When a tow becomes necessary, many options are available. The key is deciding which will be safest and most effective. Adding ropes to an already stressful situation can cause it to get worse, and many rescuers choose to tow only in worst-case scenarios. However, with the right gear and good technique, a tow can be a lifesaver, literally.
Re-Traxt Tow Tether
The Stohlquist towline is more of a tether than a towing system. The tether requires a rescue vest, as it does not come equipped with a release belt. The tether is quick to deploy because it is close at hand on the paddler's vest. Its short length is ideal for a quick rescue, and the paddle-sized carabiner allows it to be used as a paddle leash during any type of rescue. Once the tow was complete I had a tough time folding the line back into its bag.
I would not recommend using the Stohlquist system in an extended tow situation. The short length would also cause problems in a following sea. Although it does not seem fair to compare the Stohlquist bag to the other tow systems, actual use of this tow tether proves that it does what it was designed for quite efficiently. Just don't mistake it for a distance-towing option.
• 12-foot bungee-filled tubular webbing
• (719) 589-4800
North Water –
Sea Tec Towline
The North Water system comes in a burrito-style bag that folds in half when not in use to become very sleek. When ready to deploy, the rescuer opens the bag by releasing a strip of Velcro and the line pulls out nicely. The line even deploys decently when the rescuer does not open the Velcro strip first.
The North Water system is not equipped for shortening the line, but daisy-chaining to a loop within the bag does allow for length adjustment. Unfortunately, since the bungee system is at the rescuer end of the rope, shortening the rope eliminates it.
In rough weather, stuffing any bag is challenging to impossible, but North Water's large opening gives me the most confidence.
Another perk comes in the form of a three-foot length of rope under a hidden Velcro flap on the back of the bag. This is ideal for rescuers who feel more comfortable towing off a deck-mounted cleat than from around the waist.
I questioned the strength of the bungee system, as it is clamped onto the rope with staple-style connecters, and during one particularly heavy yank, the clamps did let go. Fortunately, the rope was still in one piece and the tow continued, despite being a bit jerky. On shore I could not get the other end of the bungee to release. I would prefer that the bungee be sewn into the line instead of clamped.
Heavy-duty floating line and a no-snag carabiner were also sensible additions. All things considered, North Water seems to have created a functional system by sticking to simple design and heavy-duty construction. The price reflects the high quality.
• 30-foot, 1/4-inch floating H2Pro line
• (604) 264-0827
Touring Tow Tether
Kokatat's tow tether at first glance appears to be the simplest, most compact system. Application proves just the opposite. The bag/release belt comes equipped with a plastic "shuttle" that has the towrope wrapped around it for length adjustment. By releasing one loop of the wrapped rope through a small hole in the shuttle, you can unwrap the line and set the length. As long as you adjust the tow length on shore before you go out to paddle (as you should), this system does work. However, the shuttle would make a last-minute adjustment tough to impossible in rough water or when hands are cold. Also, when you are ready to deploy, you have to open the bag and pull out the line-wrapped shuttle before unclipping the carabiner to attach to the towee. In general, this length-adjustment system just seems too complex.
Kokatat did create a shock-absorption system that is effective at any length by placing it between the belt and the shuttle. When stow time came around, I was impressed at how quickly I could wrap the line around the shuttle. Unfortunately, once wrapped, it was challenging to get back in the bag because it is very small and the bungee hangs off one side and the carabiner the other. While functional in calm water, the system would make me ner-vous in bigger water.
Another issue that could cause problems is the lack of flotation at the carabiner end. If it were dropped in water with a lot of kelp or debris on the seabed, it might get hung up on the bottom. Kokatat's system seems to be a bit overdone. While it makes sense in theory, application proves it to be a little too complex.
• 25-foot, 3/16-inch Spectra floating line
• (800) 225-9749
Wildwasser –Touring Tow Belt
The Wildwasser tow system appears quite complex at first glance. The bag is rigged on a belt and it can be released at the bag or the entire system can be released. This allows the rescuer to use the rope as either a boat-tow system or a throw bag.
By clipping the carabiner into a daisy chain sewn onto the belt and releasing the bag, the rescuer can throw the bag to a swimmer and tow the swimmer from an undesirable situation while still having full release capability. The rope's length is adjustable through a Prusik cord attached to the line within the bag.
Wildwasser has also done a great job of constructing the shock-absorption bungee at the towee end by sewing in a piece of two-foot tubular webbing to contain the bungee. This allows the shock-absorption system to function at any length.
Deployment happened quickly. Unfortunately, at one point when I had preset the Prusik near the center of the line, the rest of the line fell out of the bag during deployment and I ended up with a huge loop hanging from my waist. Yikes!
The widemouthed shape of the bag made packing the rope away easy, but I had to first flake it into my hand, then stuff the whole bunch into the bag. Stuffing directly into the bag was a bit awkward. A drawstring-style closure might be more efficient.
The tall, fat shape of the bag felt a little awkward while paddling. Because the bag was taller than the gap between the deck and my PFD, it seemed to push up my PFD. Despite being a bit awkward, this system gives you a lot of capability at a great price.
• 35-foot, 5/16-inch polypropylene line
• (303) 444-2336