Thoughts on using, stowing and deploying towlines and on making your own boat mounted tow system.
"On Body" Systems.
North Water's BA tow system.
Waist Tow System
These are readily available from various kayak retailers and most of the major equipment manufacturers produce one or more varieties, usually based on a waist belt with a quick release buckle and an integral bag to store the line in.
The picture shows an early Palm bag - this particular one came with an alloy karabiner but you can also buy cheaper versions with a small, plastic tow-hook which might just suffice to tow an empty boat in calm conditions, but I have to question whether it would cope with the shock load of a swamped, loaded sea-kayak in bumpy conditions!
The alloy krab does need some care and maintenance in a salt-water environment of course and these are really intended for use on flat water for towing river / general purpose boats for a relatively short distance. As of 2013 I note that many of these lines are fitted with a large plastic hook instead. While more robust, these have been reported as twisting under load, and releasing.
I do question the use of these with a sea-boat as the tape is only marginally over 2 meters long – as the rear deck of most sea-boats will be at least that you’ll end up with the towed boat constantly over-riding yours. I sometimes wear it in addition to having my boat mounted line as I find it ideal to get a line on quickly, and sometimes all that you need is a short line for a quick tow away from a hazard. Since this article was originally written, the tape has been replaced with 10 meters of floating line, daisy-chained to 5 meters.
In many cases, that may suffice and may be actually a better option than deploying the much longer line on the boat. Personally though, I don't like using a waist tow if I have to tow for any distance and especially not if I'm towing in a big sea where there is a risk of significant shock loading. I'd far rather have that load on the boat - not my body!
Brian Nystrom has some interesting thoughts on modifying a North Water [on archive.org]waist tow so that it can give either a short tow (for a quick, close tow) or a longer tow line for more lengthy towing requirements. He suggests that a waist tow is more versatile than a boat mounted line in some situations.
This discussion also offers some other suggestions. This discussion deals with various boat and body mounted options for tow lines and comes from the practical perspective of one having been needed in a rescue.
Several manufacturers are producing tow systems that mount on the chest harness of a BA – the picture below shows one by North Water and they say that it’s “12 feet of line” so you’ve got 4 meters or so plus the cows-tail attachment.
On the plus side, such systems provide a quick, easy deployment and relatively easy re-stowing after use. In his book "Sea Kayak", Gordon Brown specifically mentions these systems with a "Warning" as he's of the view that the tow point is too high on the body and there is a chance of serious injury. From personal experience, I'd agree.