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Learn All About Towable Inflatables

TOWABLE TUBE STYLES

Riding on a towable tube, also known as tubing, is one of the best of all recreational water sports as is requires little or no skill (other than being able to swim and hang on!) and can be enjoyed by virtually anyone of any age. There are countless different Towable Tubes on the market these days but in essence they fit into 5 basic categories: - 

* DONUT - Just like an actual donut with one or more holes for each rider to sit in

* DECK - A flat disc shape, often completely round but sometimes dart shaped or slightly squared off.

* SOFA - Similar looking to a sofa or a wedge, often with sides or winglets, but sometimes without.

* BANANA BOAT - The classic hotdog shape with riders all seated in a row.

* HYBRID - An interesting and sometimes whacky combination of 1 or more of the above styles. 

RIDING POSITIONS


All towables are designed to accommodate one of 3 basic riding positions - seated, kneeling, or lying prone on your front (for safety reasons, all of these positions must be facing in the direction of travel). Some towables can accommodate more than one of these riding positions, and some can even accommodate all 3.

Donut Style (Single Hole, Single Rider)

1. Seated in the hole with feet outside
2. Lying prone on your front

Donut Style (Single Hole, Multi Rider)

1. Seated on the sides with your feet in the hole
2. Lying prone on your front (not always practical)

Donut Style (Multi Hole)

1. Seated in the holes with feet outside
2. Lying prone on your front

Deck Style

1. Lying prone on your front
2. Kneeling

Sofa Style (front tow point only)

1. Seated

Sofa Style (front and rear tow point)

1. Seated
2. Kneeling (chariot style)

Banana Boat

1. Seated in a row

Hybrid

Dependant entirely on manufacturer's design


RIDER CAPACITY


Towables are rated on the number of riders that they are designed to carry. As a basic rule, the larger the tube, the more riders it can potentially carry. The more riders a tube can carry, the stronger the materials and construction are. Regardless of capacity, tubes are always designed so that every rider can comfortably reach and tightly grip a handle in each hand.

Some towables are rated for a maximum number of riders but can still be used with less people onboard. For example, a 3 rider towable can sometimes still be used by 2 or even 1 rider if they distribute themselves evenly and maintain a balanced load on the tube. If you do tow with less than the rated capacity onboard it is essential that the tube is kept balanced and the weight is evenly distributed or it will become dangerously unstable as the speed builds up. It is also essential to adjust the tow speed significantly DOWNWARDS to prevent the tube leaving the surface of the water and rotating as a result of the lighter load.

Towing Tubes with Varying Numbers of Riders

2 RIDER TOWABLES

Slow down with 1 rider onboard
Riders must ALWAYS be able to comfortably and tightly grip a handle in each hand

2 Man Donut Style (Single Hole)
1 rider lying prone if positioned centrally and can grip 2 handles
1 rider seated centrally on the back with feet in the hole

2 Man Donut Style (2 Hole)
1 rider lying prone if positioned centrally and can grip 2 handles

2 Man Deck Style
1 rider lying prone if positioned centrally and can grip 2 handles
1 rider kneeling if positioned centrally and can grip 2 handles

2 Man Sofa Style
1 rider if positioned centrally and can grip 2 handles

2 Man Banana Boat
1 rider using the front seat

2 Man Hybrid
1 rider if positioned centrally and can grip 2 handles

3 RIDER TOWABLES

Slow down with 2 riders onboard and slow RIGHT DOWN with 1 rider onboard

Riders must ALWAYS be able to comfortably and tightly grip a handle in each hand

3 Man Donut Style (Single Hole)
2 riders seated on the sides with feet in the hole
2 riders lying prone if positioned centrally and can grip 2 handles
1 rider seated on the back with feet in the hole
1 rider lying prone if positioned centrally and can grip 2 handles

3 Man Donut Style (3 Hole)
2 riders seated in the OUTER holes
1 rider seated in the central hole

3 Man Deck Style
2 riders if located on the outsides
1 rider if located in the middle

3 Man Sofa Style
2 riders if located on the outsides
1 rider if located in the middle

3 Man Banana Boat
2 or 1 riders if they use the forward most seats

3 Man Hybrid
2 or 1 riders if they can centrally distribute themselves and grip 2 handles

4 RIDER TOWABLES

Slow down with 3 riders onboard and slow RIGHT DOWN with 2 riders onboard
Riders must ALWAYS be able to comfortably and tightly grip a handle in each hand
NEVER ALLOW 1 rider on a 4 rider towable as it can be dangerously unstable at any speed


4 Man Deck Style
3 or 2 riders if they can centrally distribute themselves and grip 2 handles

4 Man Sofa Style
3 riders if positioned centrally or 2 riders if positioned on the outsides

4 Man Banana Boat
3 or 2 riders if they use the forward most seats

4 Man Hybrid
3 or 2 riders if they can centrally distribute themselves and grip 2 handles


When it comes to the number of riders, it's a case of using your common sense. If the weight on the tube is not distributed centrally or the tube feels (or looks) unstable, or not every rider onboard can tightly grip a handle in each hand, then you are asking for trouble. Tubing can be dangerous. If in doubt, don't do it. Remember that weight gives a towable a lot of its high speed stability. A towable with a large surface area and very little weight onboard can behave unpredictably and can become dangerous very quickly.

