towing rigs, sea kayak

Need some advice on sea kayak towing rigs.

Of the following, what do most people use and why?:

  1. Tow rope in a waste pack? or
  2. Tow rope daisy chained and rigged to back deck?

    For 1. above, what is the best product out there?

    For 2. above, any advice on design and hardware?

    Thanks everyone ahead of time !!


For short tows

– Last Updated: Mar-07-05 10:38 AM EST –

I use a tow sytem that clips to my Guide PFD. It has a 17 foot bungied line that is long enough for a quick tow from a danger area. This handles about 90% of my towing needs.

For longer tows, I just clip a 20 foot length of floating spectra line to it.

If I could get any commercial product

– Last Updated: Mar-07-05 5:08 PM EST –

for free it would be northwater's sea tec tow line.

If you are on a pond no big deal. If you are in big ocean waves you better have about 50 feet or so to keep the boats apart.

The sea tec line is easy to restuff and quick to deploy. The have incorporated a couple of sugestions fron Nystrom. He has rigged a short and long tow from this bag.

Do not thread the belt through your pfd. It looks cool but this rig has a shock absorber built in. Maybe you need to tow twice in quick succession For repacking you want to be able to bring it around the front with ease.

Salamader has some good short-long combinations as well. Northwater has just pulled out all the stops with the reflectivity, shock absorper and huge bag which rolls up until you deploy it, biner loop for quick deployment ....

I use a salamander retreiver waist belt. It’s got 35 feet of line with a bungee shock absorber built in, and can also be shortened for a sort or contact tow.

Only downside is that the bag is larger than some I’ve seen, but it’s no big deal. I’m intrigued by the Nigel Foster tow rigs that use flat webbing – just as strong, and packs much smaller.


For my light duty needs…
… I am pretty happy with my Northwater “PFD QUICK RELEASE SEA LINK”.

I can wear it all the time (with and Astral 300T with built in tow strap) and not really even know it’s there. Ready to go - can clip on to another boat in an instant. Very quick/easy to re-stow.

Note: Item has been changed since my version - looks nicer with the buckle - but I think lengths are different on bungee and line. If looking to do close contact tows - and tows with line out - the new version looks better. My older version is pretty much good just for using it extended.

Paddling alone, and pretty near shore, my main concern is coming across someone in need and getting them, and/or a lost boat, back to shore quick and easy. It’s more than adequate for those short towing needs. In practice it was comfortable towing another long sea kayak/paddler, and separation was OK for anything but large waves/surf.

For heavier uses - and conditions - what the others already said.

Just another…
If you happen to have an Astral Tempo 300 pfd it has a narrow quick release belt built into it. It fits a Wildwasser Touring Tow Belt, bag, perfectly. Do away with the Wildwasser Belt and it gives you a nice small package bag with a prusik built inside, bungee end, float and stainles biner connection. Quick pull on the buckle on the vest and you’re clear.

Just another option, amongst the many.

See you on the water,


And another idea
I use the same North Water Sea Link on my Kokatat Guide vest.

In the deck pocket of my Wildwasser neo/neo spray skirt, I keep a 20 or 25 foot long floating spectra cord line that has a quick release clip on one end and a biner on the other. I just clip it to the end of the Sea Link when I need a longer line.

Go optimal
I might step on some toes, but it doesn’t cost any more to get a setup that is nearly optimal, instead of “reasonable” for the most frequent use.

Example- avoid pfd mounted rigs. That comes from WW use in what is called a “live bait” rescue, or for actually belaying. This is a safety issue for towing, it is potentially hazardous to your health. Look at it this way- do you want to attach a tow line to the back of your neck? Nasty forces at work on your body; compare to the force on your body using a waist belt tow. A pfd mount would simply be in between, so go for the waist mount.

Next, a waist belt tow is versatile- you could hand it to someone else in the group (many reasons why that can be a good idea); they are easily clipped together to create a super long line tow (towing someone off the beach through a surf zone, enough length and the tower is on the outside). They also disengage a bit faster than the pfd attachments (quickness of release can be crucial; if you can roll, practice releasing the tow and actually pushing it away from you while upside down before rolling-try that with a pfd mount).

My fave is the North Water, especially in its latest form (I have an older one, and had to modify it quite a bit). 55 ft is good for several reasons, from meeting Canadien boating requirements, keeping the towed boat away from you in following seas, and also for tying up boats, or even hauling an empty boat up a cliff face.

Boat mounted tows are usually custom jobs, but easy to do. A cam cleat and a fairlead, a simple throw bag, add a float and a clip. Advantages over a waist tow is- absolutely no shock to the tower (rough water, or perhaps just a smaller, less strong paddler, are good examples), so therefore the most safe, the quickest release, and most important, adheres to the “clean line” principle. Which means that, after a quick release, the line which is still attached to the towee’s boat (and cannot be unclipped by them) does not have anything that could get jammed in anything.

