DIY towrope system

I have been tinkering trying to perfect the sea kayak towrope system for some time now.

Some commercial offerings are badly designed and some are too expensive (for what they are) or not available locally.

Therefore I designed and manufactured my own one.

I have addressed all possible scenarios/situations.

It is a on-deck style towing system.

I know that some would view that as wrong but I am not the only one using that style (actually there are a lot of instructors using the on-deck ones).

For more details on a DIY towing system:

Great work as per usual

– Last Updated: Jul-30-09 10:07 AM EST –

Yet another well researched and executed item. Kudos to you.

I have had an on deck system for years. It is fantastic. However, most USA folks do NOT subscribe to them and have MAJOR negative ideas about their necessity and strengths. You may find a negative response here to it in general.

I think that many kayakers do not paddle on the ocean or great lakes and thus have only short tows or have never towed someone longer than 30 minutes.

They may not realize that the potential danger to one's back, kidneys, and exhaustion if significant. Also, many kayakers have tons of gear on the rear deck making such a system not a great idea as well.

The quick release buckle is something I use on my deck system AND on the front deck short tow line that I also use for holding two boats together for a quick tow and for assisted recoveries of a heavy or injured paddler. It is a major safety feature.

Thanks for posting.

A few small questions

The float at the end of the system is potentially troublesome in a few scenarios.

When towing two boats, one injured party and another assisting them to stay upright, getting the lines through the first boat and onto the second boat, and then off again in rough heaving seas can be very very difficult.

I have found either placing the float 3-5 feet from the end better or simply not having the float on that end of the line is better.

If you only tow system, you might use a "paddle caribiner", i.e., one that is large enough to clip onto a paddle shaft. I could not tell if the one shown will do this.

If using Dyneema line. You might consider adding a short length of something that is shock absorbing. Even though not attached to your body, sudden loads to the line might jar you or the other boat into a capsize situation.

Although I like it that you are trying to have the bag in front of you so you can deploy and re-stuff it, I wonder if the attachment point on the side of your cockpit is possibly a de-stabilizing anchor point for a heavy towing situation of two boats in tide and current and waves. Also, might you have some problems with it fouling with the stern or going under the boat and putting you at a wrong angle of attack? Actually, it may be just great. Just wondering : > )

Your thoughts appreciated as always.

One thing I thought you can improve

– Last Updated: Jul-30-09 10:43 AM EST –

(as tideplay mentions) is to include a length of elastic bungy cord. Have you actually tried to tow someone yet with this in waves?

I happened to have to tow a wind surfer (less the sail) with my kayak over the weekend for about half a mile against some tide and I can tell you that not having an elastic component made for a rather jerky ride in the 1-2 foot waves I had to go through...

I used a rope tied to my lower back on the PFD and I could anticipate the jerking and absorb some of it via body motion but a bungy would have been much better.

A few comments
Your goals seems to be:

  • Convenient access to tow system
  • Small, low profile system

    Let me add a few thoughts in terms of safety.

    First, the choice of line is probably not optimal. It’s too strong and too thin. Imagine what it might do to you or the other paddler if they get hung up it in and pulled by a large force. It could sever an arm or a leg before it breaks. A weaker, stretchier diamond braided poly line would handle the forces you need in a larger diameter like 1/4 inch.

    Second, I’d actually remove the float and the caribiner from the end. That way the end floats if you have to toss it to someone and they can tie it in or clip it in using a quick figure 8 knot. Use locking aluminum caribiners.

    Third, related to the first items is to generally consider where you want the system to fail. Imagine a big boat snagging the line before you can react and have failure points at both ends that keep people and boats from coming apart.

    Fourth, the small loops next to your cockpit have rope constantly rubbing on rope and will wear through eventually after so much sawing.

    Finally, I would suggest having the anchor point behind you and a cow tail (short 3 to 5 foot line) that you can easily reach and connect to the tow system which can be where it is in your pictures. The anchored end of your cow tail can be as secure as you like and the line might be your shock absorbing line. The free end could be your quick release which would normally be held beside or just behind the cockpit within easy reach but out of the way. When you need to tow, you pull this release up in front of you, connect into your tow system, lock the towee in and the whole system remains behind you except the quick release line.

    This gives you the same convenience, but eliminates a couple of the issues with anchoring it up front.

