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Southern Boating LP

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Water Sports Accessories

Guarantee your family’s fun with the right water toys and accessories.

My friend with perfectly coiffed hair expected a leisurely water tube ride and thought her golden locks would stay dry. The three-person tube was huge, and she figured as long as the speeds were low, she was safe. The trouble was it was her brother’s boat, her brother was driving and getting dunked is just how the tube thing goes. It’s slow at first, then faster and bumpier, widening arcs, the towline sweeping from side to side, and once outside the wake, that final launch and over she goes. Back on the boat she’s a dripping mess—she has lots of hair—but smiling ear to ear. “What fun!” she said.

Yes, water toys are fun and they range from tubes to wakeboards, water skis, and kneeboards. Here’s a look at the latest and greatest ways to have a good time on the water.

Tubes

Tubes encompass a wide range of styles, from ones you ride to floating lounges complete with beverage coolers and seats. Most tubes are so big it’s recommended to have a purpose-built electric pump to inflate the tube—long gone are the days of blowing them up with lung power. Some riding tubes now have bottom fins and leashes for improved directional control. For example, the MixMaster from SportsStuff is an action tube that allows riders to do tricks on the water.

“The old tube philosophy was jump on and hold on for the ride,” says Mike Pleiss, marketing director for Kwik Tek, the parent company for the Airhead and SportsStuff brands of water toys. “We take it a step further with our action tubes. The SportsStuff MixMaster 2 is for one or two riders and has fins on the front and back, and you can do a 180-degree turn when you rock back and forth. Once you get that rocking motion down you can pull 360- and 720-degree spins, so it gets very creative.”

The Grandstand 2 allows two riders to stand up and hold onto dual steering leashes, and there are also grip handles so riders can hang on in any position while on the water. In addition, sharp graphics let other boat drivers know you are coming. “We also have a lot of non-spinning tubes,” Pleiss explains. “We have cockpit-style towables, great for small children because they feel secure sitting inside.”

Floating lounges have become bigger and better, and the Cabana Islander offers interior seating, a center swim porthole, sun protection, and boarding platform. There’s also a 16-quart cooler built into the side, and the Islander is constructed of heavy-gauge PVC with a detachable wind-resistant nylon cabana top.

Wakeboards/wakeskates

Wakeboarding exploded in the mid-1990s, and there’s a huge variety of wakeboards for children and adults. With proper training most people can learn how to wakeboard in one day. Wakeboards can be towed behind just about any boat, from a personal watercraft to a sport boat, as well as behind a dedicated wakeboard boat, pontoon boats, sportfishing boats, and even a 60-foot yacht.

To help children under 70 pounds learn how to wakeboard, the Airhead’s EZ Wake Trainer features a removable board inside, and the tow point is actually on the trainer. All the rider has to do is hold onto a leash, and can get the feel of riding a wakeboard by turning sideways. Kids board the trainer from the swim step or stern and learn basic wakeboarding fundamentals, including proper stance, handle position, balance, and weight transfer for turning. There’s also an EZ Ski Trainer for beginning water skiers, and a Big EZ Ski Trainer for adults; both use the same concept as the EZ Wake Trainer.

Wakeskates are an offshoot of wakeboards—the difference is that with a wakeboard your feet are in bindings—and with a wakeskate you ride unattached like a skateboard. The board is lighter and that allows for more “skateboard” like tricks as the rider jumps the wake.

Water skis

Forty years ago water skis dominated the market, but nowadays they are just one more toy. For beginners, Airhead’s Wide Body combo water skis are perfect for teaching adults to deep-water start, then stand up, turn, and drop a ski to slalom. Once you get more proficient, the wide tips are excellent for jumping wakes.

Kneeboards

Few adults would look at a kneeboard and say, “That looks like fun.” That’s okay because kids need toys they can call their own, and the kneeboard fits into that category. Kneeling down on both knees you grab the tow rope and bounce along on the water. Sound like fun? I didn’t think so, but the kids love it. Kneeboards do have knee wells so you can lock onto the board, and there’s a strap that goes around your waist to hold you tight to the board. The advantage of a kneeboard is that you are lower to the water and don’t need quite as much balance as with a wakeboard.

Turbo Swing

Most recreational stern-drive boats have a tow eye built into the transom, but outboard-powered boats don’t have that luxury because the engine is in the way. Sometimes there’s a tow eye built into one side of the engine, or you have to tow a tube or wakeboarder off a cleat. Adding a TurboSwing can be a great idea for outboard-powered boats. The TurboSwing is a semi-circular tube made of corrosion-resistant 316 stainless steel that elevates the tow rope to keep it clear of the wake and prop wash. The tow rope clips easily to the tube via the TurboSwing pulley system and swings smoothly behind the outboard. It reportedly provides up to 20 horsepower more pull force. The tow bar also functions to prevent the outboard from impact and can be quickly removed.

By Doug Thompson, Southern Boating July 2013

Marina Magic

Photo: Resort at Longboat Key Club

Don’t let a substandard marina ruin your fun in the sun.