Disadvantage is that you cannot hand it to someone else in the group, a bigger issue is that it can be a royal PITA to re-rig in bumpy water.


Best tow - Northwater
I just replaced my heavily modified Northwater tow belt with their new Northwater Sea Tec tow belt. The new unit incorporates input from many experienced paddlers, including the folks at BodyBoatBlade, and is really quite nice. In my opinion, it is the best commercial product for many of the reasons stated in other postings.

I’m a North Water fan too.
When it comes to whether to pull from the waist or the back deck, you just have to try and see what you like. I keep a short-tow set up on my back deck, attached to a cleat, and a long-tow set-up on my waist, because I find that more comfortable. Many people, however, find waist-towing a greater strain on their backs.


Northwater’s the best of the bunch
As Peter noted, I use a heavily modified Northwater Quick Release Rescue Tow. Many of the mods I made back in 2003 have been incorporated into the new version of this rig and the Sea Tec rig. If anyone from Northwater is reading this: “You’re welcome.” I guess you don’t get credit for suggestions unless you’re a “Level 5 BCU instructor”. :wink:

I’m not totally sure that I like the idea of the shorter rope in the Sea Tec rig, as there are times when a long rope is best, but I can see where the 30’ is a good compromise for most situations and it will be easier to stow. I keep the rope in my rig daisy chained down to ~20’, but can lengthen it to 50’ by unclipping it and allowing it to unchain.

When I added the bungee to my rig, I intentionally did not use hog rings for the attachment (as NW does on the new rigs), as crimping the rope seriously weakens it compared to using a knot. With it being as close to the bag as it is, I don’t see tangling of the knot as an issue. Considering that the ropes used are way stronger than necessary, crimping is probably not a big deal, either and I trust that Northwater tested this before putting it on the market.

The one thing I wish they would change is the buckle on the waist belt. If you wear you rig with the bag in the front - which is the most comfortable way to carry it - the hard plastic Q/R buckles used on most tow rigs will shred your spray skirt and/or cause nasty bruises on your back during layback rolls and similar maneuvers. The Velcro belt I made has been working well and I’ve decided to stay with it. I use a soft rubber ball for locating the end of the belt - instead of the hard plastic balls on the buckles of most rigs - for the same reason that I replaced the hard plastic buckle with Velcro. I can lay back on it and not damage my spray skirt or my body.

The stainless clip that Northwater now uses is a big improvement over the original brass ones, but I prefer full size aluminum keylock carabiners, as they’re much easier to operate quickly with gloves on (I learned the value of this from ice climbing). They’re also lighter weight. The downside to them is that the pivot points and spring mechanisms need to be kept lubed to avoid corrosion when they’re used in salt water (For freshwater use, corrosion isn’t much of an issue.). I’m currently using a lube called Corrosion-X that shows a lot of promise. The initial application has lasted several times as long as my previous favorite lube, Boeshield T-9.

If you want to see the mods I made to my rig, they’re in a Webshots album at:

Regardless of my personal preferences, I would highly recommend Nortwater tow rigs as the best of the commercial rigs on the market. Northwater is also a company that responds to input from consumers, an admirable trait.

As for contact tows, I always keep one clipped to the hard decklines in front of my cockpit. It’s a simple 3’ coiled line with a carabiner on each end. I can grab either ‘biner and reach to either side of the boat with it, clip quickly and go. It’s ideal for hauling someone out of a jam in a hurry, but you don’t want to use it for extended towing. I also have a 3’ tow incorporated into my NW rig, but it’s there mainly for backup, should I happen to lose the other short tow or need more than one.

I like the Salamander tow rig
Waste belt tows are great because you can pass it off to someone else if there is only one in the group and you get tired. Ideally, for sea kayaking, you should have a boat mounted tow. It takes the strain off you back. I don’t recommend using a rig attached to your vest because the contact point of the rig to your body is high and puts strain on your torso.

Look for a bag (either waste of kayak mounted) with 45’ of line, a good shock system at the paddlers end of the line, and nothing at the rescue-ee end but a carabiner (preferably one with no teeth and stainless steel). Most tell you that it should be easy to pack but in conditions where you need it, you wouldn’t bother putting it back in the bag but rather stuff it in you arm hole of your PFD and move along.

I agree with my fellow paddlers that North Water makes a good product, but it also has some less than practical things on it that needs modification. I make my own and am happier with the results.

Hope I helped!

OK, you convinced me
. . . to look into the Northwater Sea Tec (31sk-05)tow line, but when I go to the Northwater website and click on “Buy Online” none of the linked stores seem to have this model for sale. Does anyone know where I can get one and about what price I should pay?


