There’s nothing quite as entertaining for children as holding on with all their tiny might to a floating hot-dog and being dragged around on a lake until they can’t hold on and fall into the cold water. There’s also nothing quite as entertaining for you as the helpless screams of your annoying teenage kids when they hit the water at 20mph.
Just kidding about the screaming part, nobody likes that. However, there’s a high chance you’ll get your share of screams if you choose the wrong towable tube – either because your 7-year-old is scared or because you ruined your 18-year-old’s fun with a lame towable tube. As such, choosing the right tube, accessories, and speed can make the difference between a totally awesome ride and a complete bore.
Taking this into consideration, we’d like to present you with two lists this time: one with useful pieces of advice, which you’ll need regardless of which tube you choose, and one with our recommendations of towable tubes, classified by age and courage. Let us thus take it easy and go through everything before you purchase a towable tube.
The list below covers 15 of our recommendations, 5 for each of the age/personality groups.
1. Beginner children (<8 years old, more timid)
For younger ages and more timid personalities, we advise you to pick a cockpit or couch-style tube. This will allow your children to stay on the tube with relative ease compared to a hot dog or pancake-style tube. What’s more, you can also press the pedal to the metal without worrying about them falling and get them used to slightly greater speeds than you would with less safe towables. Another thing is that you shouldn’t let them ride by themselves. Always pick a ride which can accommodate 2-6 people. Here’s what we would choose:
#1: Sportsstuff Chariot Warbird (2 persons)
For small children, this is by far the number one choice. Due to its comfortable shape and high back support, as well as greater stability thanks to its side wings, your children will be protected from falling even at increased speed, which is great for getting them used to a bit of danger without the actual danger. You can also tow this particular model both forwards and backward – some children may prefer having the back support act as a cushion between them and the water ahead, just in case.
Another great thing is that your shy child won’t be forced to ride alone, as this particular ride can fit another person as well. You can invite your child’s best friend and let them have fun together. It’s also one of the most durable tubes around, and with proper care it could even last for years. Refer to the list above to see what you should do and what you should not.
It’s also a bit pricey, to be completely honest, but it’s unquestionably the best there is. Totally worth the money, according to us and every reviewer around.
#2: Sportsstuff Bandwagon (2+2 persons)
Almost as safe as the nr.1 choice, the Bandwagon lacks the lateral wings, which makes it a little bit less stable when turning. However, that’s not so big an issue and, if you’re willing to spend the money necessary to purchase it, you’ll definitely not be sorry.
Unlike the Chariot Warbird, the Bandwagon cannot be towed backwards, but that’s not necessary either. Due to its unique shape, it can accommodate two riders on the “couch” and two in the back – the first two get the comfort of the couch, while the latter are protected by the back cushion in the off chance that the tube dives head-first.
#3: Airhead Mach 2 (2 persons)
As Sportsstuff is definitely the home of high-end products, their tubes have all the characteristics of high-end products, including the high-end price tag. By contrast, Airhead offers tubes at a lot more affordable costs, without sacrificing too much of the reliability you want.
Of course, at the end of the day, it’s really worth it if you have the money to buy a top product, as it will last a lot longer and have all those tiny details figured out better. However, this doesn’t prevent Airhead Mach 2 from being extremely popular as well.
#4: World of Watersports UTO Starship (5 persons)
Definitely the most unique design around here, the UTO Starship is exactly how you’d imagine it – an Unidentified Floating Object. Admittedly, if you’re on a tight budget, you should keep this out of your children’s sight. They will probably love it instantly, and it’s quite pricey.
Other than that, it’s all fun and games. The tube is really safe, especially for those sitting in the inner ring, and it’s just as reliable and durable as every other high-end choice.
#5: World of Watersports Bingo (2 persons)
This is one of the really interesting designs, along with the UFO above. Apparently, what World of Watersports actually means is Another Planet of Watersports. It looks really promising, however, and it can be ridden both forward and backward, so we think children will definitely want to try this one.
2. Intermediate children (aged 8-13, not so nervous)
When your kids level up either in terms of age or bravery, it’s high time you upgrade the ride as well. The rides on this list can be just as entertaining for the average adult, so you may have your friends take a look at them as well. Here’s our Top 5:
#1: Airhead Mach 2 (2 persons)
Yes, you’ve seen this before in the Beginners section. This is because this particular tube can prove to be quite entertaining for the more daring as well – it’s enough to up the speed a notch or two and you’ll get all the screams and fails you so much enjoy.
It’s not exactly an adventure ride, but the way you use it depends on you. Also, as stated above, it’s one of the best budget choices here.
#2: Sportsstuff Frequent Flyer (2-3 persons)
If you’re going traditional, there’s a really tough match between number 2 and number 3 on this list. Both can accommodate comfortably two or three riders, both of them are reliable, and both of them promise plenty of fun.
What gives this one the edge over the other, on the other hand, is the amazing number of good reviews it has on Amazon. What’s more, although there’s nothing wrong with the heavy duty plastic on our nr.3, the aluminum quick connect on this one makes it a bit more durable.
