Towing is one of the most basic fundamental skills a kayaker must master and practise if he is to render fast and efficient help to someone in trouble.

The reasons for towing someone are as long as the towline itself. Lost paddles, weever stings, dislocated shoulders, keeping a rescue situation away from hazards such as rocks and cliffs, the list really is endless. So it must be comfortable, efficient and work well for you. You may have to tow someone for a long distance against wind and tide, and it is no use if you have to constantly keep fiddling or adjusting for it to work properly.

The following is a list of design criteria that I think a towline should conform to and may help you come up with a design that works well for yourself.

Float

Brightly coloured

Strong

Contain a shock-absorbing feature

Compact storage system

Quality/reliable hook

Efficient/reliable cleat

Efficient towing point

Correct length for all conditions

Float: It goes without saying that any equipment used for kayaking should float if possible. The towline is especially no exception. Use a quality non-kinking, soft floating line (Marlow Marstrom is very good). The clip and shock cord are usually quite heavy so you will probably need a small float at the hook end (chandlers or commercial fishing shops have a good range).

Brightly coloured: If you have to release/ditch the tow for some reason you will want to spot it quickly and retrieve or continue the tow so make sure you can see it by day and night (reflective tape) – my first towline was green and sank!

Strong: A loaded SOT kayak, waterlogged with a paddler in the cockpit could weigh over 450lbs: so from the hook on the end to the nuts and bolts holding the cleat to the deck, it must be able to take this amount of load.

Shock absorber: Whilst towing the line will become tight and slacken off continuously, this causes a considerable jerk on the tower and the casualty. A piece of heavy duty shock cord fitted into the towing system in such a way that if it snapped the load would then come back onto the main rope so the tow could still be continued is the most common method used.

Storage system: How you store the towline is important. Needs to be within reach and easily accesssible.

Towline length: How long a towline should be is a difficult question, but as a general rule if you are paddling into a sea then the towline needs to be as short as possible though not that short to be constantly colliding with the other kayak. Towing in a following sea you need a long towline to avoid the towed kayak surfing into or in front of you. You can always shorten a long length of rope but you cannot lengthen a short piece of rope easily.

Securing a Tow: If you have an anchor trolley that travels right to you stern then you can make use of this but it does make steering a little more difficult. Ideally you would fit a towing point somewhere on your back deck and a cleat within easy reach. You must make sure you can release the tow line quickly and efficiently in an emergency.

Making a Towline: Ideally you will need 15 metres of 6mm floating nylon cord – as bright as you can find

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a float

float

a hook

hook

1 metre of elastic bungee

bungee

and a bit of whipping braid

whipping braid

How I made Mine:

I secured the hook to the end of the nylon rope

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And then secured the float

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At this point i tied and whipped on one end of the elastic bungee

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and then coiled the nylon rope around this to make the shock absorber. I then tied and whipped the other end of the bungee. It should look something like this. The main reason for this method is if for some reason the bungee should snap you are still in direct contact with your tow.

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And that really is all that is involved. To store the remainder of the tow line it is possible to ‘daisy chain’ it. This compacts it down to about a fifth of its original length but more importantly with one simple pull of the loose end it will all come undone.

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And there you have it, one tow line, total cost to build was less than £20. And of course it can also come in very useful as a mooring line or as a tether to attach yourself to a mates anchored kayak while fishing.

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