Kayak tether

I was just wondering if anyone has any opinions/recommendations on tethers going from the paddler to the kayak. I am starting to do more multi-day trips which results in my kayak having a sleeping bag, tent and other overnighting accessories in it. Some areas where I paddle have some overturning risk and I’d really like to not have to chase my boat down the river if I come out of it. Any ideas/recommendations?

Commonly used in open water not rivers
In open water where your boat can blow away from you, they are commonly used. In rivers where there is a risk of capsizing the risk of entanglement is too high for them to be recommended.

Use on rivers
I was wondering about an emergency disconnect in case of entanglement. The problem with chasing the boat is a lot of the River banks are 4-5 foot high almost vertical banks.

Use floating painter lines
Frank’s advice is solid and conventional wisdom.

In whitewater one is usually with a group, and so your companions should almost always be able to get your boat unless they are all completely unprepared and unskilled in basic river rescue.

However, when paddling milder rivers alone with tripping gear, the risk of boat loss goes way up.

With a kayak I would do the same thing as a canoeist: attach painter lines of about 15’-20’ long at each end of the boat. I use high strength 3/16" floating polypro rope, which you can get at NRS. This is not survival rescue rope, but will do the job of towing a canoe or kayak to shore in mild river currents.

With an open canoe you can just leave the lines loose so they spill out after a capsize. Alternatively, and especially with a decked hull, you can coil the lines under a bungee for quick deployment. The 3/16" rope coils and stows more easily and efficiently than 3/8".

If you capsize on a river, you will usually be right next to your boat, so you can grab it. Get to the end, pull the rope out from under the bungee, and try your best to swim-tow to the bank. If you can’t do it, you can just let go and hope for the best. Having the rope attached to your body probably wouldn’t help.

You may want to practice swim-towing, as there is an actual technique to holding the line. People do it different ways. Maybe there is preferred way now.

That actually sounds like it would work well. I’m not a whitewater paddler and don’t always paddle alone but sometimes a good long paddle is the best way to clear your head and spending quality time with mother nature can really put someone at peace.

Alone. Rope.
Other than my heavy whitewater days, where I always paddled with experienced clubs, I have spent most of my paddling days alone. I still do in my late 60’s.

If you have the proper skills for the waters you are paddling, the proper preparation, the right gear and tools, and most of all GOOD JUDGMENT, you can enjoy solo tripping without worry.

Having rope is always good. I’d much rather be looking at rope than for rope when out paddling and camping. The painters can be used to tow your boat through shallows or, using your good judgment, to line your boat from shore through a steep pitch. It can also be used to pull your boat up, or lower it down, steep banks.

And the rope is always handy around camp for a clothesline or whatever.

paddle leash
These are paddle leashes, and as mentioned, are not often used on moving water rivers (as they are a danger there).

I wouldn’t
I concur with Frank and Glenn regarding the use of tethers in current. I would discourage you from doing so.

Any line long enough to wrap around your wrist or ankle might do so in the confusion of an unplanned wet exit in moving water. If the line is under considerable tension, as it might easily be if your boat hangs up and you are in the current, you might not be able to free yourself even if there is a quick release device on one end. You could be in a situation in which you couldn’t reach the line to cut it, assuming you had a knife, if you are suspended in strong current.

I have taken many more swims in whitewater than I care to admit, including more than a few in which I was paddling alone. There have only been a couple of times where I had to let go of my boat, or accidentally did so, usually when a cold or wet hand slipped off.

I have never used painters on kayaks, but do have them on all my river canoes. There is no reason you couldn’t have one attached to your kayak, but I would be certain that it is securely stored under a shock cord as Glenn suggests. In my canoes I usually loop the painter under a pair of shock cords atop my deck plate. It should be easily accessible from the end of your kayak when upside down. This might require you to drill some holes in your boat to mount shock cords.

I find that for the purposes of river self rescue, a relatively short painter about a boat length long suffices. With practice, you can learn to just free up a short length of rope to give you something more convenient than a grab loop or toggle to hold on to while you swim your boat to shore, or you can free up the whole length if necessary.

At times it is not that easy to swim a boat out of strong current, especially if loaded. It is often much easier to swim yourself into a nearby eddy, then reel the boat into it using the painter.

Can you roll?

– Last Updated: Jan-02-13 9:21 AM EST –

Just as a starting point - if you can, it doesn't eliminate but reduces the risk of getting separated from the boat. That gives you more flexibility in your tethering options,.

If you can't roll and paddle alone, I'd suggest you use the winter to find some pool sessions to learn. By spring you could have have a more robust set of solutions to this problem.

