Thoughts on leashing to the boat?

I’ve often wondered-- in the case of open water paddling, why is it so unheard of for one to use a “boat leash” much like they would a paddle leash? Granted there is the possibility of becoming tangled and it is understood that that we should never let go of our boat or paddle anyway.

But… boats that blow away from the swimmer seem to be the cause of many open water tragedies.

I know some dedicated surf boaters use seat belts, to prevent them from being sucked out of the boat in a breaking wave. I’m not suggesting a seat belt, but the idea of using a “boat leash” on open water is something I have never seen discussed.


Concerns about entanglement
’Nuff potential issues get raised about paddle leashes, for normal open water paddling it’d be more so with a body leash. And one of the skills that should be practiced with a normal sit-inside kayak is wet exits while maintaining contact with you boat anyway. Though admittedly mistakes that separate boat and paddler happen - but the entanglement risk is considered to be an awful big risk.

Self demonstration pays off
Not everyone is as self-examining as you are, so kudos to you for being proactive, that is, looking ahead to prevent needless tragedies!

That said, within the safety of shore and a wind blowing towards shore and partners, try out the ideas you are mulling so these things become real to you. The internet is great but real world experience will enlighten better and the bottom line is whatever arrangement you come up with must work for YOU and 100% of thte time.

Some folks who let go their boat have been saved by a boat leash, some have been saved by a paddle leash connected to the boat, thus slowing the boat down enough for them to catch it, etc. However, there are verified outcomes of entanglement, espcecially in whitewater and surf conditions, and in tide rips, overfalls, etc.

So entanglement is a REAL deal not just a concept.

Most adanced paddlers use a paddle leash connected to a very well rigged quick disconnect system to a wrist in some conditions but not in others. Staying in the boat is the best of all ways to not lose one’s boat. However, a very very very important way to not lose one’s boat should one be sucked out is to redo your deck lines, especially the ones near the cockpit. Use balls or “gas line tubing” to raise the lines off the deck surface to gloved hands can grap them easily. Make sure the enitre deck has places to grab and keep equipment off your decks as much as possible to avoid entanglement issues.

Ultimately you will find that practicing staying in one’s boat and being forced out and hanging on are the best ways to make it automatic in a real emergency you will not let go! In 25 years of kayaking I have only let go my boat one time!

"unheard of"
Probably for the same reason the stories of solo crossings don’t include the paddlers previous experiences. Anecdotal stories aren’t always the best venue for learning compared to focused instruction or group experiences.

I bet that a leash would help finding the body more easily but wouldn’t address the reason they capsized and couldn’t re-enter.

Sea Kayaker magazine
had a feature article a while back on the use of various kinds of tethers, including boat-to-body. Some solo expedition paddlers have used them. If your choices are “If I get entangled, I might die” or “If I lose my boat, I will die”, a tether might make sense.

My wife got tangled in a boat-to-paddle leash in surf, and it was pretty scary. Lines in moving water have an amazing habit of going exactly where you don’t want them to.

I absolutely would not use such a tether unless I was carrying a hook knife that I could reach with either hand. And I’d try to practice scenarios in realistic conditions before heading out over the horizon.

First off, open water not rivers right? You’re wearing your body leash…ankle to anchor point in cockpit or PFD to deck rigging, you’re choice. You get tossed and get sucked out or wet exit. You come up on the opposite side so that your tether is now 270 degrees around the boat. You’ve got to go under or around your boat (depending on the length of your tether) before you can reenter. If breaking waves aren’t a huge factor, you’ll just have to think through this before scrambling back in. And yeah, entanglement is still an issue, and a bit more than for boardies.

The idea does have merit all the same. Staying with your boat is, to say the least, important. Eleven years ago, a body leash may have saved me from a near death experience on a SOT in high winds…of course so would wearing my PFD rather than having it strapped to the deck. That was my first experience with kayaking and much has changed in that time. I’m not sure I’d want one anymore. Best I can say is test theories and scenarios with a bud on flat calm water. Wrap it around the boat, around a rudder, around yourself, around deck mounted gear, etc. and see if you think it’s still a good idea to test it out in more hairy conditions. In the end, post your experiences, whatever they are, here so others can learn from them.


Depends on the Water
While I certainly would discourage it, I can see instances where it would be necessary. Open water where it is likely you will get tossed from the boat would be one such case. I think a rope, albeit a very long one, might be in order if you were soloing on a very long trip and there was risk of losing the boat in chop.

Personally, I think it would make more sense to attach a long rope to the boat with a float on the end or simply the rope attached to the deck rigging or underneath in the cockpit that you could grab if you fall out.

If the boat goes under you can always let go. If it still floats, it could linger in the water until you swim over and grab. I keep several yards of climbing rope in my boat as well as a throw bag but I have never considered keeping it attached to the boat.

Interesting thought.


Balancing risks
I think it’s just a matter of balancing the risk of entanglement against the risk of a lost boat. The balance is different if you’re offshore solo, where a leash might make sense, or in the surf, where it doesn’t. I use an ankle leash on my surfski, as a lot of local paddlers do. If I were offshore alone in a closed-deck boat, I’d probably use a leash from the bow to my PFD, but that’s partly because I’ve been dumped enough times that I’m pretty confident I’m not going to panic and tangle myself up.

use a quick release belt
on your pfd and that’s what you would attach your boat tether to. entanglement is always a possibility but the quick release belt may help mitigate that somewhat, along with a knife.

you must be anticipating some very high risk paddling to consider a tether i gather.

leash in surf
I’ve never seen river (WW) paddler using boat leash, nor have I heard anyone asking about it for river running. Seems most leash question come from open water paddlers, where the boat being blown away is a high likelihood and the consequence is dire.

I’ve used a paddle leash, which I like. A boat leash seems to also make sense instead of the paddle leash. The only time entanglement seems to be a big issue is in surf. But that’s different from in the middle of open water and boats being blown away.

Reading Chris MacDuff’s trip around New Zeland, he made multiple mention of “putting on the helmet” prior to surf landing. Many people do a few “preparation” before surf landing, like stow away stuff on deck inside the cockpit/day-hatch etc. Why not stow away the leash prior to surf landing (for those who use one)?

Let’s think about that
You need to be able to attach and release a leash easily. Among other things, if you’re launching and/or landing through significant surf, you don’t want the leash on in the surf zone. But outside, you’re not going to need to release the leash under tension, and your entanglement risk would have more to do with looping the leash around your body in a panicked exit or botched re-entry than anything that you could solve by releasing the attachment point. So I don’t think using a quick-release belt necessarily adds much. A carabiner is easy to attach and detach, and a cutting tool is probably also a good thing to have in case you do get the line wrapped around you.

Not sure where you’re coming from with the high-risk idea. To me, it’s more a matter of comparing two pretty low risks–lost boat offshore vs. entanglement offshore–and going with the approach that leaves less risk overall. That’s going to vary with the type of boat and the type of paddling, but I do think it’s worth going through the risk analysis rather than going straight to “leashes are bad” or “leashes are good.”