Kayak Towing & Rescue

-- Last Updated: Jul-29-08 6:33 PM EST --

I took my buddy kayaking the other day. Waves were around 3-6 ft with an occassional 8 footer.
Edit: SWELLS seemed to be 8ft...
So it was no joke for a guy who hasnt paddled much. Needless to say, he tipped his boat about 3/4 mile off shore. He panicked, and would not listen to my directions. He refused to hold on to the boat he was paddling and I had no choice but to leave it, as I had no rope on me because we were just paddling out and back doing some practice runs to get him used to big waves.
The life gaurds swam out to meet him about 1/5 mile off shore, I paddled to shore, waited to make sure he was OK, then looked out to my boat he tipped. It wasnt any closer to shore and drifting east. I was going to paddle out there, but instead I called a tow boat service nearby... after paddling those swells for 2 hrs and then dealing with the situation for 45 minutes I just didnt feel like going out there not knowing the propper way to tow a boat.

I was thinking of tieing a rope around my waste to keep the weight centered, but I wasnt sure if that would pull me over if the tipped boat got tossed by a wave. The other option would be to tie it off to the back of my boat, but that would be impossible out on the water without a wet exit and entry.

share the knowledge pleaz

Use a regular tow rope
with a quick release. There are systems for waist towing, cockpit towing, and towing from the deck. Look at the NRS catalog on line.

I agree

– Last Updated: Jul-29-08 11:12 AM EST –

Glad your buddy made it back in.

I agree with the comment that a made for this tow rope would be best.

You need a line long enough to prevent the towed boat from surfing in to you. Something like twice the distance between wave peaks is the rule of thumb.

You also want the ability to disconnect quickly should something happen to the towed boat.

Is it me…
Or is taking a friend who “hasn’t paddled much” out in 6-8 ft waves a disaster waiting to happen? I’m thinking 2-3 ft waves would be a bit more in line with someone with limited experience. And then only if they are rollers as opposed to breakers.

No - it’s not just you…

– Last Updated: Jul-29-08 11:48 AM EST –

The way the story was described, it sounds like both paddlers were not sufficiently prepared for this kind of outing. I would not take someone who is not used to waves into 6 ft seas - and especially if (as it sounds) he has not practiced rescues in "conditions". Of course you cannot predict panic situations but it's best to be prepared.

I would also not go into an open sea with waves without a tow rope and know how to use it. Towing back an empty kayak (I don't have the experience) seems tricky. I think it could fill with water unless you had a hatch cover.

Maybe I'm a more conservative but I think it's best to have at least 3 people out on a day like this to help with capsizing, boat recovery etc.

I also wonder why the buddy swam to shore rather than, say, hang on to the "guide"'s boat? Maybe part of the panic situation. Good thing that the life guards were there and helped.

Sounds like they were lucky to return unharmed.

6 - 8 Ft waves ???
Are we sure about that? I thought the storm had passed already. People who are not experienced in paddling waves overestimate the wave height by a lot. A wave looks huge in a kayak or when it’s crashing down on you when you are swimming. If there were 6 -8 ft waves in New Jersey yesterday, the Waveski forums would be crackling with stories and surfing pics. I suspect the waves were not quite as big as reported but still caused trouble.


Here’s this mornings surf forecst for New Jersey…

Hey, this is Kurt with the report for Tuesday morning at 6:05 AM.


1-2 ft - ankle to knee high and poor conditions.

AM Report:

Small traces showing this morning with the morning high tide. Conditions are clean/glassy with light offshore winds.


If the kayaker did not know how do to do a tow he did the right thing in going and getting help. Best thing with out a tow rope would have been to do an assisted rescue and at least got rafted up with a partially emptied boat, do a bow or stern town, and then swim it in through the surf zone. Not easy to do unless you have practiced in conditions.

the knowledge
Seeking it is a good idea. Just out of curiosity, how was your friend going to return to the beach in those conditions assuming he didn’t dump it? Your post reads like a prelude to a statistic story so I’m sure you’re leaving some info out. Surf lauching/landing is like whitewater, it’s not really a “sink or swim” learning environment. Got helmets?

