What Horsepower Do You Need For Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing, And Other Water Sports?

Wakeboarding, skiing, and water tubing are all fun and all, but not everyone wants to go out and blow a ton of money on a new ski boat. What many people don’t know is that you don’t need a ski boat to do this. I know people who learned how to ski behind a 14-foot Jon boat with a 30 hp motor. As long as the boat can go around 20 to 25 miles per hour, getting someone up is completely possible.

But is it safe to do that? Many small and light boats might be able to tow someone, but they may be affected by the person being towed. For example, if a wakeboarder makes a hard cut, it might cause the boat to slow down and even come to almost a complete stop. The weight of the person being towed and the people in the boat may also have a big factor in how well you can tow.

If you don’t want to worry about this, get a horsepower rating that is powerful enough to tow properly. Check out the chart below:

Water SportMinimum hpRecommended hp
Wakeboarding70 horsepower150 horsepower
Water Skiing70 horsepower150 horsepower
Tubing70 horsepower150 horsepower
Knee Boarding50 horsepower150 horsepower
Wake Surfing100 horsepower200 horsepower
Barefooting175 horsepower250 horsepower

This chart assumes your boat is around 16 to 25 feet long, including pontoon boats.

Can you still have fun with watersports even if you don’t have the minimum horsepower?

Yes, you can still tow even with little horsepower, but weight and skill level may start to become an issue. Even with a 30 horsepower engine, you could still get a skier/wakeboarder up and going. The problem is when they try to do sharp turns, they will pull the boat, causing it to slow down.

Also, a big part of wakeboarding is having a big wake, which you would most likely not have. If you do have under a 50 horsepower engine, I would recommend sticking with slow tubing or kneeboarding as they won’t affect the boat that much.

What kind of boat should you get for water sports?

Ski boats, fishing boats, center consoles, and even pontoon boats all work great for watersports. Usually, I would say to get one that is between 16 to 25 feet long, but some people may need a bigger boat, especially if they are on the ocean. Some boats even specialize in curtain watersports.


Many wakeboarding/wake-surfing boats will have an inboard motor so that the propeller is under the boat and away from people being towed. This is what makes inboard motorboats one of the only types that allow wake surfing to be done safely.

Most Inboard motor boats are great for pretty much all watersports. The only downside to them is they generally are expensive. The engine itself tends to actually be cheaper than an outboard, but the boats they come in are generally outrageously expensive. For example, a new Malibu Wakesetter can cost more than $100,000.


From as small as 2.3 horsepower to as large as 627 horsepower, outboard motors come in many different sizes. They are great for pretty much every water sport except wake surfing as long as you get enough horsepower.

One problem you may find with outboard boats is that many of them don’t have a great place to attach a ski rope. Sometimes the rope can even get caught up in the propeller if you’re not careful.

Outboard boats can usually be found much easier than inboard boats for cheaper prices (new and used). Fishing boats can even be transformed to make great watersport boats.


Sterndrive, also known as inboard/outboard have qualities of both an inboard and an outboard motor. If you don’t know what they look like, it’s something like this:

The engine is inside the boat, but there is still a part that goes into the water and sticks out the back of the boat. You cannot wake surf behind this kind of motor but pretty much all other watersports are okay.

A good thing about a sterndrive boat is that it is usually easier to connect a ski rope because you don’t have a big motor in the way.

Jet Powered

Jet-powered is the only propulsion type besides inboard that is safe for wake surfing. The problem is that jet-powered boats don’t usually make the largest wake. Yamaha is starting to come out with wake surfing boats that specialize in big wakes that are jet-powered.

Jet-powered boats can do pretty much every watersport, but they tend to do it worst than propeller boats. The wake created by jet boats can be hard for a skier or wakeboarder to properly maneuver. Also if you happen to get the ski rope caught up in the jet intake, it’s not going to be a good day.

Jet-powered boats are also less fuel-efficient than propeller boats and handle poorly in wavy water. I would recommend staying clear of most jet boats unless your lake has very shallow water or it’s a jet ski.

If you do end up getting a jet ski for watersports, make sure it has a good horsepower rating. Small jet skis such as the Sea-Doo Spark tend to struggle to tow things.

Can you ever have too much horsepower?

Generally, it’s the more horsepower the better, but at some point, more horsepower becomes pointless. For watersports on most bodies of water, you shouldn’t need any more than 250 horsepower. However, some wakeboard boats that have very heavy ballasts may require more horsepower.

What are the best boats for your watersport?

Boats that specialize in certain watersports are for those who want an advanced watersport experience. You can get a plane jane fishing or skiing boat and you could do most watersports fine, but some people want more than just fine.

Best skiing boat

The Mastercraft Prostar has been known as one if not the most popular ski boat. The goal of a ski boat is to be light and make a minimal wake, which this boat does just that. The new ones are very expensive (over 75 grand) but you can find plenty of used ones on craigslist or Boat Trader for less than $20,000.

Best wakeboarding/wake surfing boat

Opposite to skiing, wakeboarding and wake surfing require a large wake. Wakeboarding/wake surfing boats do this, but they generally cost much more than skiing boats. A Malibu Wakesetter can cost well over $100,000 brand new, and used ones are still very expensive.

Older wakeboarding boats generally aren’t very good for wake surfing, but there are ways to make them better. Getting wedges and wake ballast bags (links go to amazon) helps make a bigger wake.

These boats are also usually great for barefooting as well (especially for beginners). This is because of their high horsepower and ability to connect a barefooting boom.

When it comes to tubing, almost every boat will do fine. There aren’t any specific boats meant for tubing.


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