    Just my thoughts…


line central and behind
jim that is what I rigged. It has a central placement and is rigged to a one way binding open stopper. The bag is velcro to a giant patch right behind me so I can restuff the bag and just slap it back down.

Regards to how to release the system, this is ALWAYS the worry. I can release the system in one second and blindly. I would rather have the first yank be on my boat not me however!

Just curious
-does the guideloop beside your cockpit have a quick-release in the event your towline is pulled from the side?

-how does the towee release themself if you should get separated from your boat?

use of a quick release fitting
although not usually done, I have a quick release fitting like Gnarlydog on both ends of my line.

That way I connect by the bow, and hand back to the kayaker the release line. Thus either the injured person (one person tow) or the healthy rescuer, two person tow, can release themselves.

aluminum carabiners
don’t always get along with salt water.

good points guys
@tideplay: I have made several tow lines and I included a short section of bungee in the system in some. While it does take out the shock from towing I don’t notice a great difference. Maybe because it is mounted on deck and not on the body (as kocho mentioned). Most of my towing so far has been in relatively small swell (max 5 feet). You have a valid point for the little float interfering with a in-line tow however the flat is not any bigger the a “paddle carabiner” that you mention.

The slightly off centre tow spot does not bother me too much.

@jimyaker: my choice of line is purely because of it’s size (or lack of it). A much larger diameter towline is very bulky when stowed. My philosophy is in a compact towline system. I do hear your concerns though. Somehow I prefer to have a towline accessible on deck than stored in the day hatch. Storing 15 meters of 8 mm diameter on deck would be rather bulky, in my opinion. You are right, my towline is a compromise in this respect.

Second point: most people don’t know hot to tie a decent knot; a carabiner seems to be a method adopted by many instructors.

Third point: admittedly possible but very unlikely that a big boat might cut between myself and the towed kayak. It’s 15 meters, not 150 meters…

Forth point: Dyneema loop does get rubbed only on deployment /retrieval (not often). Dyneema line is extremely abrasion resistant because of the fine filaments it’s made of. Honestly will take years of regular towing to wear through that loop.

Your final point has merit: will look into it and see if it’s simple and intuitive enough to be performed under duress.

add quick release both ends
actually you got me thinking. use of the quick release at both ends allows use of the float with less worry or snagging. Thanks

Great idea!
I like the quick-release for the towee and am going to try & work something up for our towbelts.

A friend of mine (who wrote a DIY tow belt for Sea Kayaker) told me that I’m crazy to use an Al biner in saltwater. I told him he’s crazy. After six weeks of daily paddling on saltwater, the Al biner barely worked.

Go stainless.


That’s easy to deal with
There are two options. The best is to select wire-gate 'biners, which are far less prone to saltwater related problems than traditional solid-gate 'biners.

If you’re using solid-gate 'biners, you simply have to lube them a couple of times per season and rinse them after every use.

Sticky or frozen gates do not mean the 'biner is trash. I’ve taken 'biners that were corroded to the point that the gate would not move at all and have brought them back to usable condition by soaking them in hot water, working the gate until it’s free, then lubing them. Climbing 'biners are far stronger than kayakers need for tow rigs (breaking strength in the 4000# range), so even if they are slightly weakened by corrosion, it won’t matter for that application.

While I applaud your ingenuity…
…I have to say that your rig is a step backwards in safety, rather than being an improvement.

IMO, mounting a tow rig on the foredeck is dangerous. You do not want the tow rope going even part way around your body. While it certainly is convenient, I would NEVER do it. It’s one thing to do that with a short, emergency contact tow that will only be used for a brief period of time, but not for long distance towing and definitely not for towing in difficult conditions. The likelihood of entanglement in a capsize is simply too great.

Having the tow line pull from one side of the boat will compromise your directional control. The best deck rigs pull either from the center of the aft deck via a fairlead or from a cross-deck line that allow the tow line to move side to side as the towed boat changes position.

The idea of the shackle as an alternative quick release mechanism is intriguing, but a deck tow rig is not a good application for one. Running it though a loop of line beside the cockpit - or through anything for that matter - creates an entanglement point. That’s why commercial deck tow rigs use only cord and cam cleats that don’t require a loop in the rope; the cord will flow smoothly through an eyelet, ring, carabiner or fairlead with little risk of entanglement.

I agree with others who’ve said that 2mm Dyneema is a poor choice of cord for several reasons:

1- It’s way to difficult to handle with gloves on.

