Thoughts on using, stowing and deploying towlines and on making your own boat mounted tow system.
This article is not intended to be any comment (good or otherwise) on the design of the systems illustrated or the bag used, or of the concept marketed by an equipment designer for whose gear I have the greatest respect and use myself, or of designers and providers of similar equipment – it’s merely observations and thoughts on tow systems generally, of a difficulty I faced personally and the solution to that problem which works for me.
Whether you choose to use a waist tow, a ba mounted tow or a boat tow is your personal decision and should be based on what you think is right for you, your boat and the conditions you paddle in. I'm not qualified to suggest one is better than the other and even if I were, I'd still suggest that it has to be a personal, informed decision. While I personally prefer a boat mounted tow, I also have a waist tow and sometimes wear it in addition to having the boat mounted line, especially if I think I'm likely to need to be able to get a quick, short line onto another boat in a hurry, for a short tow. Certainly the concept of a "short tow" is well worth including in your tool-bag!
My motivation for adapting the system I use was an incident in the Forth - you may not experience a similar need or situation, and as I don’t pretend to have either the best of balance while side surfing big waves without a paddle firmly grasped in both hands, or enough flexibility to be able to turn sufficiently in the cockpit to release things from behind me, I may not be a good judge or example.
Whatever system you choose to use, make sure you can deploy it in all sorts of conditions, in a hurry, on your own. Practise in realistic (ie: bad!) conditions and look at a range of options and possible solutions as to how to achieve a safe and efficient tow. I’d happily used my initial solutions for years, for real and for practise, without any difficulty until I found one situation that made life difficult.
In the event I described earlier, everyone ended up safely on a sandy beach, some wet, some not – but it could have been very different on the West coast of Jura in a big sea. Tim Dawson prepared an article on our experiences that day in the Firth of Forth, which you'll find here.
Whether the delay in getting the line on the swamped boat contributed to our ending up in the surf zone is uncertain, but it probably was an important factor. I know for sure that the short, still daisy-chained line I was forced to use in the circumstances prevented me being able to turn into the waves and tow away from the surf as I was on a very short pendulum and just kept getting bounced back round on the waves.
Hopefully, the adaptations I’ve made to my personal system will help if a similar situation happens again and if my experience helps you, I’m pleased.
Please have some form of tow system either on you or your boat if you’re on the sea – you never know when you might need a washing line, even on a day trip! I hope you never need to use it "in anger" but if you ever find yourself needing a line and not having one, you'll never forget it. I'd also strongly suggest that every paddler should have a line.