July 2010

Tow like a pro

Put safety first when towing.

Recreational boats aren’t equipped with midship towing bitts like the pros have, so you’ll need to make a tow bridle for each boat. Tow bridles spread the strain over two or more attachment points and minimize yawing.

To make the tow bridles, tie the spliced eyes of two dock lines to each end of the towline. (Use bowline knots if you ever want to untie the lines.) The two-bridle towline should look like this: >——<.

Attach the ends of one bridle to the towing vessel’s stern cleats and the ends of the other bridle to the towed boat’s bow or midship cleats. In rough water, take a couple of turns on the cleats and run the lines aft to more attachment points, e.g., the midship cleats, stern cleats or mast.

The towline should be strong double-braided nylon, slightly stretchy and long enough to maintain a catenary, or dip, during the tow. The longer the towline, the easier the ride and the less stress on the hardware. The bridle should be even stronger than the towline—if anything breaks, you want it to be the towline.

Plan the tow with the other boat before you hook up, and stay in touch on VHF.

When transferring the line, don’t toss it to the disabled vessel unless the water is calm. Instead, tie a fender or life jacket to the end and another about 50 feet up the line. Then, approach the vessel from behind and run parallel, bringing the line to its stern.

As you’re towing, make sure everyone stands clear of the towline; if it snaps, it would injure anyone in its path. Also make sure the vessels stay in rhythm, riding up and down the waves at the same time. Don’t go faster than 7 knots.

In protected waters, shorten the towline for better maneuverability, and slow down even more.

Remember, most towing damage occurs at the dock, so try to use a face dock.

A tool for every season and every reason!

Anchor bend

A variation of the Round turn with two half hitches, the anchor bend is also a secure slip knot.

When fastened to an anchor shank ring, the knot binds tightly and won’t rotate on the ring under load.


How not to tow

If you simply tied a line from the towing boat’s stern cleat to the other boat’s bow cleat, the towing boat would be difficult, if not impossible, to steer, and the towed vessel would yaw. Worse, the tower’s stern cleat could rip loose and shoot back into the towed boat or the tower’s stern could dip underwater and swamp the boat.

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