Poll, Deck vs Belt Tows, your 2 cents?

I am hoping to have others share their designs for deck mounted tows here that they found simple one hand one motion to tow and easy to restow.

With due regard for all here, no really! Some folks might profit from an open minded consideration of deck mounting of a tow.

No, everyone does not need consider it, but in my experience there are times the waist tow can be not only uncomfortable but have serious consequences for the tower and towee. Yes as Bryan and I and others find many times the waist tow works fine, save for some tiredness and minor discomfort.

However, as ususal experience teaches and when I had to tow a fellow in the water with his boat full of water away from rocks in wind waves and current I almost could not manage it due to the pain in my back and kidneys. Of course afterwards others said to me, oh yeah, I had that happen to me once also, etc.

FYI, deck tows can be complicated and have hassles too. However, I found on a Brit web site examples of how to make them inexpensive, quick to put on your boat and to use with

ONE HAND ONE MOTION utility easy to restow the line and imo superior low center of gravity in towing someone with incrased edge and directional control of my boat.

Not saying anyone should go out and change things, just that this is a viable and useful variation on towing methods for some.

Check out the bottom of this web link to see some variations, both good and imo less than ideal. I use a variant of the one hand one motion set up shown there on my Explorer, called the

“Modified Deck Bag Tow”


Actually, FYI I have both, a PFD Quick Tow with paddle biner and the deck tow. I find not having something on my waist both a comfort and safety factor should I need to release the tow or be assisted back into my own boat.


– Last Updated: Nov-17-05 7:14 AM EST –

How do you tow from the deck? what is the line attached to? and can you quickly reach it? I think a Rescue PFD with an integral QD belt would be the way to go. they also make "Springy" rope that reduces the shock loads...

all the right questions answers!
Yep, my initial questions exactly. Check out the link it has a list of problems paddlers found with both types of systems. On the link are examples of various ways some Brits solved these.

There is a cam afixed to the deck just in back corner of deck within easy reach. It threads backwards to a “farilead” and then to the bag that is velcroed to the deck, also easy reach. My system is like the one shown near the bottom of link page. I reach back, grab the biner and pull, this opens the bag, dumps the line, the line has a bungee to absorb shock, simply clip to victim or boat and tow. The line plays out and your boat pulls the tow instead of your back or kidneys. The low center of gravity is very stable. I find it much easier to edge and directionally control my boat in big wind and waves with this set up. For me the central safety advantage comes where the victim boat is filled with water, heavy near rocks and in current. Pulling long distances is less tiring and less risk of back and kidney damage, a real possibiity. I had to rescue the rescuer years ago when he hurt his back.

The quick release is really quick, simply pull and you are free.

Because the bag is velcroed to the deck refill of bag is simple, just restuff the bag and slap in back on deck and go.

As I state this is part of a two componnent system, i.e., I have a PFD short quick tow with a paddle sized caribiner also. Best of both worlds IMO, not for every paddler etc. but when contemplating a wide range of potential rescue scenarios as leader or guide this works very well and I don’t have to have anything around my waist as I paddle and there is less chance I will get exhausted towing long distance, very easy to release etc.

Although it does not require stowing spare paddles up front I have decided to handle spare paddles up front because I feel I can get to them easier in big seas, I can restow them if surf begins to knock them loose, and if I lose or break a paddle easier to take it and roll up. I also like keeping the rear deck free in case of self or victim on the rear deck for short tow.

Well I am of rather Stout construction L so towing folks from my belt doesn’t bother me… But I could see how some of those folks built like sticks might have a problem… What about the shock loads being transferred to the hull of the boat in a single area, this might induce stress cracks over time? Along with the induced stress of having a hole or two drilled into the area. Also if the mounting cleat ever becomes even just a little loose it will have the tendency to wobble out and fail!

holy smokes Batman

Hey this points out something to us I think! If we get concerned about stress to the boat (and I did employ some thought to where and how to affix the system) why are some of us so unconcerned about the stress to our backbone, which is medically speaking an extension of our brain in a rather fragile series of vertabrae. Should we not be a bit alarmed about a 1000 lb load jerking our backbone as a wave yanks the towees boat backwards?