Towing isn’t just equipment, it’s practice. You could have 50’ of 1/4" nylon line and configured a tow from around your coaming to his boat, although a simple waist belt tow pack stored behind your seat band would be preferable. I’ve configured all the s&g kayaks I’ve made with a 5mm perimeter line that can be totally removed while sitting the cockpit, it’s not intended to be a tow line but it’s 35’ of line I can use if needed.

great idea
"I’ve configured all the s&g kayaks I’ve made with a 5mm perimeter line that can be totally removed while sitting the cockpit, it’s not intended to be a tow line but it’s 35’ of line I can use if needed."

Brilliant!! I’ve never heard of this before. Do you have details/photos on how you set the deck lines for this?

Wave size
I wonder if he meant swell size?

Pushing a new kayaker’s limits is one thing… but going off-shore is kind of an important threshold. I would never go off-shore with a new paddler unless he had demonstrated some fundamental re-entry skills.

Swims in the ocean are really long and
the eddy service is poor.


Northwater Tow belt

More or less the standard at the moment. Have quick release mechanisim which ANY tow setup should have so the ‘tower’ can qickly separate from the ‘towee’. There are a number of things to be keenly aware of when towing however. Please seek some qualified instruction before trying it.

If conditions were as described or even close to it, it sounds like there are two folks fortunate things didn’t get much worse. The description of events indicates a real lack of knowledge/judgement/experience. We’ve all made our mistakes and most of us have learned from them, so, please consider taking some classes. A good place to start looking is for an instructor/coach that is affiliated with British Canoe Union (BCU) or American Canoe Association (ACA). Glad you both are OK.

s&g kayaks with smooth decks.
The idea is to simply have some line on the kayak available, not really an emergency item in dire conditions. If a person needs a tow belt, GET A TOW BELT that is designed for the purpose and deployable in seconds.

An easily removed perimeter line is not really adapted well to glass or plastic kayaks with recessed fittings since the long line can’t pull through the fittings.

On the wood kayaks the rigging is attached with folded over loop of 1" black webbing held by one #10machine screw through finish washer so the line can run all the way around the kayak and not have much resistance as the loops are all on one level and much larger than the line.

For a kayak with recessed fittings it’s much more convenient to have a length of spare line daisy chained to the bow like a painter, tied off near the cockpit.

You can loop a long length of line with a daisy chain from an anchor/cleat/d-ring/deck rigging just forward of the cockpit to a U-bolt or attachment near the bow that allows a line to run through and back. I had this on my Mariner Exprss which had a big 3/8ss u-bolt on the bow with recessed cleats on the foredeck. I did the same with a Pygmy Coho with a 1" ss d-ring just under the near foredeck bungie with the line looping from there to a u-bolt on the bow.

If you’re going to attach ss d-ring hardware to the foredeck try to make it covered under the deck bungie, which is easy if the fordeck bungies are sets of close parallel lines and not criss-cross business.

What I also did is covered the ss strap that holds the d-ring down with a length of 1" webbing with the mounting screws going through finish washers and the webbing going under the strap between the deck and strap. What this did beside provide a soft covering for the metal is make the metal d-ring lay flat on the webbing and not on the deck so it didn’t make noise or clatter if not held under tension by the line.

The doubled painter line on the Express took the place of a perimeter line and in some ways worked much better as you could grab it when climbing out after surf landing and grab it while running forward to the bow to grab the toggle and drag above the surf. The tight perimeter lines made out of 4mm reflective line aren’t anywhere as easy to grab with force compared to a doubled length of 1/4" line.

The other reason why the looped painter line is nice is that every time you put the kayak on the roof rack you immediately have a bow tie down onto the car or other kayaks to the car, you never have to have a seperate piece of line to tie the bow on.


