Five Great Towable Tubes for Your Boat

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Inflatable tubes arguably provide the best value when it comes to tow-behind-the-boat watersports. They accommodate a wide variety of ages and skill levels, have the most minimal of learning curves, and for some reason, always seem to generate the most squeals and laughter from both the young and young at heart.

And seemingly every year, they get better, faster and wilder than the last. Sure, some designs have gotten pretty outlandish and show better on a website than function in the water. That’s why we test these things every year, to find the tubes that not only look cool, but also perform—and maybe to just sneak in a fun-filled day with friends and ­family on the water, just like you.

Five towables for boaters

Inflatable tubes arguably provide the best value when it comes to tow-behind-the-boat watersports. Tom King

This year’s crop contains entries from heavyweights Connelly, HO, O’Brien, Radar and WOW. We put them to the test behind an Anthem Karma 23 and let ’em rip. Let’s see which ones are ready to pump up your summer.

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Connelly Big Easy 3

The Connelly Big Easy 3 offers up arguably the most laid-back seating we’ve seen to date on a towable. Tom King


Connelly Big Easy 3 ($399.99)

There’s no more aptly named inflatable in this year’s roundup than Connelly’s Big Easy. For starters, it is indeed big, measuring about 6 feet, 8 inches by 7 feet, 8 inches before inflation. As to the easy, count the ways. Its profile is that of a zero-gravity chair on steroids, offering up arguably the most laid-back seating we’ve seen to date on a towable. Rather than brief comfort patches atop a nylon cover, nearly the entire top surface is covered with soft-touch neoprene. And then there’s the sheer thickness of the tube below butt and legs. This thing is plump. Load three riders aboard, and they just might doze off before the towline grows taut. 

The wake-up call will soon come. The Big Easy skidded nicely outside the wakes, giving passengers a spirited ride once the tow boat initiated a few S-turns. Up to a trio of riders can recline side by side, each with a pair of padded grab handles within reach. That curvy pillow-top style on the tube’s outer edges, however, occasionally left outside passengers slip-sliding away. During more ­aggressive skids, we lost more passengers on the Big Easy than any other tube. The ride was also the wettest of the five tubes. 

Because the Big Easy is essentially one large PVC bladder, the entire tube inflates quickly and easily via a single Boston valve. The simpler shape also keeps the bladder and cover pretty well aligned, avoiding the adjustments common on more complicated shapes. Added bonus? When riders get tired of the laid-back profile, a nylon web strap behind the backrest adds an additional tow point, allowing the Big Easy to become a big chariot.

HO Sports NOVA 3

The Nova 3 quickly proved to be one of our testers’ overall favorites. Tom King


HO Sports NOVA 3 ($475)

HO Sports’ Nova featured one of the most notable shapes in this year’s roundup. It’s like a rounded-off ­triangle, with a tow point at the forward tip and a cushy backrest wrapping its curved backside. The Nova’s most distinctive feature, however, is found atop the deck. Two stubby inflated pillars rise from the tube’s center. They serve to separate up to three riders, providing added security to keep riders’ legs in place, and anchoring a pair of vertically arrayed grab handles each. The result is a tube that might tangle the tallest riders’ toes, but one that is surprisingly spacious for up to a trio of passengers. 

With an easy-skidding style, the Nova 3 quickly proved to be one of our testers’ overall favorites. The almighty S-turn was once again all that was needed to get the Nova skidding back and forth across the wakes. With the roominess topside, outside passengers never feared that they’d tumble over the edge, but instead remained locked in. The only shortcoming may have been that those stubby pillars flex, meaning their handholds have a fair amount of give when the skids gain speed. Their narrow distance apart also means you’ll ideally want a smaller rider in the center position when riding as a trio.

Both the base and backrest of the Nova inflate via Boston valves. Find a one-way inflation inlet below the top cap; unscrew the entire valve body from its threaded outlet for deflation. Vertical columns use pool-style inflation valves. Neoprene knuckle guards are found below padded handles on the base of the tube, but no such guards exist below vertical column handles. Likewise, no added material is sewn into seating areas, leaving the top surface a little more slippery than most.

O’Brien Pillar 4

The Pillar 4 is packed full of fun. Tom King


O’Brien Pillar 4 ($489.99)

As the name implies, O’Brien’s Pillar 4 pairs a round 8-foot-diameter base with a tall, vertical center column supported by four legs. The design effectively creates four distinct riding areas. The setup—along with a multitude of grab handles on the pillar supports, sides and top—allows riders to be creative, facing inward toward the pillar or outward using it as a backrest while sitting, kneeling or even standing. 

The arrangement, along with the tube’s ­easy-to-skid manners across the wakes, resulted in the Pillar being the overall favorite of the day. The most fun was had when the two front riders sat and two aft riders kneeled, all facing forward, but it was easy to mix things up. Facing inward or backward added a level of unpredictability, but in almost all configurations, the Pillar proved stable and more than capable of keeping everyone on board underway.

As we’ve noted in previous years, O’Brien tubes are far and away the easiest to both fill and deflate. Credit O’Brien’s proprietary Lightning Valves, ­located in both the base and vertical top section. Their larger-than-average opening and simple flap closure allow a sizable volume of air to quickly flow into the tube, whether using a dedicated inflator or Shop-Vac. Pull the flap upward to deflate, and that same air rushes out even faster. The heavy-duty nylon cover is well-fitted, keeping internal PVC bladders in place for minimal fuss. EVA seat pads add durability to high-wear areas, but they were a little rough on a few riders’ knees. Those 16 padded grab handles, however, were placed right where riders needed them, and our crew never felt crowded underway.