The cam and farilead are quality, load rated and securely affixed with backing FG plate and stainless steel, rated and ready. The Brits, surrounded by water being an island have thoroughly tested this in the North Sea and my rig is tough. So consider staying open to this. Yeah sound like a cheer leader, but not out to change paddle world just love learning from others and having systems that are really versatile even if it means heading out with ways that the mainstream scoff at!

Deck tows
I can surely see some advantages to a deck mounted tow, especially when the distance is more than a couple of miles. However there are some trade offs as well. The first being that you then have one more thing on the rear deck to hang up on should you be trying to get back in your boat. The second being that it is nearly impossible to do a back tow or hold position with a tow line, which is what I use my tow line for 90% of the time. My longest tow in 15 years is 5 nautical miles and a deck mounted tow would have been very useful.

My 2 cents


Yes mirror’s my experience Falcon. That is why I have the PFD tow set up, and I can hook the long tow to that for the same things you speak of. Regards rear deck stuff, one, not much back there so not a problem actually, bag is tucked near cockpit and cam fairlead very small does not inhibit hauling someone up and on whatsoever. Farilead has a small rise in it for extra clearance on my Explorer but not really needed. I use a forward spare paddle set up anyhow so rear deck is clean and ready to rock n roll.

hey i now some other BCU 5 guys using it since I whipped this up so perhaps we are all nuts, if one paddles long enough (25 years) eventually one outfits the boat every simple way but loose anyhow.


– Last Updated: Nov-17-05 11:27 AM EST –

"What about the shock loads being transferred to the hull of the boat in a single area, this might induce stress cracks over time? Along with the induced stress of having a hole or two drilled into the area. Also if the mounting cleat ever becomes even just a little loose it will have the tendency to wobble out and fail!"

Maybe adding a little fiberglass underneath the place the fairlead and cam cleat will be added would be a good idea. Use big stainless washers (fender washers) and the locking nuts with the nylon inserts. That always worked fine on the sailboats I used to race (without having to add glass, even).

Thinking about all that stress on the boat also makes me wonder about putting that stress on my spine as well! I've never used a boat-mounted system but two things I like about a waist tow are that you can swivel it around in front of you to re-pack it, and it's a couple inches above the deck so it's less likely to get caught on anything. I don't carry anything back there, but there are hatch covers and the up-turned stern end on British boats that they can/might get stuck on. Maybe another case of "both is best".


– Last Updated: Nov-17-05 12:19 PM EST –

Yes a Scab plate or beef up plate would help distribute the stresses. Better yet some Stringers on the inside. Think about how the shock loads are being transferred to the frame. With a PFD it’s distributed around your belt and somewhat to the PFD itself, with a Deck mount it’s concentrated in ONE spot unless you do multiple mounts. Just my 2 cents. Think of your yack as a BIG paper towel tube. It’s much easier to squeeze it in the middle then to compress it along the longitudinal axis. Take a paper towel tube and stick a pin in it, now pull perpendicular on the pin, to the tubes axis, see how the hole wobbles out and the area around the pin gets distorted. Now if you could some how mount the tow rig near the Stern it would be much better, but that’s not practical. Also another area of concern might be invalidation of the warranty? Particularly if it was not “PROFFESIONALLY” installed.

you don’t really have to chose between deck tow and belt. I rigged a Salamander belt tow sys to be used as a deck tow for my wife to carry. Her boat is rigged with a Harken Jam clete and a fairlead, so she can tow with the boat if she wants, but she uses the tow belt as her tow line. All that needed to be done was to untie the loop at the one end of the bag and put a stopper knot on that rope end so that it had a stop for by the fairlead. that way she can tow with the boat or take the bag off of the boat and hand it to someone else so that they could tow with the belt sys, if they didn’t have their boat set up. Or if for some reason she would want to tow from the torso instead of with the boat tow, she could. The bag always rides on the back of her boat, ready to do it’s job. Never gets in the way of anything.

Best Wishes


better on deck than spine I say
This is exactly what we did, distribute the stress by placing stress on two palces, the cam and the fairlead. Each strategically places where the hull has a sharp curve and double thick on bulkhead reinforcements, huge washers, FG double sheet spreaking out stress further, use of bungee cord and stretch dynamic line (climber’s line rather than static line).

