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Water Starter Responsibilities

Water Starter’s Responsibilities

Water starters assist skiers in preparation for the start.  They assist a student with equipment, getting into his/her skis or cage, balancing while waiting for the boat, and “dragging” at the start.  Although any skier may require some help, the majority of a water starter’s responsibilities are associated with the sit skier.

The water starter always assesses the student’s water safety by observing the way the skier handles him/herself in the water.  If the student seems extremely apprehensive, a water safety test may be administered.  Check for proper PFD fit, making sure the vest doesn’t ride up over the student’s head.  Check for an understanding of the skier communication signals.

Most beginning sit skiers will require assistance getting into the cage and maintaining static balance (balancing in the ski while floating).  Have your student sit parallel to the ski with their feet pointing in the same direction as the ski tip while you move to the front of the ski.  In this position you can maintain eye contact with your skier, and manipulate the ski.

Take hold of the ski near the tip and turn it on its side with the cage facing the skier.  Have the student reach over the cage and place one hand on the edge of the ski that is at the surface of the water.  The skier’s other hand is used for sculling the surface of the water to maintain balance.  In a coordinated move you sink the ski in a scooping motion under the skier as he/she pushes up and over onto the cage.  The ski will float up and under the student.

Next assist the student to get his/her feet in the bindings.  Stay at the tip of the ski while the student practices maintaining static balance.  With you hands at the tip the student can see how much and when assistance with balance is given.

When the boat arrives, place the rope in the block (if appropriate) and walk your hands to the opposite end of the ski.  There are several ways to stabilize the ski in the start position (tip out of the water and ski at approximately a 45 degree angle to the waters surface).  Following are two of the more common start/drag positions:

1)   By floating with your PFD, lay out behind your skier,

  • hold the top of the rear upright (vertical) supports of the cage,
  • place your elbows on the tail of the ski and push down to bring the ski tip up,
  • at the start you can drag or extend your arms to gently let the ski be pulled away from you.
  • note that some starters feel this is an uncomfortable position or have trouble keeping their head
  • above water because they are floating too high above the tail to apply adequate pressure

2)   Place your hands on the top rails of the cage at the junction of the rear vertical supports,

  • put your knee or foot on the tail in order to raise the tip
  • on the “Hit It” signal, gently push down on the tail with your leg and extend your arms to smoothly let go.

The duration of the water starter’s hold depends on three things:

  • How the rope is connected.  If the skier is holding the rope in his/her hands, you must let go of the ski without adding any resistance to his/her pull.  (If you hold on, the skier is trying to resist the drag of both the ski and you.)  When the rope is attached to the starting block you are free to drag.
  • The coordination and balance skills of the skier.  If there are severe balance and coordination concerns, you will need to stay with your skier until they are on a full plane before releasing.
  • The type of ski.  A ski with outriggers will plane itself if it is straight at the start.  Other skis will require that you hold on a second or two longer to ensure that they are balanced.


Sometimes the easiest and best adapted grip device is to secure a ski a handle to the starting block.  Place the knotted handle in the starting block and wrap the long end of the rope (the end that goes to the tow boat) around the tip of the ski, behind the block, and back through the starting block.  The knotted handle will be held securely in the block by the pressure from the pull of the towboat.  It may be necessary to place a different knot in the rope to accommodate the skier’s need to hold the handle.  The skier is able to support him/herself by holding the handle without the chance of it releasing.  The secured handle can be used by the skier for support to prevent falling over the back of the cage.  This extra support can also be useful to assist the skier to lean in the direction s/he wishes to turn.

When a student does not have the cognitive ability to know when it is appropriate to pull the handle out of the starting block, there is a technique for locking the handle in front of the block, under the towrope.  Place the knotted bridle through the starting block with the knot behind the block as usual.  Take the handle and place it in front of the block under the towline.  The pressure from the towboat will keep the handle in place and out of the reach of your student.  This handle placement will not affect the starting block.

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