– Last Updated: Jul-29-08 3:07 PM EST –


Like I said, waves were avg 3-6 ft on the marine forecast... the swells had the occasion 8 footer. And why are you giving me a marine forecast for New Jersey? Are you that stupid to assume I was paddling in Jersey? This was Sunday, July 27, on Lake Erie in Erie, PA. Some of the swells were around 8ft.

I really dont know why some of you are questioning the conditions? Once you get out of breakwater its really not that difficult.

If you dont believe me then GTFO of my thread.

I wanted to paddle in the bay with him, but he really wanted to hit the waves. He was actually doing well, we were just about to turn around… he was messing around with the rudder deployment line and lost focus and balance.

Worst case I figured he could just hold on to both boats as I towed him if he couldnt get back in… I did not anticipate him freaking out and refusal to hold on to his boat.

Thanks for the "Help"
for all those who have posted useful information, Thank You. I will look into those products and methods.

No this was not the smartest thing, but we were having fun for 2 hours paddling out and then riding back in… This was the only time we paddled out that far, he was doing fine in the conditions. I did not expect him to panick…


– Last Updated: Jul-29-08 4:09 PM EST –

You're always going to get a mixed bag whenever you post something like this... learn and glean what you can, enjoy the humor and don't sweat the petty stuff.

When I mentioned new paddlers should demonstrate some basic re-entry skills before going off-shore... I wasn't just suggesting this for the obvious reasons.
Not everyone is comfortable on the water, some people get down-right freaked-out. There are those that keep it under wraps, but add some compounding factors like open water, deep water, being thrown out of a boat, being upside down in a boat, sea sickness, etc. and they go right over the edge.
Demonstrating some re-entry skills is a great opportunity to see how a paddler might behave under some scenarios.
Just a thought.

people are questioning the conditions
because most kayakers (and surfers) over estimate wave height. Also, most marine (offshore) forecasts calculate wave height in a way that isn’t very useful for people who are close to shore. Most of the time, waves that are closer to shore are smaller than the reported wave height from buoys.

I am not saying this is the situation for the day you were out, but it is the reason people question it. And, it should not be taken personally.

Tow belts (and the knowledge to use them) are considered by many to be essential gear when paddling in rough water.

it’s inevitable you’re going to get more information or commentary than you desire, but that’s the fun part of learning, you find out what you don’t know and it’s not always about what you want to know.

In a gathering of folks who have been responsible for others fundamentals of safety get emphasized more than expected because the idea is to have fun and when desired enjoy risk taking without ending the day on a negative note,or broken bones. That’s why I asked about helmets if you’re launching/landing in surf.

Not everyone has the same comfort zone, lots of folks have a visceral fear of “what’s under there” and when that fight/flight trigger is hit it’s all damage control and very little about cooperative rescue. One friend told me he had to punch a friend in the face to get him to listen and snap out of his hysteria. Of course he took his friend into conditions beyond his friends comfort zone so it was kind of fubar at that point anyway.

It’s a common theme in club paddling for general expectations about paddling/self-rescue skills of the participants to be known and understood before heading into new territory. More than one person has been told “this trip really isn’t for you”.

On the flip side it’s not uncommon for some trip “leaders”/facillitators to develop a reputation for taking people into new territory with a willingness to expose them to dangers but not have the skills to be responsible for them.

“stuff happens” too. Sounds like you need a book. I made a point of not reading anybooks for a few years of paddling, I took lessons and paddled solo a lot, learned more when paddling with a club, learned a LOT more when I took some ACA courses for instructors.

A good book is Deep Trouble by George Gronseth(sp?) and Matt Broze.

Lake Erie Buoy Data - 45 days
of historical data on conditions, including wave height (wvht):


This is from the buoy closest to PA that tracks wave height and period.


8 footers?

– Last Updated: Jul-29-08 4:30 PM EST –

this is an 8 foot wave

you should learn the basic recovery skills before heading into any open water

edit: link didn't work.. but an 8 foot wave would have a 16 foot face.. a 4 foot wave is massive

just trying to share info.. nothing personal..