How to Tow a Sea Kayak


The winds and waves off Georgia’s Tybee Island can strike suddenly and with great power, which means that Ronnie Kemp and Marsha Henson do plenty of towing.


The owners of Sea Kayak Georgia and The School of Coastal Kayaking, Kemp and Henson are on those turbulent waters almost every day, teaching beginners to BCU four-star paddlers with a gentle southern charm that belies their accomplishments. Both are BCU Level 3 instructors, and absolutely the kind of people you want nearby when an offshore squall—or the dreaded bonk—strikes your party.


“Towing is a form of rescue. You want to get the paddler out of danger and to a safe zone where he can rest, and the group can come up with a plan,” says Kemp. “You want to do whatever you can to keep the person in trouble in their boat, and to take care of yourself. Never do anything that will put yourself in danger.”


Here’s how they hook up to help.


Ask First. Always ask permission to assist the person in trouble. If they wave you off, paddle alongside and offer encouragement and direction.


Get Clipped. When you’ve established the need for a tow, set up. You should be wearing a rope bag stuffed with 50 feet of tow line on a thick nylon belt with a quick release clip. The rope should have a carabiner on the free end. To tow: clip the carabiner to the bow deckline of the distressed paddler on one side only. Let out a length of rope long enough to go from trough to trough in wavy conditions. Don’t measure rope from trough to crest, or the towee could inadvertently catch a wave and surf into you.



Read a review about different towing systems.



Don’t be a Slacker. Always stay off to the side of the towee. In big water, wait for an opening in the waves, clip quickly and paddle away fast to take up slack. The biggest towing danger in wavy conditions is a slack rope that can snap hard, knock the towee out of his boat and entangle him. If there is ever danger to you, unclip the rope and bag from your waist.



Strong and Steady.
If the distressed paddler can sit up, he can be towed. Ask him to lower his skeg and paddle if he can. Tow using long, efficient strokes, initiating from your core. Your paddle should enter the water at your feet and exit at your hips.


Communicate. Make regular eye contact with the person you’re towing, and monitor him for hypothermia if it’s windy and he’s wet. Stay aware of your surroundings to stay out of trouble. If you’re the group leader, recruit someone else to tow so you can continue to care for the whole group.

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