I’ve read several posts about towing and how many like the tow rope that attaches via belt to the tower’s waist (w quick release). Are all tow ropes attached to the tower’s waist? Why not just attach to the back deck? Are their cases for both or just comfort-based?
Why would you need shorter vs longer tow ropes?
What is a contact tow?
In sequence - the single most important feature of a tow rope is the ability to quickly release it. Not being able to do that creates a safety risk that can put both boats at risk, should something happen where the boat being towed is too destabilizing for the boat doing the towing. Having a waist mounted belt means it is very fast to release the tow rope. Having it on the deck can make that less easy depending on the details of where and how it is mounted.
Longer versus shorter lines are based on conditions. In a flat water situation you can go with shorter lengths, if conditions are dicey you may need more space between the two boats to avoid collisions. That is why you often see a longer line daisy chained in the bag, because the paddler has anticipated that if a tow line is needed a shorter one will for the conditions that day.
Contact tow is a very short line, usually from the perimeter line of the boat, that is used when you are going to bring someone in so close that you are pretty much bumping their boat. It can be helpful if a paddler is incapacitated enough to need support from another paddler to stay upright in their boat or for a quick short tow. The bit about supporting another paddler can get very tricky, so this is not something for people without some serious skills time to try.
I have also used a contact tow to move random debris short distances.
The biggest point - No one should try to use a tow line in a real life situation without having practiced with it first. Trying an assist that puts the rescuer in the water just makes things worse.
Expanding on @Celia’s excellent answer:
On short versus long, the example I have always heard on the long line is for towing in rolling waves (the type of thing where people would do “downwind” paddles on). If the person being towed is too close behind you, as a wave comes in under them from behind and starts to surf them, they could collide with the person doing the towing. Definitely a safety consideration. So that is one example of when you want a long tow line (the distance greater than that of 2 waves is optimal).
One of the primary reasons that waist tows are popular is that they are higher above the deck, so they’re less likely to snag on items stowed on the aft deck (like spare paddles, paddle floats, etc.), on raised hatch covers, or on the stern end of the boat. You can also quickly spin it around if you need to tow in reverse, such as when pulling someone out of rocks or a surf zone. Additionally, you can give a waist tow to another paddler to use, if need be. Obviously, you can’t do that with a deck-mounted tow, unless the boat is specifically set up to use it. There are several types, so that’s really not practical.
Celia’s point about practicing with a tow in advance is crucial to safety. A tow can go wrong really quickly and turn into a major safety hazard. Ideally, at least three people should be part of a tow, the “victim” being towed, at least one person towing and a safety paddler who keeps an eye on the process from beside the victim’s boat to alert the towing paddler(s) of any problems (snags, capsizes, approaching boats, etc.). They also need to keep an eye on any additional paddlers in the group, in case they run into trouble. In some cases, another paddler will have to raft with and stabilize the victim to keep them upright.
I’ve been involved in a lot of practice scenarios and one real-life case where someone was suddenly unable to paddle or stay upright in the middle of a mile-long open water crossing. We needed a towing paddler, a stabilizing boat, me as the safety paddler and I ended up having to rescue another member of the group who capsized. Fortunately, the conditions weren’t too rough and it all worked out, but it was a good lesson in how quickly things can go completely sideways.
Here is Gordon Brown’s video on Contact tow… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OhowpFVDe8
I often use the contact tow line for securing the boat at a lunch stop, etc. Everything has more than one use.
Strapping the tow line to my waist makes paddling easier. If I strap it to my stern carry-handle, I cannot turn and the drag makes me struggle.
If I attach the tow-line to my waist, I don’t even know I am towing someone.
Whoever told you that it was OK to attach a tow line to the stern of your boat? That’s really dangerous and you should NEVER do that!
May I suggest a rescues class with towing. Most towing situations are unique even for simply a tired paddler. Contact tows are excellent if you know how/when to use them.
Most tow situations call for a long line tow lines (40-50 ft) but occasionally are too long so you might need a short tow (20-25 ft) for the situation. You definitely want a long/short tow line attached to your waist with an easy to use quick release should the situation turn bad.