Ski Talk: Water-skiing Hand Signals

By Chris Landers

Hand signals are the critical language of water-skiing, wakeboarding, and other boat-towed sports.

In 1922, a teenager named Ralph Samuelson strapped a couple of pine boards to his feet and got a boat to drag him through the water of Lake Pepin, Minnesota, becoming the inventor of waterskiing. The new sport grew quickly with the rise of family powerboating, and at last count (the U.S. Coast Guard's 2011 recreational boating survey), roughly a third of U.S. boaters went water-skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing during the course of a year. If you're new to the sport, don't expect to perfect the human pyramid your first time out — you'll be lucky if you stand up — but you must learn the hand signals to communicate with the spotter and the driver of the boat. There aren't many signals (you aren't negotiating a peace treaty here), but knowing them will make your outing go more smoothly and be more fun.

First of all, when the skier is still floating in the water, and the driver and spotter are getting ready to go, verbal communicationis important. The spotter should call, "Ready?" and the skier should respond, "Hit it" or "Wait." Never use the words "go" or "no" as they sound too much alike over the roar of the engines. The driver will have his or her eyes on the path ahead, and the spotter will have eyes on the skier. So the following signals are an important part of a great, safe day of watersports. Review them with your crew while everyone is still in the boat.

Waterski signal for back in boat illustration

Get Me Back In The Boat:

Skier pats head.

Waterski signal for back in boat illustration

I'm OK:

Arms in a circle, fingertips touching.

Waterski signal: make another loop illustration

Make Another Loop:

Skier's arm up, making circles.

Waterski signal: Done illustration

I'm Done:

Skier uses hand to slice across neck.

Waterski signal: Go left illustration

Go Left:

Point left.

Waterski signal: Go right illustration

Go Right:

Point right.

Waterski signal: Go faster illustration


Thumb up.

Waterski signal: Go slower illustration


Thumb down.

Waterski signal: Speed just right illustration

Just Right:

Skier makes the OK symbol.

Waterski signal: Injured skier

Possible Injury:

Skier not moving in water.

Waterski spotter signal: Go around

Spotter: Turning Around:

Arm up, making circles.

Waterski spotter signal: Stay behind the boat

Spotter: Stay Behind The Boat:

Arm up, making circles.

— Published: August/September 2014

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