TOWABLE TUBE BLADDER

The bladder is the inflatable PVC inner of the tube that holds the air. Bladders vary in thickness and generally speaking the larger the towable the thicker the bladder needs to be (for strength reasons). Thickness is measured in G (gauge) so a 24G bladder will be thinner than say a 28G bladder. However, manufacturers often mix and match the PVC used in a towable tube in order to save weight and keep the price down. For example, some sofa style towables have a 28G main chamber (the area where you sit and which takes most of the abuse) but the arms will be 24G as they do not need to be as strong. So when you see, for example, 28/24G this means that the main chamber will be thicker 28G PVC but smaller less stressed features will be thinner 24G. Don't let this put you off though. 24G PVC is still very thick and very strong.

TOWABLE TUBE COVER

The cover of a towable tube is generally made of extra strong nylon and is there to prevent damage to the bladder. Covers vary in strength and generally speaking the larger the towable the stronger the cover needs to be. Strength is measured on a density scale of D (Denier) so an 840D cover will be denser (stronger) than a 420D cover. However, as with bladders, manufacturers often mix and match the nylon used in a towable tube cover in order to save weight and keep the price down. For example, some towables use 840D nylon in the main areas that take most of the abuse, but the backrest will be 420D nylon as it does not need to be as strong. So when you see, for example, 840D/420D this means that the highly stressed parts of the cover will be stronger 840D but the less stressed features will be 420D. Don't let this put you off either. 420D nylon is still very strong.

As well as protecting the badder, the cover plays another vital role which is to take all of the load when the tube is being pulled as the tow point is always stitched to the cover.

TOWABLE TUBE VALVES

There are 3 main types of valves used on a modern towable tube. For the main chamber most manufacturers use either Boston Valves or Lightning Valves. For smaller less stressed features such as armrests etc ECO valves are also used (of the type found on other inflatable products such as kayaks, air beds etc).

Boston Valve - a high volume non-return valve that lets air in quickly but doesn't allow it to escape again. The Boston Valve screws into a moulded base that is welded into the bladder of the towable. Once screwed in, a pump adaptor fits into the Boston valve and allows air to enter the bladder on each pump action but then shuts off automatically to prevent escape. A cap is then screwed onto the top of the Boston valve to fully seal it and protect the non-return mechanism. To deflate, the Boston valve is unscrewed from the moulded base.

Lightning Valve - O'Brien's patented evolution of the Boston valve with a wider opening to let air in even faster. The Lightning Valve is already moulded into the bladder of the towable and a pump adaptor fits into the Lightning valve and allows air to enter the bladder on each pump action but then shuts off automatically. A cap is then screwed onto the top of the Lightning valve to fully seal it and protect the non-return mechanism. To deflate, the cap is simply unscrewed and the non-return valve is opened manually.

ECO Valve - A classic no nonsense non return valve for low stress areas such as armrests etc. Simple to use, reliable, cheap, and perfect for areas where a Boston Valve or a Lightning valve would be overkill. 

TOWABLE TUBE PUMPS

There are 4 main types of pumps available for inflating your tube, the 12V electric, the hand pump, the Turbo pump, and the foot pump. Manual pumps are absolutely fine and are a cost effective way of getting the job done, but electric pumps take a lot of the grunt out of it, and high volume Turbo pumps will inflate any size tube in no time at all and with zero effort.


12V Electric - a medium volume pump that plugs into a cigarette lighter socket either in a car or boat. Most also have a deflate feature to suck air out of the towable to make it as compact as possible after use. Perfect for 1 and 2 man towables but not ideal for larger towables as these pumps cannot deliver the higher pressures required. Supplied with various adaptors to fit most types of towable valves.

Hand Pump - also known as a stirrup pump, this is a high volume manual device that you stand on and pull up and down to inflate. Some hand pumps push air in on the up stroke and also on the down stroke making them highly efficient. Most also have a deflate feature to suck air out of the towable to make it as compact as possible after use. These are known as double action hand pumps. Supplied with various adaptors to fit most types of towable valves.