I’ve modified my Northwater tow a bit as well, and taken your advice on eliminating the potential for side-loading of the gate of the pouch clip.

I have not added a bungie yet, but after looking at the new model I have an idea for what I will do: No hog rings (cheesy) and no knots. I will whip the bungie ends to the rope and cover the whipping with short sections of heat-shrink tubing. This shouldn’t weaken the tow rope any, and will leave a low profile to reduce the possibility of snagging.


NorthWater "responds to input"
Amen to that, when I had a problem with my rescue/ tow belt (the quick-release quick-released unbidden) they reponded instantly to my email, explained the upcoming mods being considered, sent me a new bag FREE, and THANKED me! They now have a customer for life.

don’t you find the ‘industrial velcro’ eats up the neoprene of your skirt.

whenever the sticky side of velcro rubs on neoprene it furs up the nylon of the neoprene, IMO.

I’m anxious to show you my design, tho it does have a fastex-style belt.

are you going to be around at Kittery this year?



Whipping should work fine…
…and you won’t crush the rope. I have one end of the bungee on my rig anchored to the bag, so only the outer end needs to be attached to the rope.

Velcro and such
"don’t you find the ‘industrial velcro’ eats up the neoprene of your skirt? whenever the sticky side of velcro rubs on neoprene it furs up the nylon of the neoprene, IMO."

I know what you mean, but I haven’t had any problems with it. I made the hook section on the belt shorter than the loop section, so the hook is always fully engaged with the loop, regardless of how much I’m wearing under the rig. The hook never touches anything under the belt, so there’s no problem with it damaging the nylon facing on the neoprene skirt.

“I’m anxious to show you my design, tho it does have a fastex-style belt.”

I’m looking forward to seeing it.

“are you going to be around at Kittery this year?”

I plan to be. Hope to see you there!

No float on the end?
I’m all for having a clean tow rig, but not having a float on the end of the rope is a liability, IMO. If you drop it, it sinks and you have to haul it up, which takes precious time in a potentially dangerous situation. It also precludes throwing it to anyone, since if they don’t catch it, they don’t have any chance of retrieving it off the surface.

As for being able to re-stuff the rig quickly, it’s definitely preferable to shoving it into your PFD. I’ve seen people do that and end up with rope all over the place after paddling for a while. Sure, it’s a reasonable short-term expedient, but what do you do if you have to deal with rough conditions and do not have the option of re-packing it? If a rig is designed so that you can shove it back in the bag just as quickly as cramming it into your PFD, you eliminate any problems.

The gripe I have with the Lotus rigs I’ve played with is that they are difficult and time consuming to stow under dead-flat-calm conditions, let alone if things get hairy. Compact is nice, but if it sacrifices function, it’s worthless.

Towing Rigs, Sea Kayak
I’m partial to customizing my tow systems. I own an NDK bag that when I’m in my home boat has a 17’line with a float and a 3" Wichard snaphook. It is intended as my short tow, supplementing my deck mounted tow system. When I travel I plug in a 35’ daisy chained line with its own snaphook. I like the snaphooks as the stainless is outstanding, it has a gentler release from the question mark shaped hook and the bale is wide enough to operate freely with neoprene gloves.

I use a pair of them for my contact tow rig up forward. They are on a 3’ length of 1" webbing with a 1" cam buckle for quick release under strain.

My boat mounted tow rig has the usual jamcleat and fairlead, and yes, it is a pain to restring in a hurry on bumpy water! I have 50’of spectra another 3" Wichard, a float and a couple feet of shock cord, and a bag that started life as a Lotus throw bag holder. I cut all the silly stuff like d rings and elastics from it so it works well as a boat mounted tow bag.

If you buy a system I have to agree with the consensus that the Northwater is probably best. That being said, their belt is really annoying as the belt has a slider that allows an end of webbing to protrude out a couple inches. It is close to the quick release buckle so that if you grabbed the end of the webbing to release it’s 50-50 whether you grab the right web end or not. Alas, that is what the plastic ball is for. They were nice enough to put SS on their carabiners, unlike Salamander, but I like the Wichard snap hook and would replace it anyway. I’ve yet to see an aluminum carabiner work well for long in the sea. I too, dislike the PFD mounted systems, mostly because I have enough heft up top to not want to add to a higher center of balance. Anyway, I prefer the boat to take the shock, not me. Try restringing the belt and bag through PFD loops in lumpy water and you will see what I mean.

One other thing, myself and another guy were the towing guineas in a training when the tower clipped on with one of those inch wide webbing tows. The web caught sail in the race and really made it a struggle for the tower and the other guy who clipped on. It added a lot of unnecessary drag to the scenario and prevented the towers from surfing us out of the race more quickly than we otherwise would have with standard line.