To an outsider, ski boats and wakeboard boats look similar. They are both designed to pull athletes behind them, they are both often overpowered, both have roughly the same dimensions and both come with hefty price tags. However, a closer look reveals the true intentions of their designers, whose objectives are vastly different
Skiers and wakeboarders operate at different speeds: skiers competing at 36 mph and wakeboarders running in the 20 to 25 mph range. This means the two different boats were optimized for different speeds. For example, the shape of a wakeboard boat's wake is large with a crisp lip in the lower 20 mph range, while it is mushy and washy at lower speeds and flatter and narrower at faster speeds. Ski boats are designed to put out a small thin wake with minimal rooster tail at 36 mph, the regulation speed for competitive slalom skiing.
To create a larger wake, a wakeboard boat must displace a significant amount of water. This is done by adding ballast. Adding weight is not something that can be done haphazardly; the distribution must be considered to keep the shape of the wake just right. This is done by pumping water into containers in both the stern and bow, with an equal distribution from side to side as to produce an even wake. Ski boats generally do not utilize ballast systems since they strive to minimize wake size.
Wakeboard boats tend to be packed with features because they aim for additional weight. Notably, they have a tower mounted to the hull to which the rope is attached. This tower serves multiple purposes, including storage for wakeboards and a place for speakers to be mounted. Ski boats tend to be light on accessories, though they typically come equipped with speed control systems that assist drivers in keeping a consistent speed through the slalom course.
Today's wakeboarding boats have migrated to a stern drive, meaning the engine is mounted toward the back of the boat. This helps add weight to shape the wake, and it also frees up the interior of the boat for more optimal wrap around seating arrangement. The bow is usually open to allow for more seating. Ski boats historically have had an enclosed bow and a center-mounted engine. There is a small corner seat that faces the rear for a spotter to keep an eye on the skier and a bench seat in the back for optional seating when not towing a skier.
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