There are several reasons for towing when sea kayaking:
- Getting a sick or injured paddler back to shore.
- Assisting a paddler who is in trouble on the water by towing them away from danger.
- When a paddler has lost or broken their paddle.
- Assisting a slower paddler, especially if the group is under time pressure e.g. from impending darkness or a storm.
In an emergency situation the best towing method is the one that gets the paddler away from the source of danger quickly.
If you need a tow or assistance, let the trip leader know sooner rather than later. Towing someone who is having difficulty or is not feeling well is generally in the interests of the whole group.
- If danger is imminent, take whatever steps are necessary to assist the kayaker in trouble, while ensuring your own safety.
- Alert others by blowing your whistle.
On Club paddles, towing is a team activity. The trip leader normally coordinates who will tow and what type of tow is required, and assigns other roles within the group.
- Everyone in the group should ensure their tow rope is accessible at all times, and be prepared to assist in towing if requested.
- Someone may need to support the paddler being towed if they are at risk of capsize.
- Limit group spread and ensure good communication.
- When towing, turn and check on the person you are towing. They may feel they have caused enough fuss already so may not complain if they become cold or have a problem.
- It can be useful to have another paddler close by to chat to the person being towed.
- Hypothermia can be a problem for the person being towed.
- If they are able to, encourage the person being towed to paddle as this keeps them warm and involved and takes the strain off the person towing. Even the slightest contribution can make a difference.
- The Club uses tow lines connected to the kayak as they reduce stress on the person towing. In some instances tow lines connected to a paddler’s PFD or waist belt are used, usually for short periods or emergency towing. These need to be able to be released.
- When you are finished towing, repack your tow line properly so it's ready to redeploy again quickly.
- When packing up your tow line, don't look down for too long, to avoid seasickness.
Single line tow
To conduct a single line tow:
- Connect the tow line carabiner to a secure place on the other person’s kayak such as their decklines.
- Check your tow line is properly secured to both your own kayak and the kayak you are towing.
- As you take up the slack, make sure the tow line doesn't snag on anything.
- Check that your tow line pays out properly and doesn't tangle.
- Maintain an efficient paddling stroke as you may have to tow for a long time.
- Ensure that you look behind frequently to monitor the person being towed.
An assisted tow may be necessary when a paddler:
- Is seasick.
- Is at high risk of capsize because of the conditions.
- Has an injury or illness that affects their balance.
The supporting paddler usually rafts up tightly behind the person being towed. Edging helps keep the kayaks together.
The 'V' tow is another tow regularly used on Club paddles.
A 'V' tow is similar to a straight-line tow, but two paddlers tow, creating a 'V' formation in the tow-lines. The load is shared by two paddlers, making the towing less tiring.
- For maximum efficiency the two kayakers doing the towing should stay side-by-side no more than 3 metres apart.
- If one kayaker gets ahead, the other has the drag of a slack tow line and the dual effort is wasted.
- As with any tow, monitor the condition of the person being towed.
- The persons towing must communicate between themselves as well.
- We need standard length tow lines for the 'V' tow to be effective.
The safety risks when towing include:
- Catching fingers or equipment in the tow line.
- Cutting hands with the sharp edges of the carabiner.
- Using a tow line with a narrow diameter can result in the tow line cutting someone’s hand.
- Entanglement, for example if the line is not secured properly after use.
Towing should not occur in the surf zone unless absolutely necessary. If a paddler is in trouble in the surf zone, it is often best that they swim to shore and their kayak is recovered later.
Common mistakes include:
- Connecting the tow line to an inappropriate tow point.
- Clipping the carabiner up the wrong way so it undoes as soon as it is pulled. Use an upward movement when attaching a carabiner to a deckline.
- Not maintaining visual or audio contact between the person towing and the person being towed.
- Not monitoring the tow line itself.