Before buying your boat you most likely compared similar models at one or more boat shows, combed through stacks of brochures, surfed websites and blogs, or solicited advice until you found the perfect boat for you and your family. Choosing the right marina should be given the same amount of attention—according to our panel of boat owners, cruisers and industry experts—since making a hasty decision can be a costly mistake both financially and in terms of your recreational time and effort. Whether you choose a marina for long-term dockage, a weekend trip or simply boat ramp service, take these considerations into account and rank them in terms of importance according to your family’s boating lifestyle.

Look for marinas certified as a “Clean Marina.
Look for marinas certified as a “Clean Marina.

Location, location, location

How often do you use your boat? If it’s just weekends and holidays, then an hour’s drive to the marina may not be a big deal. But if you enjoy mid-week getaways after a harrowing workday, then something closer to you will provide the break you need to survive the week. Where do you like to cruise? Does the marina have clear access to a channel that’s well maintained and dredged for adequate depth? If you plan to cruise at night, are the markers well lit for your return? Paying attention in advance to all of these considerations will make your cruising time less stressful and more enjoyable.

Safety doesn’t happen by accident

Is the marina’s neighborhood safe or do the surrounding unlit streets invite thieves? If you cruise for the weekend and leave your car at the marina, make sure it will be safe and secure. Is appropriate safety equipment—fire extinguisher, ladder, throw ring, etc.—available at the marina docks? Has the marina been designed to withstand strong storms or hurricanes, or will you need to move your boat to an alternate location for storms?

Pump-out, pools and playgrounds

Differentiate between your basic marina facility requirements and the extras that you can do without. At the very least, water and electricity should be available at your slip. For some cruisers, however, having pump-out at every slip is a requirement since they frequently entertain multiple guests and family members. Depending on the size of your boat and number of guests, you may also value a modern restroom with showers, an ice machine, laundry, fuel, ship store, swimming pool, workout center, grill center, and playground. Is garbage removal taken care of? If you forget something at home and there’s no marina store on site, how close is the nearest store?

Cost, rules, and the cost of rules

What is included in the price of your dockage? Utilities can add up especially if the marina adds fees you weren’t expecting. Pay special attention to the fine print, especially to any wording that is overly restrictive such as not allowing you to do maintenance work. If you have a pet that regularly accompanies you while cruising, make sure the marina is pet-friendly. Is there transient dockage in case you have friends with boats that want to visit your marina? If you intend to cruise for weeks or months at a time, do you get a portion of the fee back if the marina rents your space to transients? Are you allowed to sublease your own space through websites like mooragemarket.com?

Social climbers

Do you enjoy social events like dock parties or do you prefer solitude? Some marinas are known for loud parties every weekend or are close to bars that attract the party crowd, while others host frequent poker runs or annual boat shows. Find out in advance if the marina sponsors boating events that might infringe on your privacy. If you love the marina but hate the event, then maybe that should be the weekend you go cruising.

Elegant swimming pools are attractive features at marinas but can significantly add to the slip fees. Photo: The Resort @ Longboat Key.
Elegant swimming pools are attractive features at marinas but can significantly add to the slip fees. Photo: The Resort @ Longboat Key.

Apology to ecology

How important is being “green” to you and your family? If respecting the environment is one of your family’s mottos and you support businesses that have that same commitment, look for marinas certified as a “Clean Marina.” The program was developed to provide facilities that are environmentally clean and protect the coastal and inland waters from pollution. A “Clean Marina” designation means the marina has gone above and beyond what the law requires. In Florida alone there are 263 designated Clean Marinas, 38 Clean Boatyards and 17 Clean Retailers throughout the state. dep.state.fl.us/cleanmarina

Mr. Fix-It

Do you value the convenience of on-site repair services or conversely, would you prefer the absence of a boatyard at the marina where you enjoy leisure time on your boat? There are definite advantages and disadvantages to both lines of thinking.

According to Neil Ross, founding president of the International Marina Institute, one of the easiest ways to evaluate a marina is just by walking the docks and talking to people. “Look for neatness. Do they pay attention to the premises? That’s a good indication of how they feel about their equipment and pride of the facility,” says Ross, whose expertise is in marinas and marina management. “A good place to start is by looking at the bathrooms. That’s the place that marina operators get the most complaints on.” Ross recommends conversing with dockworkers, maintenance crew and other employees. If they’re happy in their job, chances are customers are happy too.

Ross also advises would-be marina lessees to pay close attention to the marina’s signage. “If their signs are all negative and list what NOT to do instead of encouraging positive behavior, that’s a good indication of the temperament of the owners.” Likewise, marinas that host classes for their customers about boating-related topics indicate the management is positive and helpful.

Unless you own waterfront property with a private dock, for many, marinas provide the only access to the boating playground your family loves. This summer make sure the marina you choose is the right one.

 

By Liz Pasch, Southern Boating June 2013

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