I tend to think the stress on surface of PFD is spread out yes, but inside it is focused on the spine and at the base of the spine. If one gets big time yanked by victim’s boat being jerked by a wave or a rock, curtains baby. Rather the boat deals with it personally.

the washers to use are sold in most hardware stores. get Stainless steel fender washers

Best Wishes


right on
yep those wahers work. I always test things out that way no surprises when you need it. The set up discussed works in big time current with filled kayak against wind and waves.

I think the bungee dynamic line actually helps as it give a bit and lets me get up a little speed to get the laden boat moving.

party on

Overestimated towing loads
Neither a boat nor a body will every see a 1000 pound load while towing or anything remotely close to it. The buckles and stitching used in belt rigs will fail WAY below that load. Your deck or cleat will fail WAY below that load, too. The ropes used in typical tow rigs don’t have that much strength and both the knots (or hog ring crimps) and the moisture weaken the rope significantly, so they will fail WAY below that load. Additionally, the stretch in the rope acts as a shock absorber, much like a climbing rope does.

It’s also important to remember that the amount of thrust you create with a paddle is only on the order of 10-20 pounds. Any load higher than that will stop you dead in the water. If you can make any headway, the loads are quite low.

When towing a boat, even one full of water, you will NEVER feel the full weight of the boat. Regardless of what it weighs, if it’s being towed into waves via the bow or stern, the amount of water drag on the boat in on the order of a few pounds. The boat will be very difficult to accellerate due to it’s weight and be exhausting work, but the actual stress on the towing paddler is actually quite low.

The worst case situation would be if you clipped onto a boat at the cockpit, allowing the boat to broach. THAT would be extremely dangerous, as the boat COULD be thrown by the waves and create high forces on the tow rope. I don’t know anyone stupid enough to do something like that.

muddiness of e-posting format
B Sometimes it is amazing how one tries to be clear using this format but then folks in good faith trying to understand get something way different then intended.

Clairty- yes indeed, did not mean that a load on the tower was 1000 lbs. We did do some calculations and the weight of a boat the paddler equipment and water can get close if not there. Quite so any rig would fail and the amount of force we generate paddling is quite puny as you say too!

All that said there are situations that careful, smart, experienced people find themselves in where the forces on the boat can go way high. We recently heard of a situation in which the towed boat cockpit lodged on the stern of the tower boat and was yanking it about with allot of force in +30k winds gusting higher. In surf, or hidden ledges, etc. I have seen the towed boat exert a great deal of force. Once I saw the towed boat move into the tidal race and quite dramatic.

Yes all of these situations are not frequent and deck or body mounted tow may not make much difference. So all this aside, as my original reason for posting was to simply share you and everyone the wealth of possible ways to set up a tow that might be both versatile, simple, safer maybe, and for us tall skinny bony dudes not have it on the waist.



I use both deck and waist tow …
systems when I am in my boat. I do not have any of my other boats rigged to accept my deck system.

My deck system (which I put together myself) uses a Lotus bag with a Northwater 18" bungie. I then added 45 feet of spectra and a snaphook. There is a small bronze snaphook on the line itself that holds the daisy chain. I usually keep it shortened to about 25-30 feet, unless more is required. All knots are shrink wrapped. The float sits about a foot away from the lead snaphook to make it easier to thread through decklines.

When I use the deck system I will have on my waist a 18 foot line with a float, an old beat up NDK bag and a snaphook. The bag is equipped with shock cord. I use it for almost all towing as we usually just drag some unfortunate soul a few yards out of a rock garden. A 35 foot line can be hooked into it in 10 seconds if I just want to have a waist mounted system and skip all the other stuff.

Longest tow with the deck system was 2+ miles and was very comfortable. Biggest down side is the bag can only be transferred to someone with a jam cleat and fairlead. Also, make sure your bungies on the back deck are good enough to resist the pressures of surf.

When I used my PFD mounted system I found two things wrong with it. 1.) I’m too topheavy to want to add a higher center of gravity to my towing; and 2). They are very hard to release while capsized. In fact, have not seen any one do it successfully. Therefore , I now no longer tow from my PFD.

Having a tow line on your body with the snaphook or biner clipped to a D ring in an instantly deployable manner is the best piece of safety gear besides your good judgement.

