Tethered to your boat?

Thoughts on being thethered to your kayak?

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As a solo paddler, I don’t generally venture a mile offshore. Also pay attention to where I am when there’s an offshore wind.

When I use a paddle tether, it is connected to the boat, so I guess that kinda counts somewhat.

I’ve tried them but they get in the way. I am clumsy and things look for ways to wrap around my feet.

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I do when seas are rough/windy and I am offshore solo paddling which I do several times a year. I attach my tow belt to a deck line behind me so it pays out if I swim. That is the easiest method I have found by using a piece of equipment I paddle with almost always.

What are other methods ya’ll use?


100% Yes.
I always choose over a paddle leash.

Never thought about doing it that way. Probably the safest of the ways to do it I’ve heard of. I’ve never used a tether, but I always wear a tow belt in salt water, or if I’m alone in places other than local lakes, so it would be an easy way to do it.

Here is a link about using a tether.

Here is the photo of the tether used.

I would think the line from a tow belt playing out has more of a chance of entanglement than the one in the photo above. I enquired on a thread I started over 2 years ago now if anyone knew of an actual fatal case of entanglement with a kayak tether. I didn’t get an answer to that question. Visiting the website for the National Center for Cold Water Safety I came across their recommendation to use one. Now I would not use one with a WW kayak or in the surf, but it makes good sense to have one on a sea kayak far from shore especially in windy conditions and/or cold water conditions (below 70 F by their standard). I do know that surfers use a tether on their boards, and ocean surf ski racers use them, as do solo sailors. Entanglement doesn’t seem to be as big concern for them. Then too, many kayakers carry a knife on their PFD in case they need to cut a line.


A leash is almost mandatory for catching waves with a surfski, but usually it is attached to the leg/ankle and it is coiled. In combination with the open cockpit of a ski, the risk of entanglement is low. Nevertheless, all leashes should have a way to be quickly and easily pulled away if needed, similar to a spray skirt.

Actually, many surfskiers complain about leashes breaking when they were most needed. A plastic coil exposed to UV and salt water will degrade. A tether using a rope might be more reliable in this aspect.

The more I’ve thought about kayakhank’s tow belt tether, the more I like it because I have a tow belt I think would work pretty well. It’s the North Water micro tow line which has a preset short line. The short line is around 15 feet, but I have to yank hard to extend it beyond the first few feet and can easily configure it to less than 15 feet. Line can’t get longer unless a carabiner is released. Belt also has quick release toggle.

Thanks, @kayakhank, for such a great idea.

The line floats. Is that an advantage or disadvantage re entanglement?

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Since a couple folks seem interested in this tether idea, here are a couple more thoughts on the way I tether when open water, solo paddling.

My tow line is daisy-chained to about 20 ft length. That length is too short for towing in my normal water conditions, however that is not what it’s primary use would be on those trips. The approx 20 ft length lets the kayak float/be blown clear of me in rough/windy conditions, then I haul myself back to the kayak once I regain composure. I do not want the kayak intentionally attached with a contact tow/pigtail length where the sea tossed kayak may physically impact me. Also, I like to keep the tow belt mouth a little more open than usual so the line can pay out more easily should I swim - keep an eye on it though, once I had the mouth a bit too open and a few feet of tow line payed out while I was paddling.

In a worse case scenario, the tow belt has a quick release if I need to let the kayak go for some inconceivable reason.

I like the attachment point to be behind me rather than in front so not to interfere with paddling and I want a line vice a bungee attaching me to the kayak. Also, I’m not comfortable with a paddle leash for the same reason…however some paddlers swear by them.

This is a way I have found to work for me because I wear a tow belt almost as frequently as a PFD (always) and I wanted to use a standard piece of equipment rather than have to keep up with another specialty tool. This tether idea was not taught to me during any ACA or BCU instruction.

PS - Thankfully, I have never had to use the tether in a real world swim. I have tried it a couple times, but prefer to practice combat rolls vice having to swim. And, I disconnect the tether and restow the tow line before entering a surf zone.


Think of it this way, if you lose your boat, what’s your plan?

I surfski. Usually alone. Often 0.5-3 miles offshore in the biggest waves I can find with rare exception (up to 9’/triple overhead with short period). In 3+ years on the pacific I can think of only a handful of days that were too big.

I wear a leash 100% of the time (except for surfing small shore break (<3’) where it is a liability). I wear it in the harbor. On flat water. on small days. on medium days, on raging days. always.

Why not?

The cost (convenience and $) is basically nothing. The benefit varies, but on the low side means you can fall over and not worry or let go of the boat to fix something. On the high side, it means you’re alive because you kept your boat after it blow away from your grip or aided the coast guard in finding you.

Some will talk of entanglement. I intentionally or unintentionally swim multiple times every paddle. I’ve had minor entanglement issues a couple times using both a boat and paddle leash over a few hundred paddles which represents thousands of remounts.

For me, a boat leash at minimum (plus paddle leash usually) are the 2nd best, insurance policy you can buy, with a PFD you’re wearing being the best.

TLDR; use a leash. It has basically no cost (convenience or $), and immense benefit.


