Tethered to your boat?

I have seen too many people almost drown getting tangled up in paddle leashes and kayak tethers, even short ones. Best cure for keeping your boat form blowing away is to not paddle alone.

I’d like to hear details of all the possible drownings you have witnessed.


Public service announcement - This is horrible advice.

I too would like to know details of the drownings you have seen due to entanglement.

Even if you can link a story or 2, many many more people die from losing their boat compared to entanglement, so even if there is some risk, the risk of losing your boat off shore (with or without a group) far exceeds that of entanglement. Lets assume you have a 10-20mph wind and lose your boat with a partner. You’re high if you think they will be able to catch the boat, grab it, control it, and tow it back up-wind in waves from 1-6+ feet. When waves are larger than 3’ you will quickly lose line of sight to your partner. Then what? If you think you can do this, I encourage you to try in controlled conditions.

I’ll say it again, I’ve paddled thousands of times over the last 7 years, almost every one with both a calf leash and paddle leash. I’ve had exactly 2 or 3 minor entanglements that were quickly remedied. If you’re having frequent issues with entanglement your setup is bad or you dont know what you’re doing.


One could argue if you come out of your boat you don’t know what your doing. I have never seen anyone drown BUT have seen in PRACTICE sessions on flat water seen entanglement. In real conditions I have yet to paddle with anyone who uses a tether. I think I will keep it that way. I have seen a few who lost the paddle in surf conditions, they pulled the backup.

Now I am not saying don’t use a tether if you paddle in high wind alone and have a chance of coming out of your boat. I would say don’t do that. Your not skilled enough. BUT if you must then use a tether. I would say carry a PLB if that is you too.

In my case I’m in an advanced surfski (45cm / 17.7" beam). Fun begins at 15kts wind and 4’ waves and peaks around 25kts and 6+ft seas. If you don’t NEED a leash, its not a fun day in my book.

I would argue -
-If you never come out of your boat your skills plateau. Personally I get bored not being challenged.
-If you come out all the time, your boat is too skinny for you and you’ll lose enjoyment, develop bad habits, or need rescue.
-If you come out occasionally, that’s perfect. You’re pushing yourself to the limit and increasing it over time.

I say, don’t be afraid to fall out, just be sure you can get back in.


I think that it’s fine to say that if we don’t have the skills for conditions, we shouldn’t be out them (and I agree).

Most feel (as do I) that we should all strive to stay within out skillset so that bad things don’t happen.

Many profess (as do I) that we should consider pushing ourselves so that we can find the chinks in our armor and work on appropriate skills.

A lot of folks I know recite “Three if at Sea” as law (and that’s fine and it’s a very good idea).

I don’t suggest that a tether should be standard practice for all paddlers but some skilled paddlers are going to go to sea alone and maybe they have never come out of their boats but what if they do?

Maybe they are weather and tide wizards but what if something changes?

I’ve never used a tether before but I see the potential value of one in my life, at the right time, as outweighing any possible risk of drowning due to entanglement. At those times I am also carrying a VHF, a SPOT and an EPIRB. Call me a belt and suspenders kind of guy.

I promise you that when and if I do another extended solo trip on the BC coast I will be using a short tether of some sort.


I have more apprehension of losing my kayak than being hog tied or strangled by my leash or tether. I am usually paddling alone especially in the winter.


When experienced competent people fail it is often due to heuristic thinking based on their own experience. I have never had a problem with X, or X never happens, or I can always manage X just fill in your X. So I don’t need a backup plan for X. Yet none of us have experienced every possibility. A one in a million chance is rare, yet statistically will happen at some point in time. I was made aware of this when reading the Deep Trouble books analyzing the causes of kayaking accidents. Infallible we are not.


I have read both Deep Trouble books and gave them to a friend of mine for her to read. In EVERY story I saw it coming. I laughed it was so clear what was wrong from the start.

Not coming out of ones boat is NOT plateau of ones skills. Its just learning that leaving the best flotation you have your boat is unneeded. I find this coming out of the boat thing a euro paddler fear. True geenland paddlers its laughable. Children learned to roll there boat before ever getting into one via rope practice.

Now putting a massive whole in ones boat would require leaving your boat. That is what a PLB is for. That is why I mentioned carrying one IN your PFD. Radio too.

Maybe for most a tether is a good idea. But I still say paddling alone in high winds and big waves (3 foot or larger) way out in large water and not being able to roll up is dangerous.

Great books DEEP TROUBLE I have both they were good to reinforce my pessimistic nature.

I started a thread back in the innocent days of March 2020 on the subject of leashes lots of good feed back there too. I am a big fan and use my simple leash almost always. Especially when I am alone. I know a fellow surfskier who died of hypothermia when his boat blew away from him. He wasted a lot of energy trying to catch his boat and wasn’t successful. By the time other paddlers got to him it was too late and he was too weak to climb on the back deck and get out of the cold water. I have done a lot of summer capsize practice with my leash to get the correct length and anchor locations.

Paddle-on Lads


So what’s everyone using for a tether? Paracord and carabiners?

I use one coiled phone cord type

1 Like

This thread has been focused on the pros and cons of leases. I have started a new thread focused on existing designs HERE

Solo outrigger canoe paddlers frequently wear coiled ankle leashes, and infrequently wear life jackets. The hull is your “PFD”, so it is anathema to risk losing it out in the ocean. Solo outriggers can’t be rolled but are easy to re-enter because of the great stability provided by the ama, and collect almost no water in the footwells.

I have known some top whitewater open canoeists who, when paddling tough rapids alone – yes, not recommended – would tether themselves to the canoe with a long belt rescue rope having at least two breakaway points in case of entanglement. In this way, the dumped solo paddler can swim to shore and then pendulum the canoe back to shore without losing it forever downstream.

I can’t argue the value of a tether, especially in cold water. The issue of whether a short tether would be a problem because it keeps you in proximity of a possibly kinetic boat seems questionable to me…if you DON’T have a tether, you’ll be holding onto your boat with your arm, so you’re going to be close enough to be pummeled regardless. The only issue I see there might be an inability to get to the safer side of your boat due to the tether’s short length. If you’re holding on by hand, you could theoretically move around your deck lines to get to a safer position, assuming the forces don’t rip the boat out of your hands in the process.

I’m concerned about having a longer tether, not because of possible entanglement, but because, say you get back to your boat and successfully reenter it. Now you’ve got an unspecified length of rope trailing out in the water. If the conditions were bad enough to toss you out of your boat in the first place, it’s hard to imagine having the ability to coil your rope back up and stow it in the same conditions. I suppose there’d be no harm in just leaving it out there until conditions improved, assuming everyone around you was aware of it. I can’t imagine the drag from a floating rope would be significant.

1 Like

Most leashes are coiled. So you have a little play on elasticity. This will solve the issue of a long tether dragging in the water and also the ability to get to the other side of the boat.

1 Like

If your paddle is tethered to the boat and you want to get to the other side all you need to do is toss the paddle over the boat and then work your way around. No more dangerous than not having the tether plus you now have both hands free since you don’t have to hold onto the paddle.

1 Like