Augustus Dogmatycus


On your boat or on your body, not just on your body. Didn’t want to confuse anyone.

Oh, since someone on this thread or the other thread about short tows mentioned the tape style tow lines I thought I’d share with you an observation.

I watched a paddler clip onto a patient and a stabilizer. His tape, or webbing of 1/2" in diameter, caught sail in the current and made it impossible for him to surf the standing waves up to the head of the race and over into an eddy. Even the addition of a second tower could not overcome the resistance of the webbing sailing in the current and pulling them off the waves. YMMV.

Augustus Dogmatycus


coaming tow?
Northwater has a towline that has a small clam buckle quick release that wraps around the coaming. I think it would be a bit challenging to get it on the coaming quickly but maybe could be done ahead if the situation was predicted somewhat. does anyone have any experience with this rig?

i have a pig tail on my ‘rescue’ belt on my pfd and a Kokatat towline which is very thin cord around a plastic rectangle then stuffed in the bag. you can loop a short tow from this system or let it out full length. the bag is small and flattish, so i can store it in my pfd pocket. if needed it is quickly snapped into my pigtail then to the towed boat.

having said this, i have never had to tow other than as practice, so the system seems ideal at this point, but i will need much real life experience with it before i can claim anything about it.

cpr type of problem
The difference for most sea kayakers is unlike white water towing is an uncommon event so it is a bit like doing CPR, it needs to be done right quickly and without a hitch to work. Like CPR it is hard to remember correctly because so infrequently practiced and seldom actually trained in real conditions.

That is part of how I came to the two tow system. I did not like having a tow on my waist ALL THE TIME, and when trying tows in all manner of situations I came to the ease of both the pfd and the deck tow as a system that was simple yet versatile.

Of course just for me, my boat, my wide purpøses as instructor, leader, etc. But yes, definitely test it all out, would not want to have a release not release or release when did not want it to!

Good points. Let me add a bit.

– Last Updated: Nov-18-05 3:52 PM EST –

It's critcally important to understand the basic safety rules of towing and rescues on open water. That alone will prevent the vast majority of problems, regardless of the type of tow rig. I'll use your examples to review a few for people who may not know them.

RULE #1 - Don't become a victim yourself!

There are times when you should NOT try to rescue or tow someone. Your first priority MUST be your own safety. It can be really tough to make that call, as no one want's to leave a buddy in a bad spot, but if you end up in the same predicament, it just compounds the problem. You are of much more value to the victim if you're upright, safe and able to summon help. There's also the possibility that conditions will improve as tides, winds and currents change, allowing you to dash in and effect a rescue.

2 - Use the right tow rope length for the job.

In your example of a towed boat getting lodged on the deck of the towing boat, that should never be allowed to happen. When towing for any distance, the tow rope should always be long enough to insure that the two boats will never be on the same wave face. That's why tow rigs are generally 35'-50' long. That prevents the boat from ever colliding and becoming entangled.

If that was a situation where the towing paddler was using a short tow, it was a bad choice. Short tows should be used only for short distances in rough conditions. They are used only when speed is of the essence and you should switch to a longer tow as soon as you're out of the danger zone.

In your second example there is a clear violation of another rule:

3 - Always know where your rope and the towed boat are.

This can be difficult if there are only two of you, but if that's the case, it may be safer to do a contact tow rather than an extended tow, since you can't tell what's going on when you have someone on a long line. If they're right behind you, hugging your aft deck, you can at least stay in commmunication. If you have more than two paddlers in your group, the third paddler should be back with the towed boat, observing and controlling the tow. THAT person is in charge of the tow, not the paddler doing the towing.

4 - Stay well clear of danger while towing.

Although it may not have been possible in this example, the towing paddler MUST maintain as much clearance from dangerous features as possible. Drift must be anticipated and compensated for.

5 - If the towed boat has a skeg, drop it.

That will help keep it directly behind the towing boat. If it has a rudder and the person in the boat is capable of keeping it centered, have them do so. There are few things more annoying and debilitating when towing than having the towed boat drifting off to one side or swinging from left to right. Towing is hard enough work with the boat right behind you. Angles compound the effort required and compromise the towing paddler's directional control. The towing paddler can't afford to waste energy fighting the boat behind him.

These are just some of the considerations for tows and rescues.