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Observer's / Quick Release Operator's Responsibilities

The observer has many responsibilities ranging from operating the quick release to changing handles and ropes for different skiers.  In general the observer is the boat driver’s extra eyes and chief assistant.  The boat driver may request you to look forward during a start so s/he can look at the skier or you may be asked to assist a sit skier back into the ski.  There is no way to list all the potential duties of this position but below are some of the more common responsibilities.

The observer watches the skier and keeps the driver informed of the skier’s progress and position.  The observer alerts the driver to approaching boats, obstacles or when the skier falls.  The observer must know and use the different types of communication signals (i.e., verbal, hand, head or whistle) and relay the signals to the driver.  In areas where a “skier down” flag is required, it is the observer’s task to raise the flag whenever the towrope is in the water or the skier has fallen.  It is advisable for the observer to wear a PFD and be prepared to enter the water if necessary. 

The observer is also the quick release operator and must be fully conversant with the operation of the quick release.  There are no brakes on a boat and it takes several seconds for a towboat to stop after a skier has fallen.  If your skier has gotten caught in his/her equipment s/he may be dragged under water for the length of time it takes the boat to stop.  It is therefore necessary to be capable of immediately disconnecting the skier from the towboat.  This is exactly what the quick release does.  It is important that the release operator does not hesitate to release the skier when a fall is imminent.  You can always apologize for releasing too early but you may not have the opportunity to apologize for releasing too late!


Specifics When Observing Single Arm Skiers

Many skiers with a single arm disability utilize an assistive device such as a Delgar Sling to help compensate for the lack of use of one arm.  You will need to attach the handle to the towrope and throw the rope/handle to the skier.  Although these special handles are supposed to have a “dead man” release (an automatic release of the handle from the towrope when the skier falls), a quick release from the boat must be used at all times someone is directly connected to the towrope.

Since the skier’s good hand is usually occupied by holding the handle, s/he will usually communicate with head signals.  When working with a skier that relies on head signals, it may be necessary to periodically repeat all the hand signals to the skier until an agreed upon “affirmative” head signal is indicated.


Specifics When Observing Visually Impaired Skiers

You must be familiar with the whistle signals for skiers with visual impairments.  Before the skier starts, go over these signals with him/her and make sure the skier doesn’t have a hearing impairment also.  If the skier does have a hearing impairment with a visual impairment a “line trap” (hitting the towrope) may be the only means of communication. 

If you are an observer for a new skier with a visual impairment try the “free to ski” (one short blast) and “return to the wake” (two short blasts) whistle signals as soon as it is safe to do so.  This will give you an idea of the response time that particular skier requires.  If you don’t get the expected response, give the ”release the handle and sit down” signal (one long blast) so you can discuss the signals.  If there is no response to the “sit down” signal, instruct the driver to stop.


Specifics When Observing For Sit Skiers

When observing for sit skiers you may be kept busy changing rope/handle combinations.  One skier may start with a rope in a starting block that requires a standard slalom handle with a large knot in the bridle.  Another may start using a deep “V” handle while a third uses a standard slalom handle in his/her hands.  Some programs use three handles and three ropes, and other programs switch the handles on a single rope.

Remember, whenever the rope is connected directly to the skier or ski, as when the starting block is used or whenever the sit skier uses a deep “V” handle, the quick release must be utilized.  The sit skier has the greatest chance of getting “caught up” in his/her equipment, and therefore you must be especially alert to the responsibilities of operating the release.

For skiers that are using the starting block to come up, it may be necessary to assist them in releasing the knot from the block.  Grab the towline and pull in a couple inches.  On a predetermined signal (a 1-2-3 countdown with your fingers) you will let go of your hold at the same time as the skier “snaps” the handle back.  The small amount of slack caused by your released “couple of inches of rope” combined with the skiers pull will usually free the knot from the block.  If after a few unsuccessful attempts at freeing the rope the skier still can’t release the knot it will be necessary to return to the start.

Sit skiers may be able to utilize hand signals or they may use head signals.  Be sure to clarify communication preferences with the skier.


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