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Learning to drive a boat through the course

aspskiaspski Posts: 207 ★★★Triple Panda Award Recipient ★★★
I am looking forward to getting more into course skiing this year. My wife is my primary boat driver. I'm lucky that she is a very good driver but she has never driven a course before. Any tips, tricks, advice, video etc on the best way to learn, how to guide the boat, etc?

I found this online, anything else to add?

"Chad Scott, Pro-level boat driver, and Nautique Big Dawg Skier is recognized as the Mario Andretti of tournament water ski boat driving. He has driven over 8 World Records not including Regina Jaquess’s recent pending World Record of 4 buoys at 41 off! If you ask any pro-skier they will tell you he is one of the best drivers today. We recently caught up with Chad and asked him for his top 5 driving tips.

Make sure the boat is balanced. Setup the boat to ensure you have the boat balanced for the skier and driver. The balance can effect the wakes for the skier and the ability for the driver to maintain a straight boat path. This is very important!
One of the first things I do when I am about to pull a skier is take a mental note regarding what foot forward the skier is. Obviously a left foot forward skier and right foot forward skier will turn differently. This way I know which side of the course to expect the skier to be more aggressive on in the turn. This will also determine which side of the course as a driver I need to be more aggressive on the wheel to stay ahead of the skier.
The course starts the second you pull the skier out of the water. Line up as quickly as possible. Be ready for the skiers gate pullout. Do not allow the skier to pull you over when they are pulling out for the gate. This is one of the most important and overlooked aspects of driving. For a skier, the start is everything! If the skier pulls the boat over on the pull out, the driver is then lining up and correcting while the skier is in the gate glide. This correction is killing the skiers width at the gate and almost always puts the driver and the skier in a negative swing.
Don’t become focused on the boat guides. Look down the lake only using the guides as a reference in your peripheral vision. I believe if you are focused on the guides you end up driving buoy to buoy. This will ultimately put you in a reactive rather than proactive driving mode with the skier.
While keeping a straight boat path maintain a feel and focus for where the skier is at all times. Try and stay a little ahead of this skier. If this is done correctly the boat will maintain a straighter boat path. You want to steer enough to keep the line tight for the skier at the finish of the turn. I sort of just thumb away on the wheel as I know the skier is about to complete the turn. This is where it’s important to know what foot forward the skier is. Thumb away sooner on the 2/4 side for a right foot forward and opposite for a left foot forward skier. The worst thing a driver can do especially at the shorter line is wait for the skier and then react. Once this happens it is too late. When I react as a driver I am forced to chase the skier to the next buoy instead of having the ability to keep the line tight and work for the skier.
Driving is like skiing you have to practice. Don’t be afraid to move sooner than you are comfortable with. Get feedback from the skier. What they feel, what they like and dislike. After all we as drivers are there for the skier. I always like to know what the skiers feel, what they think I can do better for them. As with skiing, the video doesn’t lie. Put a camera at the end of the lake. Not only watch for a straight boat path. But look at when you are correcting in relation to where the skier is. Practice, practice, practice!"


  • Dacon62Dacon62 Posts: 735 Crazy Baller
    edited May 2019
    Great advise from Chad above for sure. Read that a few times.
    Getting use to where you need to be to keep the boat centered is also a learned skill. Taking passes without a skier and just having a passenger letting you know whether to move to the left or right to stay centered will help the driver get familiar with the visual cues as to where to position himself/herself to stay centered.
    After determining this it may help to put a piece of tape on the bow as a visual reference centering point as driving skills are honed.
  • WoodySkierWoodySkier Posts: 109 Baller
    Boat setup is very important with a new driver, some boats can track way differently without weighting properly. Steering setup is very important too, without the right pressure on the rudder even a good driver can give a bad pull.
  • DWDW Posts: 2,110 Mega Baller
    @apskier: I would also suggest a 'non significant' other as a teacher, just seems to be much less stressful on the learning driver that way. Just my opinion, you are reading an excellent advanced article on course driving, kind of like the masters version, your intro implies you need course driving 101 to start with. Perhaps starting her without a skier just to familiarize driving through a course at its basic level to not mentally overload the first few passes through the course. Good luck, nothing better than the significant other as a great boat driver and ski partner.
  • waterbeatwaterbeat Posts: 14 Baller
    When people drive through the course for the first time, they are usually way off because they think they'll run over the right hand gate balls. Find a reference point on the dash that lines up with the right hand gate balls, (or make one with tape) then tell them "If you drive so this reference point lines up with the right hand gate balls, you'll be very close to the middle."
  • Jody_SealJody_Seal Posts: 2,901 Mega Baller
    I am working with a newbie young driver. The key is get them in the boat and make them as comfortable as possible. She pulls us tricks and she drives longer line and mini course slalom. Only time and experiance can produce a good driver.

