Towlines - Get One!
Having recently run some courses where towlines were used I realised how many of my regular sea kayakers have and wear their towlines but never practice deploying them quickly in an emergency and in rough water. The results are a lot of nervous looks, wobbles and the inevitable capsizes.
So we'll start by looking at the tow system itself and then progress on to towing methods in future articles to come. The best overall advice for sea kayakers is 'keep it simple!' The more complicated something is, the harder it is to use, the more goes wrong with its use and it BREAKS! The sea can be and usually is a very unforgiving environment.
Firstly, always carry your towline regardless of where you're paddling and who you're paddling with. Ensure you open your tow system and check for unwanted kinks, knots, wear and tear and outright damage Then carefully repack your towlines neatly so that it deploys easily when on the water. However, you wear your tow system, ensure your quick release is accessible and does indeed 'quick releases'! Usually worn around the waist, the tow system can be shifted to the front when deploying so ensure there are no snags to prevent the bag from sliding around your waist.
A short/long tow system with a large bag and large zipped mouth are recommended which allows for plenty of room to work and easy repacking of a large clump of the wet line when you're done towing. The big opening is handy when you only have one hand available in very rough conditions. When you buy your tow system, don't be afraid to strip it down and rebuild to suit your needs. We recommend the following adjustments which can be made to most tow systems;
1) check your carabiner; will it rust, does it open easily with cold hands, does it have a smooth opening with no sharp areas that can snag? Inspect and replace your carabiner regularly.
2) Remove the knot holding the carabiner and instead use a traditional mariners twine 'whipping' to ensure the end of your towline doesn't snag on the casualties deck lines when disengaging your tow.
3) Move the bungee and float two to three metres from the carabiner so that it doesn't interfere with the working end of your tow system i.e. the carabiner.
4) check that the end of the towline is securely fixed to the ring inside the bag and a good mariners 'whipping' is useful here too for peace of mind.
And finally, from a quick deployment point of view, it helps if your carabiner is quickly and easily accessible with one hand without having to open your tow bag. Is there anywhere on the tow system or in the immediate vicinity where your carabiner can be clipped for quick access? But most importantly, ensure you carry your tow system at all times an practise deploying your tow system quickly and efficiently with your eyes (literally) closed. You'll find the practice will hold you in good stead when you need to use it for real in rough conditions.