Radar Chase 3

The Chase 3 offers a smooth, stable and energetic ride. Tom King


Radar Chase 3 ($429.99)

At first glance, the three-passenger Chase 3 looks like a comfy couch, with a cushy backrest, inflated armrests and room to stretch your legs. Spin it around to use the secondary tow point, and the Chase adds a chariot-style personality to the mix, allowing riders to kneel behind that one-time backrest and get their gladiator on. A stitched-into-the-cover GoPro mount is ready to capture that first-person point of view when action gets aggressive. When kicking back, a pair of cup holders is ready to hold a cool drink and turn this radical ride into a leisure cruise—or off-the-towrope float. 

Radar’s trademark Spoon-O-Vation design ­reduces drag by giving the bottom a convex shape, a choice that made the Chase 3 one of our testers’ favorites for whipping back and forth across the wake. Riders praised the thrills, while noting that the Chase 3 remained quite smooth and stable. Only the seating room received mildly mixed reviews. Riders loved the locked-in feel provided by the individual armrests arrayed port to starboard, but noted that things could feel a tad tight for older teens and adults. Small perimeter bolsters at the tube’s leading edge also dictated that taller riders take the middle position.

Like all five tubes, the Chase 3 paired a heavy-duty PVC internal bladder with an equally robust nylon cover. In a sea of in-your-face colors and graphics, this cover’s teal/navy combo gave off an almost laid-back vibe. The base, along with ­backrest/armrests, inflate via two-part Boston valves. Small, leading-edge bolsters topside are pool-float-style. Be quick when capping to prevent losing air. 

Read Next: Top Tow Tubes Features

WOW Sub-Zilla 3

The Sub-Zilla 3 glides smoothly through calm conditions, but it also knifes through rougher waters. Tom King


WOW Sub-Zilla 3 ($249.99)

A modern twist on the old-school “hot dog,” WOW’s Sub-Zilla 3 is a cylindrical 8-foot-long rocket that lines up to three riders saddle-style atop its surface. Sizable sponsons flank the main tube body to add side-to-side stability as well as act as a knee rest for passengers. The pontoonlike trio glides smoothly through calm conditions, but it also knifes through rougher waters. However, the shape doesn’t lend itself to higher-speed skids outside the wake, so those choppy conditions can be half the fun, offering up a bouncy bronco as the tubes glide across the water. 

Though the Sub-Zilla features three individual seat positions and a weight capacity of 510 pounds, it’s likely best-suited to—and enjoyed by—younger riders. Our late-teen testers found it a little on the tame side, tracking directly behind the boat and resisting outside-the-wake skids. They also felt a little unstable atop the tube due to their higher centers of gravity. The short distance between seat height and leg rest also resulted in a slightly cramped position. Younger riders will likely fit the tube much better and thrill at the tube’s sensation of straight-ahead speed.

Three individual bladders are housed within the Sub-Zilla’s heavy-duty nylon cover, each filled via a quick-inflate valve—a two-part design that makes for easy filling but unplugs from a larger opening for faster deflation. Because all pieces are connected, there’s also less worry of lost parts. EVA-foam body pads protect the nylon cover from wear while offering a more comfortable saddle surface for riders up top. Padded grab handles, each with neoprene knuckle guards, are positioned directly in front of each rider for maximum grip.

Towable Tips

Drainage Issues: Water often finds its way in between the cover and bladder, making tubes heavier to lift onto the dock or boat and prolonging drying time. Look for mesh drains on tube bottoms, typically covered with sewn-in flaps that direct water toward the back end of the tube. Tilt the tube accordingly, and trapped water quickly drains away. 

Pump Up the Volume: Electric inflators are a must for blowing up today’s larger tubes. While 12-volt inflators are great to have aboard to quickly top off pressure, high-pressure inflators that work off household receptacles are far superior. They’ll pump tubes to capacity in a much shorter time, as well as suck them flat when it’s time to pack up. Make sure your inflator comes with the adapters you’ll need for your tube’s various fill valves.

Get Zippy With It: Tube fans often struggle trying to get deflated internal bladders to line up properly with recently folded covers, especially if the tube is right out of the box. Tip? Partially inflate, then reposition the bladders to line up the -inflation valves with cover access points. If things are really wonky, look for hidden zippers. Typically located below a flap, zippered openings provide better access to the internal bladder, allowing users to shift it into position with ease.

Towrope Tips: Most modern tubes use a plastic or metal quick-connect tow point, featuring a center hole and winged outside edges to make it easy to connect and disconnect the towline. Always thread the loop of the towrope up through the bottom of the tow point before wrapping the loop over the wings. This will ensure that the rope is pulling the front of the tube slightly upward, making it easier to plane. And never use a ski or wakeboard line. Inflatable-specific towropes are thicker and designed to handle the added force that a multiperson inflatable can put on a towline.

Anthem Karma 23 on a lake

The Karma 23 combines striking looks with great towsports performance. Tom King

Anthem Karma 23

One of the most innovative, coolest-looking watersports boats on the market, the Anthem Karma 23 is constructed entirely of welded military-grade aluminum that is corrosion-resistant for saltwater use. The V-drive boat offers engine options from 400 to 600 hp and has a 3,600-gallon ballast capacity. It has a bow gate for beaching and easy reentry that gives it a landing craft’s ­functionality. With a 102-gallon fuel capacity, you can tow all day.

Displacement:5,900 lb.
Fuel Capacity:102 gal.
Price:$268,000 (base)

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