Never. No tether, no leash.

Learn to hold onto your boat and paddle if you wet exit and it’s not an issue. I’ve done enough rescue training to know that any tether is an entanglement hazard and they tend to complicate rescues, as they just get in the way. A tether is no substitute for proper technique and training.

I have a short contact tow on the foredeck and I wear tow rig around my waist, so if I ever wanted to attach myself to my boat, I could, but I’ve never found a need to do so.


I agree with you MClmes,
I always wear mine. As far as entanglements, a good setup eliminates any risk of this happening.
I have a setup for my calf with a quick release for small days and a huge industrial sized carabiner that I created which attaches to my PFD for big days.

I even fashioned a leash for my sprint kayak after falling out while practicing 200-meter sprints and completely losing my boat while totally out of breath. The water was flat as a pancake and was one of the more scary situations I’ve been in.

Losing your boat is even worse than not having a PFD–a leash is a lifeline no matter how much training you do.

I ask do you know of a case were entanglement with a short tether caused a kayaker harm or death.

I sail and deal with lots of different lines on the boat. I am well aware of how they can catch on things, and tie knots in themselves. From experience I know a short line is a lot less likely to do so. I have no experience with being in the water attached to a kayak with a tow belt. I would be leery of more than 5 or 6 feet of line in the water with me. I suspect it would be less risky than being separated from the boat.

There are numerous cases of paddlers being separated from their boats. This outcome has known fatalities associated with it. Therefore the practice of having perimeter lines added to kayaks, and training to hold onto the boat. Yet neither guarantees you will stay with the boat or manage to hold onto it during a capsize. A tether does that.

I personally feel entanglement isn’t a big issue with a tether. I have yet to use my knife to cut myself free while kayaking, yet I keep one on my PFD. I would like to hear any accounts of people being entangled in their tether. I have yet to hear of one. That’s not proof it hasn’t or couldn’t happen, but does suggest it is uncommon and a much lower risk than separation from ones Kayak.

I think the risks are also dependent on where you are paddling and the conditions you are in. I too think a tether is a valuable safety addition just like perimeter lines.


The native Greenland hunters sewed themselves into the boat. ( Skirt to combing) That’s why they were such good rollers. So…there is presidence.

Of course many of them didn’t return.

They didn’t have the dry suit option of being in the water either.

Yes, holding on to the boat should always be your primary save. Practicing holding on is a good idea. Indeed leashes can break and I personally know a fatality that resulted from a leash breaking in cold water in the middle of a big downwind run. So they are not fool proof as you say.


That said, I have had an occasion where it was so windy the boat was ripped out of my hand a mile off shore in 6’ waves. (it was late in the paddle, and I was tired and slightly cold. What then?? everyone gets cold and tired, and your extremities are the first to go when you’re cold, the exact time when you need to stay with your boat most)

Another time I had to go under the boat to get back to the upwind side to remount. When I came up I lost my grip and was saved by the leash. winds were 20kt+ and the boat blew away at amazing speed.

Another time I hit something in the water and slightly bent my rudder so that it would not go past neutral. I hopped in the water and bent it back a few degrees and paddled on. This was in 4-5’ downwind seas with 15kt wind. Doing this without a leash would have been very, very sketchy and a rudder was absolutely required to finish the paddle.

So yes, hold on to your boat, but also wear a leash unless you trust your grip with your life 1000% of the time, through unforeseen circumstances, injury, hypothermia, etc…

I was watching a group of kaykers practicing wet exits and reentering there boats. One of them had a rope tether to there boat. . He got all tangled up in it. I was amused as I have always believed in tether being a hazard. For sit inside kayaks. The surf ski tether is another story as the ones I saw were a coiled thing attached to there ankle.

If you learn to roll you don’t worry about coming out if your boat. Never have myself in some nasty conditions. Very first class i took was a roll class.If you paddle ALONE in 30 mph winds and 6 foot waves and you don’t have a bullet proof roll then you are insane in “my opinion”. I have but have never come out of my boat because of rolling.

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I use a coiled cord tether from my paddle to my boat. Naturally one should always keep hold of the boat, but things happen. I figure as long as I have hold of either the boat or paddle, I have both.

Another advantage is that if I need to free up my hands, like to perform a rescue or even stop for a break, I can just toss the paddle over the side. I prefer tethering the boat to the paddle as I think it is somewhat safer than tethering myself to the boat. Just an unsupported opinion though. This may differ for surf skis and other boats that often have no perimeter lines or many places to grab hold of the boat.

I’ve deliberately capsized many times teaching rescues and never had an entanglement issue, nor do I personally know anyone else who has. I don’t doubt that it can happen, but I think it’s very rare. I do know of otherwise skilled kayakers who have lost hold of their boats, however. Fortunately they were with a group where people could stay with the paddler while someone went to retrieve the boat. Never leave a person alone in the water to retrieve a boat. It’s amazing how hard it is to spot a head bobbing in rough water. I’ve seen many people lose their boats on a windy day when learning rescues, wet exits, or other skills where they capsized.

I don’t recommend a leash for a kayak in surf or whitewater where a boat may be rolled multiple times.