    My daughter also now drives us at the lake she is pretty good up to 38 off. I am trying to get her to test for driver but she wants no part of it.
    Hobby Boats can be expensive when the hobbyist is limited on their own skill and expertise.

  • Fam-manFam-man Posts: 198 Solid Baller
    Practice without a skier.
    1) driving through course exactly how a set would be run from pull up to set down. If you spin and go through a second time practice that
    2) what to do if someone falls mid course. How to slow/ stop and go back for pickup. Awareness of skier and balls while handling boat

    From experience - pointer are offered as suggestions for improvement on what's already great. NEVER you did this wrong...
  • jcampjcamp Posts: 837 Mega Baller
    A tip I'd recommend is that when the boat gets off centerline (and it will happen, a lot), don't worry about correcting immediately, which usually just leads to overcorrection, then a waggle down the whole course. Instead, slowly try to get the boat back to center by the next set of boat guides.
  • jayskijayski Posts: 898 Mega Baller
    @lpskier you are so correct! I think I was one of the first in Western Canada to get poor wife was pretty happy having not to run stopwatch, work throttle, tend to one kid in a baby bucket wedged between our '07 SN's pylon and passenger seat and holding the other kid upright with her leg on the passenger seat AND have me getting pissy at the end because times were out by a smidge while she put a soother back in ones mouth and retrieved the others sippy cup that went rolling around in the boat...ahhh the good old days...
  • thompsonthompson Posts: 1 New Baller
    I will probably get roasted for this, but the way I tell someone to pull me that has never driven the course before seems to get the skier a good pull. Like others have said, the person needs to be comfortable driving through the boat guides first. Once they have that down, I have them come in on the right side of the course, once they get to the boat guides for ball1, give a little correction towards 2, once you get the boat guides for 2--a little correction towards 3, and so on, steering towards the buoy the skier is going to. I am not encouraging drivers to pull this way, this is only meant to get a brand new driver giving a serviceable pull. Chasing the idea of keeping the boat in the "center of the course" will lead to the driver being behind what the skier is doing, and taking away the skier's tight line. As they progress, and can hear and feel the skier, they can learn to anticipate the skier and keep the boat down the center. Better to have a new driver that is giving a user-friendly pull, than one that feels like a wet noodle
  • Chef23Chef23 Posts: 5,989 Mega Baller
    edited May 2019
    Good advice from @Fam-man. I didn't teach my wife but I did teach my son. He drove 100 plus passes perfectly replicating having a skier. Sometimes I would even call out a fall and have him stop and circle back. When doing that I would sometimes sit on the engine cover and look forward to help him be in the right spot and as he got better sitting in the passenger seat and look back.

    Figuring out where to have them look makes a difference as well. Having a spot in the boat somewhere to get lined up can help but I like to have the driver try to focus on looking down the course I find that focusing on the next set of boat guides leads to weaving.

    Before driving the course he drove me on my trick and got used to circling around and pick me up after I fell. Always with an experienced driver in the passenger seat. Next step was having him drive for me with one of my ski partners in the passenger seat. I felt it was only fair to have me be the guinea pig. Seat time is the key.
    Mark Shaffer
  • DWDW Posts: 2,110 Mega Baller
    @apski - and chef23 referenced it, have someone teach end of course driving and settling down near the skier, I have been run over by my own boat before at the end of the course.
  • Tom351Tom351 Posts: 120 Baller
    edited May 2019
    This is less important in 2019 with speed control on every boat- but still a good habit for more precision throttle control (I bet everyone here already does it): Many beginning drivers move the throttle lever by moving their arm at elbow/shoulder. It is a great practice to teach them early to rest/immobilize the elbow on the gunwale and make throttle adjustments with wrist and finger movement. This lets a driver operate throttle in a similar way as a computer mouse while inexperienced drivers tend to approach it more like a shift lever in a car. Anyone who learned to drive the course before speed control would have learned this very quickly- it is still a good skill to have for starts/stops and around the dock & skier though.
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