Water Skiing Speed: How Many Miles per Hour Is Best?

Boat Speeds for Different Water Sports

Did you know different boat speeds are better suited for some types of water skiing activities? Below is an overview of what you should know before setting your speed and exactly how fast your boat should travel while water skiing, wakeboarding, kneeboarding, barefooting, or jump and trick skiing.

What to Know Before Setting Your Water Skiing Speed

Water skiing is not just a matter of having the right skis and a towboat traveling at the right speed — there are various factors that will affect the sport and your skiing experience.

 

Towboat. Ensure that the boat you are using to tow a skier is capable of maintaining the proper speeds required and is equipped with a ski rope and handle. The recommended length of a tow rope is about 75 feet to make it sufficiently long for maneuvering. 

Many recreational boats such as bowriders, deckboats, cuddy cabins, and jetboats used for cruising and fishing can also serve as water skiing platforms. Some ski boats may have v-drives (motors in the back of the boat) especially designed to create bigger wakes.

For competition skiing, specially designed towboats are required as most towboats have small hulls and flat bottoms to minimize wake. Tournament ski boats will reach much faster speeds and have direct drive motor shafts that center the weight of the boats for an optimal wake shape.  ​

Safety. Water skiing can be a very dangerous sport. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The skier must know how to swim.
  • A specially designed life jacket or ski vest is a requirement for the skier — they allow for movement while still providing floatation for an injured skier.
  • Calmer waters are ideal for recreational water skiing and there must be enough space for the water skier to safely get up in the upright skiing position.
  • You should have sufficient skiing space of at least 200 feet wide and the water should be at least five to six feet deep. Your towboat should be at least 100 feet from the docks, swim areas, and the shore.
  • Skiers and their boat drivers must also have enough room to avoid any hazards.
  • A driver and an observer must be in the towboat at all times when a water skier is being towed. The driver maintains a steady course and looks out for any obstacles to the skier while the observer continually watches the skier and lets the driver know of the conditions of the skier.
  • Before going out onto the water, the skier and observer discuss and agree on hand-signals for stop, speed up, turn, I'm OK, and so on for easy communication.

Skier Variances. Keep in mind that the following speeds are suggested speeds for an adult of average height and not meant for children. A child on two skis would require speeds of 13–16 mph, whereas an adult on one ski might require as high as 36 mph. Speeds vary with the skier's weight, experience level, comfort level, and type of skis being used and type of water skiing being done.

Boat Speeds by Water Activity

Suggested speeds for a recreational towboat are provided in the chart below:

ActivityBoat Speed
Combo Skiing25 mph
Slalom Skiing19-36 mph
Shaped Skiing20-30 mph
Wakeboarding16-19 mph
Kneeboarding16-19 mph
Barefooting30-45 mph
Jump Skiing24-35 mph
Ski Racing60-130 mph
Trick Skiing11-21 mph
Tubing8-25 mph