The last thing

– Last Updated: Jan-03-13 7:14 AM EST –

you want in white water is to be tethered to your boat. I go to great lengths to eliminate any possibility that I might find myself entangled in a rope or strap in the event of a capsize. If you lose your boat you still have a fighting chance of survival. Of course the risks increase exponentially when you are alone.

Most of the rivers that I paddle are 3-4 feet deep at their deepest points and in lots of places well under that. I could see some serious head trauma coming form trying that. I haven’t tipped my boat in years just don’t want to do it and see all my gear go down river without me that’s all.

I think you are on the right track
planning for the worst and hoping for the best. But I did nearly drown from entrapment in less than two feet of water about 15 years ago.

I personally would not tether in moving water. Yes you will have a rescue knife…but when you are getting batted around, will you have the presence of mind to use it?

A bad idea in general
Tethers add complexity and increase the risk of entanglement in a capsize. You should NEVER rely on a tether, but should learn to hang onto your boat and paddle. A spare paddled should be easily accessible from the cockpit, just in case. The deck rigging on your boat should allow you to quickly stow a paddle when performing rescues and other tasks.

It seems from my own experience that tethers and leashes are crutches that beginners often use (often based on unfounded concerns), but generally abandon as their skills improve. I started out with a paddle leash, but haven’t used one in a LONG time.

3-4 feet?
If you are actually only in 3 to 4 feet of water, like even I could stand in it, and the water is slow moving or flat as you say in your profile, I don’t see the need for anything fancy (or particularly long) in a tether. You should be able to just hang onto the boat in a capsize if you are going over in water that you can stand in.

As to practice rolling, if you were to try and learn it you would find out three things. Your bracing gets better so you reduce the risk of a capsize to start with, you learn to capsize in a way that protects your head in shallow water and you learn to stay with the boat in a capsize. Even if you never get a roll you get these three things.

If you are paddling solo, especially in such shallow water, if anything I would say it argues more for learning the habits that go with rolling. Short of wearing a helmet all day which is a pain, it is probably the best way to avoid hurting your noggin in a capsize.

Another thought
What causes the risk of capsizing?

If you can minimize that by developing skills, readnig water better, etc, then the need for a tether goes away altogether. Maybe it’s a few strong eddylines. Learn how to cross them properly. Maybe it’s downed trees or rocks – learn how to deal with those.

If you are alone in an environment where self-rescue is difficult in 3-4 feet of water and exiting the river is near impossible, it means you must have some decent current. Even though it isn’t whitewater, it’s still pretty sketchy from your description. Should you be alone? Would a strainer around a blind bend be a major problem for you?

Not trying to ebat you up about being alone, but realistically it sounds like there are dangers there that could cause you some problems. How do you minimize that?


I often use a tether
when sea kayaking, but I tether the paddle to the boat, not to me. As long as I have the paddle, I have the boat under control.

Oceans aren’t like rivers, they don’t move under you. Rather, what happens is that the air can move your boat away from you quite rapidly. High winds after a wet exit can separate you from a boat very quickly, perhaps quickly enough that the boat will be out of reach before your head is above water. This is not something you wish to happen when you are far from shore. I have often been 2-3 miles offshore and that is a long swim home :). Since there is no risk of entanglement in such conditions, the tether is fine.

On moving water, however, which isn’t often, I truly dislike the idea of having anything that is either loose or which adds to the profile of the boat (I even stow the pump, fishing rod, food, and water inside the hull). I’ve seen how badly rope, line, boats, paddles, etc. can become entangled in moving water to have a healthy appreciation for the white water folks aversion to using tethers.


New to this … How do you attach a teather to your kayak ? Thanks Brian

@blandmac@aol.com said:
New to this … How do you attach a teather to your kayak ? Thanks Brian

Small carabiner or clip to a perimeter line.

Better yet, practice wet exits and rescues, learn to hang onto your boat and paddle, and forget about the tether. It’s an unnecessary entanglement hazard that basically amounts to nothing more than a “security blanket” for nervous paddlers. Once you develop your skills, you won’t feel the need to be tied to your boat.

For times when you may need to attach your boat to something (a dock, another boat when rafted, etc.), a short tow line stored on the foredeck (a.k.a., a “contact tow”) serves a dual purpose without creating a hazard.

not a fan, but do your research and decide for yourself.
though, just make sure if you are going to flip just before a bridge piling, that you don’t wrap yourself around it:

@crowellsr said:
Some areas where I paddle have some overturning risk

How much is ‘some’. Maybe learn a good roll before entering ‘risky’ waters.