DNR official warns about tow rope danger

This article submitted on 8/16/00.

Two similar but separate fatal boating accidents during the last month are prompting safety officials to warn boat passengers to avoid sitting behind a ski rope tow pylon while a boat is pulling inner tubes or other devices.

Two victims died after being struck by a tripod that is fastened to the deck of their boats and used as an anchor to fasten water-ski and inner-tube tow ropes.

Both were killed when the boats, in which they were passengers, turned and the inflatable tow tubes dug into the water, straining the pole to which the tow rope was tied. The force ripped the fastening screws out of the floorboards and the poles rocketed toward the rear of the boat, where the victims were seated.

Both victims were struck by this flying pole and killed.

"When skiers fall, they generally release the tow rope right away so there isn't as much force pulling on the pole, noted Tim Smalley, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources boating safety specialist. "But inner tubes and similar devices are tied to the tow rope. When an inflatable tube digs into the water after hitting a wake or during a turn, the strain on the rope can be great enough to pull the bolts or screws right out of the boat's deck or floorboards. The tripod and pole then become a missile heading toward the rear of the boat. If someone is seated back there, the results can be deadly."

When pulling skiers, inner tubers or other devices, the DNR recommends that no one sit behind where the rope is tied. Also, the screws, bolts, and floorboards where a ski rope is fastened should be carefully inspected for loosening or rotting.

"With repeated wetting down, especially in older boats, floorboards may experience some decay. Rotted floorboards are not strong enough to withstand the pressures generated by towing a tube or skier," Smalley warned.

Smalley also recommends that boat owners who add after-market tow pylons follow the manufacturer's installation instructions and not let passengers ride behind the point where the tow rope is attached.

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