Towing - A Sea Kayakers Guide

Clipping in

Towing is a means by which a paddler can assist an incapacitated paddler and kayak to a safe location. This may be a short distance or on the open sea maybe a couple of kilometres. In all cases, the rescuer should give clear instructions as to what they want the towed kayaker
to do e.g. paddle or steer to keep pointing towards the back of the rescuer’s kayak, drop their skeg.

Contact Tow
This is possibly the simplest method. The paddler requiring a tow holds on to the rescuer’s kayak either at the bow or stern, forming a raft. The rescuer simply pushes or pulls them to safety. When rescuing a swimmer and kayak this means can be used to pull the swimmer out of
danger before commencing a rescue. For a quick release, the rescuer can simply shout “let go”. Ensure you practice this technique a good few times, working with the casual tee to steer your kayak around obstacles - it sounds easier than it actually is. Practice!!

Towlines (Refer to our previous article on setting up your tow system)
Over a longer distance, a towline is more effective and efficient. The towline can be one of the paddler’s most useful and versatile pieces of equipment. Before purchasing a readymade tow system consider making or the very least adopting a towline in order to design a system that is efficient and adaptable in all situations, as follows:
• Set up should allow for fast deployment, essential in situations where the victim is close to rocks or drifting rapidly.
• Is it long enough? The rope has less drag than tape, it should be long enough to prevent the towed kayak bumping into the rescuer’s kayak. At the same time short enough to take immediate effect when towing a rescuer away from danger. Initially, a towline of a minimum of 1.5 kayak lengths is recommended.
• Is the gate on the clip, without a notch, large enough to clip onto a kayak’s fittings, easy to use especially in rough seas and with cold hands, and strong enough to cope with the stresses involved with towing? Use a half fisherman’s knot to attach the karabiner to ensure
it is well fixed.
• Does it have an integral shock absorber and a quick-release mechanism?
• How easy/quick is it to use and repack, especially with cold fingers?
• Does it float?
• The length of the line should be adjustable and it should be possible to extend the line either with another line or, where the system allows e.g. daisy-chaining, releasing more line. In a following sea, the towline must be long enough to prevent the towed kayaks surfing into the
back of the towing kayak. Approximately 1.5 boat lengths up to 3 boat lengths.

Kayak Mounted Tow System
A kayak mounted towline reduces the strain on the paddler, it is usually fitted by means of a fairlead (eye) and a jamming cleat fixed on
the deck behind the cockpit. When fixing the eye and cleat make sure a strong backing plate and large washers are used to spread the load.
Positioning the tow in the middle of the kayak allows for greater maneuverability (a harbour tug has the anchor dead centre). A short line can also be used to prevent the kayaks pulling apart, note the quick release knot.
Waist Type Tow System.

The second, more common, the option is towing via a releasable waist belt. This has the advantage that it travels with the paddler if they change boats and if necessary can be transferred to another paddler to use. However, it can have more strain on the paddler. This system is the most versatile and flexible and recommended by NOMAD Sea Kayaking.

For guidance on what tow system to purchase, see our article on Tow Systems for Sea Kayakers.


Published On: 4th October 2015