Turbo Pump - a high volume high speed 12V electric pump that has croc clip connectors to attach directly to a car or boat battery. Most also have a deflate feature to suck air out of the towable to make it as compact as possible after use. Better suited to larger towables as they can deliver much higher pressure. Supplied with various adaptors to fit most types of towable valves.

Foot Pump - a medium volume manual device that we are all familiar with. Perfect for 1 and 2 man towables but not ideal for larger towables as these pumps cannot deliver the higher pressures required. Some foot pumps have a deflate feature to suck air out of the towable to make it as compact as possible after use. Supplied with various adaptors to fit most types of towable valves.


TOWABLE TUBE ROPES


The most important factor when buying a Towable Tube Rope is knowing its rating. This is based on its "break strength" (a mathematical minefield) so to simplify things all manufacturers clearly state what the rating of their individual ropes are by the number of riders. Choosing a rope with too low a break strength could cause it to suddenly snap under load and recoil back into the boat at high speed (not what you want!).

The table below will help you decide which rope you need. This might all seem a bit obvious but the point we're trying to make here is that regardless of the size of the tube you must never use a rope that is rated at less than the number of riders. Of course you can pull a 1 man tube with a 4 man rope but never the other way round. Better to have rope strength in reserve than risk injury from a sudden breakage. Also, if for example you are towing 1 person but they are on a 3 rider tube still use a 3+ rider rope as the weight of the tube needs to be factored in this can be as much, if not more, than the weight of the rider.

1 Rider Towables
Rated for 1+ Riders

2 Rider Towables
Rated for 2+ Riders

3 Rider Towables
Rated for 3+ Riders

4 Rider Towables
Rated for 4+ Riders

Towable Tube Ropes are typically 50-60 feet long, which gives the perfect amount of momentum when towing the speed freaks in the family. However, we recommend that younger riders and the less confident should be towed at a much slower speeds in order to prevent them from gaining excessive momentum as they pass across the boat's wake. Being "out on the whip" and skimming the water is great fun for adrenaline junkies but can be terrifying for some other people. Tube speed (and rider enjoyment) is all down to the driver and so always keep things at an appropriate level - 20 knots maximum for adults, 10 knots maximum for the youngsters and the less confident.

If you have a RIB or your boat has an outboard motor and twin D-Rings then you will need a Tow Bridle or a Towing Harness. Tow Bridles simply connect to the two D-Ring tow points on the stern of your boat and form a "Y" shape from which the tow rope is then attached. Most tow harnesses have an integral float to prevent them from sinking and coming in contact with the boat's prop. Some also have a pulley to spread the load evenly between the two D-Rings.

TOWABLE TUBE BAGS

Towable Tube bags are made of strong nylon and have webbing handles and snap connectors rather than zips. Getting a proper bag for your towable not only keeps it in tip top condition but it also enables you to deflate your tube while still out on the boat and store it away safely along with any ropes and pumps etc so you don't create an annoying trip hazard onboard.

TOWABLE TUBE FEATURES

There are so many great features on modern towable tubes but many of them go unnoticed. When reading about towable tubes you might see these features but not much else is ever said to explain what they are or why you might actually want them. Here are some of the better ones.


Winglets - where the base of a towable kicks up at either side. These improve sideways performance and prevent the towable from catching an edge when being taken over the wake at speed. This is a great safety feature, but it also means that these types of towables can be riden harder.

Boarding Straps - these are short webbing straps sewn into the cover of the towable to enable riders to grab hold of something and easily clamber back onboard when in deep water. Nearly always placed at the rear of the tube but sometimes on the sides too.

Quick Connector - a strong plastic block that enables the looped end of a towable tube rope to be quickly and securely attached and detatched to the tube. Simply pop the end of the rope through the hole and then pass it back under the pegs for a totally secure connection.

Knuckle Guards - these are soft neoprene patches sewn into the towable tube cover directly underneath each handle to prevent abbrasion. An essential comfort feature but especially handy when the tube is being used in salt water.

Deck Pads - these are large soft neoprene areas sewn into the towable tube cover directly where your elbows and knees tend to make contact with the cover (see blue areas in pic). They prevent abbrasion and are a great comfort feature, especially when the tube is being used by riders without wetsuits.

Leg Bumpers - small inflatable pods found on the rear of some deck style tubes to prevent the rider's legs from swinging out beyond the deck when agressively out on the whip.


TOWABLE TUBE INFLATION


Towable Tubes will provide many years of exhilaration and faithful service if they are looked after properly, but neglecting your Towable Tube will dramatically shorten its lifespan. To keep everything in tip top condition, and to therefore get the most out of your Towable, simply follow these basic guidelines.

