Rossen Reports

'Like hitting concrete': Tubing is popular, fun... and can be deadly

Aug. 18, 2014 at 7:36 AM ET

On Aug. 6, 16-year-old Emily Fedorko of Greenwich, Connecticut, fell off her tube as she and a friend were being towed by a motorized boat on Long Island Sound. When the boat, driven by another friend, 16, circled back to them, Emily was killed by the propeller of the boat's outboard motor. Her friend received a serious leg injury.

"She's gone, and it's crazy to think that it could happen to anyone," said a school friend of Emily's when she heard about the accident.

Last year alone there were more than 4,000 boating accidents, resulting in 560 deaths. Now the nonprofit BoatUS Foundation, safety arm of Boat Owners Association of the United States and the nation's largest and oldest boater services, advocacy and safety group, is issuing a new warning.

"When you're tubing, you're going about 18 to 25 miles per hour," said Chris Edmonston, president of BoatUS Foundation. "And when you fall off, it can almost be like hitting concrete."

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To demonstrate, NBC national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen went tubing, with Edmonston operating the boat towing him. When he hit the boat's wake, Rossen flipped over, slamming into the water as his tube flew into the air.

Rossen demonstrated the recommended actions after wiping out: 

  • Resist the instinct to immediately swim back to the boat. Instead, stay exactly where you are, treading water. (Since it is mandatory to wear a life vest while tubing, treading water is not difficult.)
  • Look around for other boats to make sure you won't get hit. Then give the OK sign to your boat. Make eye contact so the boat operator knows you're all right, and then wait for them to come get you.

What boat operator Edmonston did next is just as critical: As soon as he came around and let Rossen grab the tow line, he turned off the boat's motor before pulling Rossen in. With the motor off, there is no chance of getting hit with the propeller. Only then is it safe to get near the boat.

With the right training, the right equipment, and knowing your ability, you can have a great time on the water and be totally safe. The same tips apply to other water sports such as wakeboarding and water skiiing.

Other important tips:

  • Always make sure there are at least two people on the boat: someone to drive, and a spotter to watch the tuber or water-skiier.
  • Everyone should be wearing a life jacket. It seems obvious, but experts say most of the people who die every year aren't wearing them

Visit BoatUS.org for more information on boating safety, including free online state boating safety courses.

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