Towing Techniques

I would like to get set up to be able to tow and would like your opinion on what is the best set up. In your experience is a waist tow line , tow rig set up on the deck, or other is the better choice.


Personal Choice
It’s really a personal choice, and everyone has a little different set-up and reasons why they like that set-up.

I like using a waist-worn tow rope, because it’s easy to hand off if needed, and it pulls low on your body vs. a pfd mounted tow. This is a feature that I like, but I’m sure to others it doesn’t make a difference. I also like to have a pigtail mounted to a quick release belt on my vest for short tow situations where I need to get someone away from danger quickly.

If I get around to it, this year, I’m going to set up my tow rope to also work mounted to my kayak. BTW, I have a Northwater Tow Rope, that I’ve modified.

Yeah, North Water has a tow rig that I like called the Sea Tec Tow. It has been upgraded to provide a cows tail that works as an attachment for a deck mounted rig. So you get the best of both worlds.

As for the little modifications, I like a steel biner with a toothless gate that is big enough to use with cold hands and in rough conditions. I also hate to have a float at the biner end as it has a big chance of fouling up the towing process.

Thats what I know…

My current setup…

– Last Updated: Jan-19-07 2:11 PM EST –

Modified Kokatat tow system:

I like the on PFD system because it seems to work just fine for me and I won't forget it. Been on trips where Northwater towlines have been forgotten because it's one more thing to keep track of. Of course, Northwater works just fine. Have taken out daisy chain and blue biner at this point--there's a constant evolution of these systems... SS biners, of course. Any Al biner I've had in saltwater for much time has corroded. I've sewn in about as much velcro to the closeure flap on this setup as possible. The way it came from Kokatat, the flap would often get pulled open in surf and you'd end up on shore with 50' of line wrapped around you and boat... The float at the biner end is held in place snugly by a couple of knots but can be moved easily to wherever it needs to be for the situation by sliding it. I set this system up in the bag so that it plays out nicely (as in a rope bag for climbing), that way the system does double duty as a throw rope.

Front deck short tow set up:

Edit: added a couple of photos for clarity...

Another Edit: It occured to me that the Figure of 8 in line end would hinder the line in clearing the kayak as it would hang up under decklines, etc. It's gone...constantly evolving...

Haven't used this much. But I certainly think the moorning hitch quick release is a good idea--idea from Chris Mitchell of

Would certainly like to see other folks setups and learn from their ideas.

Tow rigs
Even though I have bias toward both of the products I’m going to mention, I have used a bunch of towing setups over the past several years. I’m a fan of the Expedition Essentials tow rig developed by Dale Williams. It has some great features in the bag design, floating line and biners with quick-draws on them for one-hand operation. The hardware store style connectors are too hard to work one-handed and have other flaws, particularly when you’re in a tense towing situation (IMO).

For the close-in contact tows, I like this design developed by another instructor and IT, Ed Schiller. It has some good features that allow one-hand operation, it’s easy to adjust and has no extra line flopping around. After using two or three homemade versions of my own, I found this does the trick nicely:



Regardless of what tow setup you decide on, I strongly recommend practicing with it, including the quick-relase functions of dropping or disconnecting a tow rig or contact tow in an emergency. Also, practice stuffing the line back in your tow bag quickly, but so you can deploy it again during the same trip. With this type of gear, it’s not enough to have it – the ability to use it quickly and effectively is even more important that what model or style you have.

My .02 worth.

Northwater waist tow rig

– Last Updated: Jan-17-07 5:25 PM EST –

I use an older model that I've modified considerably. Many of these modifications made it into the Sea-Tec Tow, though I have no official connection with it. I wonder how that happened?

I have a Webshots album on the subject at:

Anyway, one other advantage of this design is that it stows very easily and quickly. When one really needs a tow rig, conditions don't typically permit one to screw around trying to stuff rope into a tiny bag that barely holds it, which is a common problem with many commercial tow rigs. When I need my tow rig, I want to deploy it or stow it RIGHT NOW, with no time wasted. I don't buy into the notion that stuffing the rope down the front of your PFD is a good idea in a pinch, as I've seen what can happen when people do that.

Easier stowing is also a generic advantage of waist rigs vs. deck rigs.

I also keep a 3' contact tow on my deck at all times. It's nothing more than a couple of keylock carabiners connected with cord. It coils up small and I keep it hooked to one of the deck cords on my foredeck (NOT a bungee). That allows me to grab either 'biner with either hand and deploy it to either side of the boat. I only use it in emergency situations where speed is critical.

Towing is one of the more potentially dangerous things you can do in a sea kayak. I strongly suggest that you get together with experienced paddlers and practice tow setups and procedures well before you may actually need them.

not on boat
I can’t claim to be an expert, but the times I was in classes where we covered towing, the instructors always said to get a belt system. The main reason for this is that if you need to release in an emergency, you can just pop the belt. These were sea kayaking classes, not whitewater.

boat set-up
There are tow systems that are mounted on the boat that allow you to quick release

Cam cleat
I prefer to use a deck mounted tow system as it places less stress on my body, particularly in rough conditions. I also find I can release a towline from a cam cleat faster than a waist belt, since fastex buckles can be hard to unclip when heavily loaded. Just my 2c.


does Virginia Sea Kayak Center
have a phone number? I can’t find one on their website.

tow belt
that you can release and hand to another person. The fold up bags have gotten better than the stuff bags. The stuff bags are appealing but impossible to restuff in rough conditions.

best of both worlds
modify your tow belt with a metal ring and biner on the inside. Wear your tow belt as a tow belt, or–if you want–pop out the inside end of the rope (with ring) and attach it to your cow tail. Leaves the bag around your waist as a stuff sack when you’re done. (Mine is a modified flatpick prototype.)

cow tail?
What is this? thanks,

AKA short tow NM

AKA pig tail

No modification needed
with the Expedition Essentials rig – there’s a second biner built in for shortening the line with a solid attachment point. You can see some better images here:

No number, but…
… they have a contact form:

very strange
If someone lives in the Virginia area, could you please look them up in the phone book and post the number here? Many thanks in advance!

not sure I quite see
So there’s a biner inside AND outside? They stole my idea before the fact!!!

A biner inside the pouch that you can use to quickly shorten the line and still have a secure connection with the belt. Plus the regular biner at the end of the line with a quickdraw.