Tip of the Month. Knowing your towing

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Whether being towed or towing another boat – it’s not as easy as it looks…


On the water, especially out at sea, there are many variables such as weather, wind and tidal currents that can make towing a boat or being towed extremely difficult and potentially dangerous, so careful planning and good communication is essential. Then it’s a question of which towing technique to adopt, either the traditional ‘Tow Astern (pull)’ or ‘Tow Alongside (tie up alongside)’ the other boat and travel as one unit.

Obviously to be towed you’ll need a good tow rope, and normally one would use the anchor rope as it is both long and strong. The most common means of towing in terms of ease of implementation and one that will suit most weather conditions is the traditional ‘pull’ tow, however this offers little or no control to the towed boat. The rope must be fastened securely to strong points on both boats, thus the mooring cleats are invariably your best option. If the water is choppy the tow rope will be grabbing and jerking and it is therefore best to use more than one mooring point on each boat and to make a “cradle” by linking up several cleats together to spread the load or act as a backup in case one of the points breaks.

The best approach is for the end of the rope to be secured to the towed boat first, and then put a single turn of the rope around a cleat in the towing boat. As the boat moves ahead, let some line out and when there is a safe gap between the two boats, gradually increase the tension so the rope does not “snatch”. Let some more line slip out, take a second turn around the cleat and, as the towed boat starts to follow, secure the end. It is important to ensure that the rope is kept taught and in sight to prevent loose line sinking and potentially wrapping itself around the propeller. It’s also important to keep an eye on the towed boat and ensure the speed is not causing it to yaw from side to side – boats are designed to be pushed by a propeller and do not usually take kindly to being pulled from the front.

In very calm waters, and particularly if you want to take the towed boat alongside a jetty or pontoon, the two boats need to be tied together side by side. First put out plenty of fenders to prevent damage, then fasten two ropes to attach bow to bow and stern to stern, and another substantial rope from the bow of the towing boat to the stern of the towed boat. This is the rope that will take most of the strain of the tow. Roped together like this, both boats can be manoeuvred as one, albeit rather clumsily, but at least you will be able to bring both alongside a pontoon even in a crowded harbour or marina. Towing is a technique that you hopefully won’t have to make use of too often, and as and when you do have to, it’ll more often than not be because a fellow boater has run out of fuel, but it’s still an important need-to-know skill which you have to master before you can consider yourself a proper skipper…


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