Water Skiing the Course

Many have asked me do you have a race this weekend or how did you do at your race, all-refereeing to water ski competition. I am here to fully explain the sport and dynamic of the water ski competitions.  To understand the sport there are different aspects to explain to fully understand.


There are six orange buoys the skier has to go around to complete the course.  Sounds easy huh? However, these buoys are 37.5 feet away from the boat.  These are the buoys are considered the turn buoys. To complete the course, the skier needs to successfully turn around each buoy. There are yellow buoys in the course for the boat to travel down in a straight line.  These do play into account for the skier at the same time. For example, if the skier does not complete the course, and only gets around four buoys.  The skier must ski back to the yellow buoys to count for the whole buoy. If the skier does not make it back (aka falling) to the yellow buoys then they will only get a half of buoy.

Boat Speed

The max speed for women is 34 mph and for men it is 36 mph.  However, most skiers do not start at the max speed. For example, I start 30 mph and each time I complete the course, also know as a pass, the boat will increase the speed for the next pass by 2 mph.  Once at the max speed the rope will shorten with each pass instead of increasing the speed. Many skiers will start at lower speeds and build up to the max speed. Yet, the professional skiers start at their max speed and the winner is the skier who can ski around the most buoys at the shortest rope length.

Rope Length

The rope length is 75 feet. Most skiers will start at what is called 15 off 60 feet from the boat (15 feet off of 75 feet). Once the skier is at the max speed the rope length shortens each pass, making it more challenging to round each buoy. Each rope length there is has color coordination.  See Graph below.

Graph: Water Ski Rope Length

Loop Color Meters Feet Off Feet
Neutral 23 0 75
Red 18.25 15 60
Orange 16 22 53
Yellow 14.25 28 47
Green 13 32 43
Blue 12 35 40
Violet 11.25 38 37
Neutral 10.75 39.5 35.5
Red 10.25 41 34


America Water Ski Association host sanctioned competitions that require official drivers and approved boats. A skier’s score is based upon the number of successful buoys cleared, the speed of the boat, and the length of the rope. The faster the speed and the shorter the rope, the faster the skier travels behind the boat making it more difficult to slow the turn down around each buoy.

So next time when you think of water skiing you will know it is not a race for time, instead it is a matter of going left and right around six buoys at different speeds and rope lengths.  Have more questions about the sport? Post your thoughts I will answer them to the best of my ability.

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Figure 1: Layout of  the Water ski Course

Figure 2: Slalom Skier on Radar Lake

Figure 3: Water ski rope length in metric system

Figure 4:  April Coble  running her 32 off pass, summer 2010

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