Equipment [21]

Towlines: A Few Thoughts

By David Winkworth

I am not a betting man but I would wager that sometime during your sea kayaking trips (if you’re a half serious paddler) you’ll have need of a good tow line either as a rescuer or as the unfortunate victim of Mother Nature’s fury on the sea.

Towlines are listed as essential equipment for all sea trips at and above Sea Proficiency level of the Australian Board of Canoe Education.

OK, that’s a sort of “big stick” approach and it really shouldn’t have to be spelt out to responsible sea paddlers tow lines are just plain commonsense on the sea.

If you haven’t got one or you have one that is a bit of a tangled mess on the rear deck and you’d like to tidy it up a bit, here are a few points to consider:

Length: A few years ago a NSW Sea Kayak Club standard length towrope of 7 metres was proposed. I believe this is about 8 metres too short! Consider this. you are towing an exhausted/incapacitated paddler with a 7 metre tow rope. You’ve attached one end of the tow rope to the bow of the “victims” (love that word!) craft and the other end to a point near the cockpit in your boat. The distance from your cockpit to stern is 2 metres which thus leaves a gap of 5 metres between boats.

In a big following sea – a possible cause of sea sickness or incapacity for the victim – they’ll come surfing down that big wave into you with only a metre gap to stop and remember, they may have little control of their boat

So lengthen it up folks – try 15 metres for starters – you can always lop a bit off later!

Deployment This must be quick! You may need to haul someone or someone’s boat or both out of a nasty rock gauntlet run that went wrong. Your tow rope must always be quickly accessible ON DECK. It is probably also an advantage to be able to throw your towline similar to river rescue throw bags. A small nylon bag with a suitable closure (velcro drawstring) would be ideal here Remember to attach the bag to something though. Some shock cord loops attached to decklines really a quick pull and the line is released.

If you’re putting together your first towline, ask other paddlers what they use.

Flotation. Again this is common sense! Aren’t you going to look a goose if the stainless steel clips and hardware take the lot to the bottom!

You could use a small line buoy – I’ve glued some closed cell foam to my nylon bag for flotation.

Probably not necessary for the rope itself to float although a dead-set sinker is certainly going to be a nuisance in retrieval.

Quick release. This is for safety of the “tower”. If a current wave or whatever threatens to sweep you AND the victim away, let them go.!

I use a “free end” rope and a cam cleat for quick release You may choose a snap hook or similar Please, don’t tie any knots.

Stretch: This is important but only for comfort … but then isn’t comfort for both paddlers important during a 20 km tow in choppy seas? The shock and release action of two joined boats on the sea can be much improved by the addition of a “stretchy bit” to a tow line.

Most paddlers use a small section (about 1 m) of shock cord in their tow line You might consider limiting the stretch too, if you’re in heavy doubles.

My MK III towline is nylon cord of about 5 mm diameter and I’ve found that at 15m it has plenty of stretch itself and works well -the shock cord section is nit required

Good luck, and remember to look around at the various set-ups at your next group paddle.

In a future issue we might look at various towing configurations and their limitations.