with a rocker bottom allows riders to carve into the wake and glide across the water’s surface with minimal drag. When the boat makes a turn, the rider on the inside will teeter deep into the wake, while the other rider rises up high above. The Poparazzi is very popular and highly rated.
Towables tubes are made up of a bladder, which is the tube itself, a cover, handles, valve, and one or more tow points. Bladders are made of PVC and the thickness is measured in G, or Gauge, most of which seems to run between 24 G and 30 G. The larger the tube and the more riders it carries, the thicker the gauge.
Don't worry if the tube you're contemplating has a combination of gauges. This is normal and common for tubes that have more than one air chamber, as it keeps both the weight and the cost down. The main bladder where the riders sit takes the most abuse and may be 30 G while the seat backs, fins, or side flaps may have 24 G.
Bladders are covered with tough nylon material, with the thickness and weight measured in deniers. 420 denier is good and may be all you need; on the other hand, a monster tube that carries several riders and takes a beating on the waves may boast 840. This is the ultra-tough stuff.
A good quality tube will have neoprene knuckle guards underneath the handles, and the really comfortable tubes also offer EVA padding where you sit, kneel, or lie. When you're spending the day hanging on for dear life and being bumped (or even slammed) over waves and wakes, you'll appreciate this extra protection.
Boston valves or speed safety valves will let you inflate and deflate your tube quickly (to deflate a Boston, simply untwist the entire valve), so you can spend more time on the water. These valves are designed to not let the air out while inflating, which saves a lot of frustration.
Accessories for Towable Tubes
Don't forget the pump--you're going to need it! Portable pumps for tubes range from manual pumps to portable electrical units. Bear in mind that a towable must be inflated to the correct pressure to function properly.
Everyone knows they can't get far on these things without a tow rope, but what everyone doesn't know is that special ropes designed just for towable tubes must be used. And there are different tow ropes made for different sized tubes and the maximum weight of the riders.
Also, towables produce a large amount of resistance in the water, which reduces during planing. The forces created prior to planing are huge and are transferred to the tube and to the boat. Therefore, towables tubes such as a three-person tube or larger, requires a much stronger tow rope and hardware than for a small tube for one or two riders.
Never attempt to use wakeboard, water ski, or knee boarding ropes to pull towable tubes! These ropes are not designed to pull the same amount of weight and resistance, and don't have the same tensile strength as tubing ropes. This chart from Airhead should be of help when deciding on tow rope.
Also, inspect your tow rope before each use and don't use rope that is frayed, sun damaged, or has knots in it. As for the length, the rope must be a minimum of 50 feet and maximum of 65 feet.
Finally, if you'd like to keep your tow rope up out of the water and give your tube riders a more comfortable ride, consider using a Booster Ball. This football-shaped accessory is designed to make your day of tubing even better. Modeled after an inflatable buoy, a tow rope is connected to both ends. This helps keep the rope elevated, which reduces drag and adds visibility.
It also increases tube performance because it acts like a shock absorber, minimizing drag and boosting your boat's fuel economy. Plus, it reduces spray in the rider's face. And by reducing stress on the tube itself and its cover, it can help extend the life of the tube.
Finally, a booster ball helps to keep the tow rope out of the wake, saving wear and tear on the rope which may make it last longer, as well.
Play It Safe
You didn't think you'd get out of here without a safety lesson now, did you? Of course not, because a fun time is a safe time, and no one wants to end their day on the water on crutches or in a wheelchair. Or worse.
Make sure your tube is properly inflated. The basics of this are that the tube should feel very firm and there should be no wrinkles in the cover. It should fit like a second skin. However, make sure you check the manufacturer's direction for proper inflation of your individual tube.
Don't start off with a lead foot. Keep the tube inside the wake until the riders are situated and comfortable with the ride. If the front of the tube dips down into the water (submarining), have them sit back farther or lean back. Then if the way is clear, you can accelerate until the tube is moving over the wake as you try a few gentle S-curves.
Develop hand signals with your riders for speeding up, slowing down, stopping, and zigzagging over the wake. Keep physics in mind: a fast turn at 20 mph that causes the tube to whip around will mean that the tube is whipping at about 55 mph. This is a very dangerous stunt in high-traffic areas or with new or very young riders.
The driver should have a rear-view mirror and a spotter, who in turn should have a "rider down" flag for when someone lands in the water. When someone falls in, the driver should immediately throttle down, then slowly approach the fallen rider on the driver's side so that the rider can be seen. At this point the driver should cut the engine before the rider swims up to the boat.
And speaking of visibility, remember all those whimsical graphics and blazing colors we mentioned earlier? Those bright colors are there for a very important reason besides eye candy. They make the boat tube stand out on the water so that it's easy to see.
Drivers should be aware at all times of what's around them: other boats, other towables, swimmers, skiers, boarders, docks, pilings, and objects in the water.
There are plenty of options out there for kids of all ages and are usually broken down into Infant, Child, and Youth. There are even life jackets that will hold the child's head up if they fall into the water; these are the Type II's. Be sure to consult the fitting charts provided to ensure a good fit for your child and yourself.
There's nothing quite like spending a hot, sunny day zipping through the water on a towable tube, even if your idea of "zipping" is a bit more sedate. The great thing about these tubes is they can be used in a variety of different ways, from the very young to the very old, the super-athletic to the absolutely not-athletic.
They're even perfect for those who don't want any excitement on the water at all, because they make amazing pool loungers to chill out and sip cold drinks, or even take a nap in (just don't forget the sunscreen). So grab yourself a tube and get out there on the water!