Recommendations for a good Contact Tow Line? (not a tow belt)

I made up a couple - twice the width of my kayak - a few years back after watching the Gordon Brown videos. They come in handy for all sorts of things. I secured them with stainless hog rings and shrink wrap.


Watched same video Gordon Brown then made mine.

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Hog rings are great did the same thing. You can make all kinds of things for kayaking and other tasks. Shrink-wrap is a jiff.

Never towed anyone I kayak alone. Maybe I’ll launch two hulls and drag one a bit for the hell of it. Few sand bags in it.

I figured that if hog rings and shrink wrap were good enough for the lines on my Current Designs kayaks then they’re good enough for tow lines! :grinning:

Use them on bungee’s I make up for various things.

Hog rings are definitely useful, but I only use them on bungee cord. Due to the crimping required, they actually reduce the strength of rope considerably, so I prefer to use knots that don’t weaken the rope significantly.

You don’t need fat cord for a contact tow, or really any sea kayak tow for that matter. Many people don’t realize it, but the forces exerted on a tow line are measured in the low tens of pounds, not hundreds. For my contact tow, I use 5mm (3/16, similar to deck line) cord, which I keep bundled on the foredeck, clipped to a deck line, where I can grab and extend it just by pulling it to whichever side I need it (I use cord and sliders for deck lines, not bungee). The only advantage of fatter, stronger rope is that it can be a bit easier to handle, particularly with cold hands and/or gloves, but I’ve never had a problem with the thinner cord.

Whitewater use is another animal entirely and stronger rope is necessary to help free stuck boats and such.

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I forget where I got the idea of a daisy chain for a contact tow, but here is my offering. Probably good to say that I have never used it in an emergency. But several times when I needed to tie up to a dock, bush, chain link fence, etc., when my kayak needed to be floating when docked.


I like the adjustability of the daisy chain idea. I see you knocked the notch off the carabiners Also have it long enough to serve as a stirrup for reentry. Nicely done. Only thing I would add is eye splicing the line for the clips on my line. I like the clips kfbrady used

Fatter rope easier to grab and won’t cut into your hands as easy. Hog rings will never pop on the contact tow assembly I pictured.

With cheap Lowes rope, no option for splicing and I just recycled old carabiners not being used. Only downside is needing to really soak carabiners after use since I paddle mostly in salt water. Even after just riding on my deck. Does not take much to bind the spring in the Al clip. I have SS clips but too heavy, and would need a larger foam float. But I usually soak other stuff, ie camera, swim suit, jersey, etc. anyway in one large bucket. So just one more item in the bucket.

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@Medawgone thank you for sharing that Whetman Mk-11 Contact Tow and video. It looks incredibly well thought out and really easy and quick to adjust. Has anyone used one? I’ve also seen some N America-based contact tow lines that cost as much or more with much less functionality.

And thank you everyone for showing your DIY setups - nice and creative work and they’ll do most of what you’d want to do with a contact tow line.

The setup in the video is as long as you want for a contact tow. The key is that you must be able to reach it to disconnect it at all times. Anything longer than that requires some form of quick release and it’s no longer a contact tow. Rather that daisy-chaining a medium-length rope to use as a contact tow, it’s better and safer to daisy-chain a long waist, chest, or deck-mounted tow rig to function as a medium-length tow, and keep a short contact tow on deck as shown in the video. A correct length contact tow does not need a float.

If you need a medium-length rope for tying up to a dock etc. You can always carry a painter line for that purpose. I prefer to not risk damaging a piece of safety equipment by using it for anything else.

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This is another suggestion for making your own.

For mine I followed Nick’s lead with the quick-release hardware, but I used Amsteel line with spliced loops at the ends.


Looks to me like a much better hardware solution for a quick release mechanism than what has previously been described.

It is not easy to undo a spring gate carabiner from an anchor when it is attached to a line under tension.

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I don’t know…while I like the idea of a quick release, those snap shackles seem a bit fiddly to me. Closing that around a deck line with cold, wet hands and/or gloves on could be a real challenge. Carabiners are simple to open and close with just your thumb. You don’t even need to open them to clip the rope; you just push the gate against it and it opens, then it closes once the rope passes the gate.

Remember…one of the key points of a contact tow is that you have to be able to deploy it very quickly, as you’re likely to be using it in dicey conditions.

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The biggest problem with non-stainless or marine grade carabiners in the first thing to usually fail is the spring, especially if used in salt water, rendering the carabiner little more than an open hook. You usually can’t see the spring to judge what kind of shape it’s in.

I don’t think buying safety gear on the cheap is a good idea, especially for a few dollars.

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That hasn’t been my experience. What typically seizes up is the pivot point, preventing the gate from opening. Note, I use high-quality carabiners designed for rock and ice climbing, not the cheap junk with a “DO NOT USE THIS FOR CLIMBING” tag on it. Considering they’re meant to be used in all weather, I suspect that the springs in climbing 'biners are stainless. I’ve taken a few 'biner’s with badly seized gates and gotten them working again with a combination of hot water, penetrating lubes and brute force. Once the pivot was freed, they worked like new. If you’re still concerned about the springs, you could always use wire-gate 'biners, where the stainless gate is also the spring (just one moving part).

While I like the quality and durability of stainless 'biners and snap hooks from marine suppliers, they’re very heavy, very expensive and even more serious overkill for towing than climbing 'biners, which are already much stronger than necessary (they’re required to handle at least a 4000 pound load). Climbing 'biners are also large enough to manipulate easily with gloves on. I’ve seen some tow rigs that now use large plastic clips (rust and maintenance free!) and I’d be more tempted to go that way than to buy the stainless stuff, at least for a sea kayak tow.

WARNING Any aluminum carabiner that comes into contact with salt water should NEVER BE USED FOR CLIMBING! I have a couple that have some of the material corroded away and are obviously weakened. They’re still perfectly fine for towing.

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SS + AL+ aluminum = trouble.

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If you’re implying that stainless steel and aluminum result in galvanic corrosion, I’m not sure that’s actually the case. Unanodized aluminum will corrode when exposed to salt water for long enough, but the correct grades of stainless steel - 316 for example - are unaffected whether they’re in contact with Al or not. If you rinse an aluminum 'biner thoroughly in fresh water it will be fine. A light application of a lube like Boeshield helps, too. Combined, these steps prevent any corrosion. The only times I’ve seen substantial corrosion is when aluminum 'biners are left in contact with salt water for months (or longer), such as tossing a wet tow rig in a gear bag without rinsing it.