How hard is it to tow a kayak (empty)

for several miles using another kayak as the tow boat and how long should the rope be between the two kayaks?



It’s easy.
If you aren’t in a hurry. Use a bungee cord around 5-10’ long. Give’s a little in case you need the stretch.

When I’ve taken my sons, I’ve done it a few times, no problem. My 10 yo paddles a small rec kayak, and when he’s tired of paddling, he gets in the canoe with my 5 yo and me and we tow the yak. I’ve even towed my wife IN the yak when she was tired.

Funny you should ask…
I just made my own tow harness/rope using an old ski rope, some bungee, and some 1" nylon webbing/fastex buckles. My rope is 30’ long total, and for our boats (10.5 ft. and 14 ft.) appears to be about right. The webbing goes around the tow’ers waist/pfd and the fastex buckle provides a quick disconnect. The other end goes around the bow toggle of the tow’d boat. I keep it daisy-chained behind the yak seat when stowed. While out playing on the lake my daughter and I practiced towing each other expecting it to be serious work.

To our surprise, you can’t feel the other yak at all! I’m sure speed was diminished somewhat but it still felt like we were making good headway.

So, with an empty boat, you probably won’t notice much drag. Wind will be an issue with tracking but the towed boat will still follow your lead. Part of the secret is in the bungee…it absorbs the surge from your paddle stroke.

Anyway, you might decrease your speed maybe 10% with an empty boat…a guess.

Then an idea hit me…a yak trailer! Something as simple as a kneeboard to hold the beer chest out of the water…or maybe a second dinky cheapo yak for extra gear. I’m sure I’m not the first to think of it. Wouldn’t want to do this in whitewater or surf though. And lord help you if your towed boat got sucked into a strainer.

Lots of variables
I am primarily a sea kayaker so I would use a short tow (12 to 15 feet) in flat water and a long tow (40 feet plus) in large ocean swells. Depending upon current, wind, and sea conditions towing can range from easy to difficult. Most of the towing I have done is with someone in the boat either able to do some paddling (not too difficult) do a disabled paddler (not much fun). I have only had to tow an empty kayak once from the ocean up a tidal river for a few miles and it was very easy as long as the boat remained upright.

given that the length and beam of a boat affects the speed,would not keeping the towed boat (Assumed empty) close to the stern of the leading boat lengthen the waterline and ease the effort required?

this isn’t a trick question, I don’t know so I’m askin’…

Make sure you use a quick release!
Your tow rope must be on a quick release from your boat! Best place is a quick release waist belt. This keeps you from being capsized if the boat you are towing does something weird.

I would think it’s actually easier to tow a manned boat than an unmanned one. Even though it’s heavier, unless the person in the boat is unconscious, they can control the boat and keep it from flipping or running up on you. In many cases, the paddler can assist but just needs help making it through a section of rough water, etc.

2 hulls
while that is true for a single, continuous, hull, i think having 2 hulls negates that advantage.

i also think the length of rope is dependant on what you’re paddling on and whether the 2nd kayak is manned or not. i would think you’d want the 2nd empty kayak to be closer when you’re on a small, meandering, SLOW moving stream, so you can have better control of it and to get around some of the tight corners, whereas on a wide body of water, you could probably let some slack out.

if the 2nd kayak is manned, then you can lengthen the rope more because the kayaker can control the craft.

possibly dangerous in practice
I have had towing taught in some of the sea kayaking classes I have taken, and they always recommend longer tow ropes than I expected (between 35 and 50 foot). The explanation being that you don’t want the boat you are towing to be close enough to be a weapon should it get picked up by a wave and sent towards you.

Perhaps if you hard connected the bow of the towed boat to the stern of the boat doing the towing, you may gain some efficiency benefit. But this goes against the tower being able to quickly disconnect the towed boat in an emergency (like if the towed boat got caught on something or didn’t have flotation and sunk).

We do this all the time
with a kid in tow. Obviously, we only do this in flat water since we are talking about towing our kids. I guess we usually have about 15 feet of rope. Our kids paddle well, but often run out of gas. They are capable of keeping the boat stable in most situations.


You need to have the rope at least
two wave lengths in length. That will prevent the boat you are towing from surfing into you. At least that was the length suggested by Fiona Whitehead in a class on incident management. Towing a disabled paddler ut through surf and then back in through surf proved that most commercial tow belts are too short for big conditions. We were all figuring out ways to lengthen our lines and even took two belts and put them together at one point.

There is not much effort to towing an empty boat. I tow my surf boat behind my long boat when I want to use it at a place other than the put-in.

One dumb thing
After seeing a towed Romany flipping upside down, the right side up, then upside down agin and so on while being towed in conditions, I decided that it’d be a prudent thing to have the cockpit cover with the boat on major trips. (especially if you have a neo cover) The person towing did a heck of a job, but the spinning and pickup of water couldn’t have been making her job easy. It might have been a bit simpler if someone could have pulled the cockpit cover from the day hatch and gotten it affixed before the tow. (This was obviously a situation where the paddler and boat had gotten fairly apart.)

I had to tow an empty Pungo
through a late afternoon summer thunderstorm on Upper Saranac Lake a few years ago. I had tied the kayak with a bowline through the bow handle on about 20 ft of line. I tied the other end to the stern handle of the canoe I was paddling. I rigged a slip knot so I could pull on the bitter end to release the knot if I had to. I never thought Patty & I would make it to Buck Island before nightfall, but we managed somehow.

Jack, I use a 5/8 ir 1/4 rope about 4"

– Last Updated: Jul-19-07 6:21 PM EST –

Screwed that Subject up. I use a 5/8" or 1/4" rope about 4'long between the kayaks. The rope I made is about 6' long. You know I use a poly kayak and the rivers I paddle and the shorter the rope the better. I have a caribiner on each end because my Kestrel has a locking bar on the rear deck between the dry storage and cockpit. Towing is dependent on wind and obviously water. I towed an empty kayak 12 miles downriver one day and it was a great workout.
I don't imagine you are going to tow one too far but if you are using a fancy kayak to tow the other I would put something on the towed ones bow to keep them from touching but you know that already.
The shorter the rope ...the easier the tow. Just keep a steady pace and you won't have any problems.
I tow canoes/kayaks empty and full so much I made the tow rope just to make it quick and easy.
It might be easier to tie the rope to your stern handle and then to the other bow handle.

A lot easier than if swimming! NM

So how long do you keep the distance
from your stern to the bow of your surf yak ??


So I got 20 feet from
Randy and 6 feet from GK.

I guess I’ll settle for 13 feet



Try 20 then try 4-6
and let us know your opinion. I’d be interested. cause I tow a lot of kayaks.

Ah’d set up a bridle

– Last Updated: Jul-20-07 8:57 AM EST –

about a few feet in from the bow on de towed boat. Dis be ta keep de bow from plowin' inta de waves an' fishtailin' while towin' . Yer kin tie de bridle onto a deckline on both sides. Dis be a classic canoo linin' an' towin' technique dat should work wit towin' kayaks too.


Describe the “bridle” a little more FE
You must know by now that I am a slow learner!

are you talking about two ropes or some kind of rigid gizmo.



I like to tow a light inflatable
when i go camping. (A backpacing dinghy)

I can load it with a lot of dry bags of gear. It’s a little drag, but not too bad.