#3: Airhead G-Force (2-3 persons)
Just like our previous tube, this one also works great for two or three people. It is perhaps a bit more stable than the Frequent Flyer, although not significantly more. It’s also a bit cheaper, which is nice.
#4: Ye Ol’ Airhead Hot Dog (3-4 seats)
The Hot Dog model produced by Airhead has been one of the most popular for children and adults alike, for years in a row. This is because it can accommodate up to 4 people, it’s fairly comfortable (definitely more comfortable than a floating pancake) and, most importantly, IT’S A FREAKIN’ HOT DOG! REALLY?! HOW CAN YOU NOT BUY THAT?!
Seriously, though, there’s one reason why you wouldn’t like a hot dog. That is, the riders can bump heads pretty easily if they’re not careful, especially when there are 3-4 riders and you’re taking a sharp turn – not that a sharp turn would be possible with a pontoon boat, anyway.
#5: Airhead Mega Rock Star (6 persons)
This model should probably be known as Large Hot Dog instead, because that’s what it actually is. The bigger brother of our #4, the Mega Rock Star has a bit more stable design and it can accommodate a larger party.
The thing is, it’s also quite a bit more expensive. Check the latest price here:
3. Advanced children (crazy teens)
If we were to classify children by levels, this would be the final boss level. For kids in this category, as well as adults for that matter, it’s more advisable to get a solo or 2-person tube, as the decreased drag will allow for greater speed and sharpness in turns, as well as a pretty high chance of catching some air under the tube. If you want something that can allow your entire family to have some extreme fun, just grab one of the intermediate models and get a more powerful engine. Here’s the advanced list:
#1: O’Brien Super Screamer (1-2 persons)
We think the name is pretty much self-explanatory. This tube has a traditional shape, i.e. the floating pancake. It also has large patches of EVA foam which protect your forearms and knees from rubbing against the rubber (hehe) at high speeds and hence allows your skin to stay where it should be.
Perhaps our nr.2 is a bit more extreme, but this one definitely has the better build and can even accommodate two adults on the heavier side, which is great if you want to have some fun yourself. Just don’t let your timid 7-year-old drive, or you may have a big surprise.
#2: Airhead Super Slice (1-2 persons)
This is probably the most extreme model around here. Its shape is more flattened in the front and fatter in the back, which allows you to catch some serious air if the wake or waves allow you. It’s also the best around if your kid is a speed freak.
The reason why this tube is here is that it’s totally not recommended for beginners. Leaning forward too much will cause instant diving, which is not very pleasant at high speeds, and it takes someone used to high speeds to handle being towed on this one.
#3: Airhead Slash 2 (1-2 persons)
This model is not really traditional and it looks more like a raft than a towable tube. However, this excellently hydrodynamic shape allows it to be dragged at great speeds. It’s safe enough for intermediate rides, but it will really shine when dragged at really high speed.
As an added safety element for high-speed cruise, the Slash 2 is also equipped with neoprene knuckle guards, which protect your hands.
#4: Airhead Blast (solo)
You should also find it pleasantly crazy, as this floating donut can offer your kids some of the most extreme sensations. While it’s not as incredibly fast as the Slash 2 can get, not to mention the Super Slice, it’s still funny to see the donut flipping after catching some air.
#5: O’Brien Rider Le (solo)
Another relatively low-budget choice, this model from O’Brien is similar to the Airhead Blast in terms of size, shape, and price. However, it is a single-rider towable, so might not be as fun for people who want to enjoy the ride with one or more of their friends. But if that’s exactly what you’re looking for, the O’Brien Rider Le is one of the best options available on the market.
Here are some things you might need to know about towable tubes for kids:
- If your children are nervous about holding on by sheer arm strength, choose a couch-shaped tube or something similar, where they can simply sit down and have some back support.
- If your child is nervous about riding solo, choose a larger tube which they can share with a friend or more.
- If your children are not nervous at all and you’re planning the rollercoaster of their life, please take into account the dangers of a 4- or 5-person towable tube, in particular the risk of head bumps during the ride which may result in concussions. Drive accordingly.
- Get a tube which you can easily tie and untie. You really don’t want that extra work.
- Get a high-quality, high-pressure pump. An under-inflated tube will degrade pretty quickly due to the increased drag and is likely to deflate in a couple of minutes or simply explode during a ride. While the explosion will likely be more fun than danger, it’ll mean a wasted hundred or two. Don’t get an air mattress pump, it’s not powerful enough. Our recommendation is the Airhead AHP-12H, which works like a charm.
- Some kids are more adventurous, others are more on the shy and nervous side. Don’t expect one single tube to work for everyone. For best results, buy 3 different tubes – you can keep them in your garage and get them out according to the situation.
- Get a booster ball if you have speed problems and even if you don’t. Its role is to simply hold the rope above the water, but it greatly reduces drag and, therefore, increases speed and allows for lower fuel consumption. You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes.
This concludes our list of towable tubes for children. That is to say, towable tubes for actual children AND for your inner child. Have fun!