It is important to understand that inflating a Towable Tube does not require high pressure like a car tyre. Instead, Towable Tubes work on high volume and low pressure, just like a RIB boat. A correctly inflated RIB will probably only have about 1.5 P.S.I. (pounds per square inch) of pressure in its tubes, but the tubes will feel very firm to the touch and can be sat on with very little noticable "give". The same principle applies to Towable Tubes and a properly inflated tube will only be able to boast around 2 P.S.I. of pressure at the very most.

Under-Inflation is probably the single most damaging thing that you can do to your Towable Tube. Tubes are designed to sit on top of the water and skim the surface, not plough through the waves like a drogue. If your Towable Tube is under-inflated it will sit too low in the water when a rider is on it and water will be able to flood between the bladder and the nylon cover causing drag. This will put excessive strain on the nylon cover, tow point, tow rope, and boat itself, and it is likely that the cover will tear as a result.

An under-inflated Towable Tubes will also have a tendancy to "torpedo" i.e. the nose will begin to dig into the water and it will start to tip forward. A tube in this state is dangerous and will be virtually impossible to get onto the plane (the state in which the tube is skimming on the surface of the water with little or no drag). It will also place excessive load on the Towable Tube Rope which if overloaded could break unexpectedly and recoil back into the boat. In order to prevent all of these hazards it is essential that you inflate your tube correctly according to the manufacturer's instructions.

A correctly inflated tube will have the following characteristics: -

* The outside of the tube will be firm to the touch
* The nylon cover will be wrinkle free and taught in all areas
* When sitting on the tube there will be very little "give"
* It will be difficult to slide your hand between the bladder and the nylon cover
* If you pull the nylon cover away from the bladder it will "snap" back into place
* When towing it will rise quickly and easily onto the plane and it will skim the surface

A under-inflated tube will have the following characteristics: -

* The nylon cover will be wrinkled
* It will be easy to slide your hand between the bladder and the nylon cover
* When towing the nose will dig into the water and it will tip forward
* It will be almost impossible to get the tube onto the plane without it tipping forward

Obviously you can also over-inflate a tube. Optimal pressure for most tubes is 2 PSI but always check the manufacturer's instructions for confirmation. You will quickly learn when a tube looks and feels "right".

TOWABLE TUBE MAINTENANCE AND STORAGE


The advice in this section will take no time all to put into practise, but it will add years to the life of your valuable Towable Tube.

* Always rinse your Towable Tube with fresh water after every outing. If it has become dirty then sponge it down with warm soapy water and then rinse it thoroughly with fresh water. It is sometimes easier to do this when the tube is still inflated if this is practical. Thoroughly rinse your tow rope at this point too and if you are using caribiners then give them a good rinse and a quick squirt of WD40.

* Never leave your Towable Tube sitting in the sun as the bladder and nylon cover can be damaged by heat expansion. UV can also play havoc with the materials as well as fading the colours over time. The same goes for your tow rope as this too can be damaged by over-exposure to UV.

* Whilst rinsing your tube check that there are no small stones or sharp sand particles caught between the canvas cover and the bladder. This is a classic problem when using tubes on the sea and some of these tiny stones can be razor sharp and can cause untold damage.

* Before storage, take the opportunity to regularly inspect the condition of all of the major parts of your tube. Start with the grab handles (you don't want one of those coming off in your hand at high speed), then the canvas cover itself, and finally check the tow point and the tow rope for signs of fraying or other stress damage. Also check the condition of your tow bridle or bungee extension if you are using one.

* Always store your Towable Tube in a deflated state as this will prevent stretching of the nylon cover and will also make it more difficult for it to be accidentally damaged while in storage.

* Always store your Towable Tube when it is completely dry as any dampness can cause a build-up of mould and mildew which can lead to permanent staining of the materials.

* Always store your Towable Tube out of direct sunlight and in a place that does not expose it to extremes of temperature.

* Dry your Towable Tube Rope prior to storage and wind it loosely in 12 inch loops. Better still, invest in a Line Winder as these are great for storing ropes and for keeping your boat safe and "trip-fee" when out on the water.

* Remember that rodents often take a liking to plastics and nylon. We always dry our Towables thoroughly and then store them in a cupboard indoors where they will be warm and safe from the dreaded mice. This also prevents them from being exposed to extremes of temperature which extends their lives considerably.

* Buy a Towable Tube Bag to protect your valuable Tube during storage and transportation.

* Finally, NEVER be tempted to use your tube as a sledge if it snows. This might seem like a great idea at the time but it will almost certainly damage the tube, usually beyond repair.