2- Under tension, it will be very hard on one’s hands, possibly leading to abrasions and cuts.

3- It doesn’t take knots well, as it’s a very slippery material.

While it certainly is compact, typical 1/4"-3/8" braided polyester or Nylon cord is more than compact enough for a tow rig up to 50’ long, which is as much as one should ever need. If the rig is mounted behind the cockpit where it should be, bulk is largely a non-issue.

While there is always room for improvements in equipment, commercial deck tow rigs have evolved to their current form for very specific reasons. While I agree that many are overpriced and some are not well designed, the good ones work well and they’re safe designs.

bnystrom, you have valid points
with your comments.

A few suggested some kind of shock absorption method.

A “cow tail” with bungee cord was mentioned.

I would like to incorporate that BEHIND me but the quick release has to be still operational from the reach of the cockpit (obviously)

My question is:

  1. how do you stuff the towrope back in the bag once finished using it (not necessarily back on the beach, but swapping towing with somebody else) if your towbag is behind you?

    The main reason for the towbag being in front of me is to have EASY access to the towrope for deployment/storing.

    I would reconsider relocating the tow anchor point if a satisfactory solution beomes available.

    On the note that Dyneema is too thin to handle with gloves: I have never seen anybody paddling with gloves around here (only fingerless ones for sun protection) since water temps never dip low enough to warrant them (think Florida)


– Last Updated: Aug-02-09 8:40 AM EST –


one is a converted tow belt, still works as a tow belt for handing off...(no need to restuff to hand off a tow)

The other is a converted throw rope, still works as a throw rope (for by caves etc)

both have 5 or 6 feet of bungie on the rope

Best Wishes

nice set up
if not a bit messy…

How does the rope stay put in heavy surf? would it not catch water when broached and then start to creep out of the bag?

How do you stow the rope once finished towing assuming you are not passing your tow line to somebody else (each kayak must have its own towline, in our Club).

Thanks for the suggestions.

gnarly where is your set up attached
Not clear from the pictures. Where is your towline attached, on the side or from a point on the front deck? I was visualizing that you attach it to the side cord, take out lead from bag and attach to rescuee boat.

Regards the restuffing and resetting I have redone my earlier system using a cam and fairlead for just that reason, I can’t reach them in heavy seas to reset them, it would take someone else, not a good idea.

Towing others represents a great safety option and a great preventative measure for tiring paddler or a way to keep a whole group together and moving faster. However, it is as others say a major source of multiple dangers from being unable to detach and so on.

Although there are valid times and reasons for a belt paddler attached tow, I am personally on the side of using a properly outfitted boat tow in almost all situations. Just my personal take on the whole thing.

Stowing, bungee and Dyneema

– Last Updated: Aug-05-09 9:01 PM EST –

One of my big gripes against deck tows - and one reason I don't use them - is that they are nowhere near as quick and easy to stow after use as a good belt rig. Unfortunately, it's the nature of the beast to an extent, as to be safe, they have to be mounted behind you where they're harder to access. I also don't like the fact that they're not readily transferable from one paddler to another unless both boats are specifically outfitted for them. They also sit lower, so they tend to snag on the stern of the boat, paddles stowed on the aft deck, rudders, etc.

I've added bungee shock absorbers to waist rigs and it's easy to do and makes a significant difference in comfort. It only takes ~3' of 3/8" bungee to make a shock absorber. There are pics in my "Northwater Tow Rig Modifications" album at:

If you don't need gloves where you live (I'm in an area with cold water and real winters), you still have the issue of the narrow cord being very hard on your bare hands. Try wrapping a length of it around both hands and pulling them apart. It will hurt like hell and may even break the skin if you pull hard enough. Try the same thing with typical tow rope and though it will still be somewhat uncomfortable, it's not likely to do any damage.

Tow Line
has so far only come loose a few times on my wife in some really big breaking stuff…it acts like a sea anchor.

I have never had it happen…mine seem to stay no mater what.

stowing after a tow is either done at the end of the tow or just like any tow

You just stuff it…the belt one can be passed around or after a tow, just put on as a belt…the throw rope one takes a little bit of work to re hook

and in rough conditions can just be carried on the deck as a throwable until the conditions allow re hooking thru the fairlead.

when we paddle my wife usually has the belt one rigged on her boat and I have the throw rope one on mine…that way we have both a throwable / towable and a towable/passable system between us

Best Wishes