Towing a Boat in the Water.
So you've just bought a new sailboat but the mast is off and the motor is being delivered next week. YOU NEED A TOW! You've arranged for a colleague who owns a motor boat to help you out. I have seen a lot of boats get in trouble while being towed, here are a few pointers.
There are 2 preferred methods of Boat Towing
- You can set up a line from the back of the towing boat to the front of the towed boat, the STERN TOW.
- You can tie the 2 boats side by side and tow in that position, the ALONGSIDE, or SIDE BY SIDE tow.
Take care of the safety stuff FIRST
- Make sure you have proper tow lines. Double braid work well. They should be strong and not frayed or damaged. They should be long enough to comfortably separate the 2 boats if you are using a stern tow.
- Make sure everyone has a life jacket ON. There should be a responsible person on each boat.
- Both boats should carry knives to cut free if needed.
- You should have a few bumpers at the ready.
- You should decide what you're going to do when you get where you're going before setting off.
- Establish signals, or have cellphones or radios. Make sure your legal safety gear is there including flares. You are easy to spot on the water particularly if you don't seem to know what you're doing.
- If you can avoid it, don't tow when conditions are bad or if the weather report is predicting very windy or difficult conditions..
- Before you go check the cleats to make sure they are solid and check that the motorboat has enough gas. Have a paddle and boat hook handy just in case. Check your insurance and licenses too. Things happen really fast. The towed boat should have an anchor ready. If the boats are disconnected then the towed boat can anchor and not drift into trouble.
- If you are planning to stern tow, consider getting a Drogue. It can really help stabilize the towed boat.
The stern tow.
If you have a long way to go and the way is not particularly crowded or tricky, then the stern tow will work for you. What you give up in control you gain in efficiency. 2 Boat moving one behind the other and not interfering with each other will move better. There is no tendecies to veer to one side or the other. It's relatively easy to set up.
So long tows or tows in open water work well as stern tow.
Once you have connected the stern of the towing boat to the bow of the towed boat, then SLOWLY start forward and let out your line. Don't just dump all the line in the water otherwise the line might get caught up in the prop of the motor.
The longer the line the better it absorbs shock. Lines that are too long though reduce control. It's safer to have a second person in the towing boat just to watch the line while the other person drives.
A line that suddenly gives or a cleat that tears out can do a lot of damage because there can be alot of tension.
Start slowly, accelerate slowly, and allow lots of time to slow down, remember there is no brake on the towed boat. The weight of a large sailboat can keep it moving for a long time because of the momentum it has.
A Drogue can help stabilize the motion of a boat being towed, by adding some drag. This has the effect of damping the motion of the towed boat and making it easier to control. It can help reduce the boinging that can set up and also reduce the side to side overtaking of the towed boat if the towing boat slows down.
One danger of towing this way is getting the lines caught up the motor. It's the watching person's job to make sure the line stays clear of the propeller at all time.
The Side by Side or Alongside tow
This is the safest way to go if there is not a lot of space to get around, if the way is quite busy and congested, if you have to make sudden slowdown or turns to avoid a ferry or another boat. It gives quite good control, but it can be slower.
In this case the 2 boats are tied alongside each other. One line connects the 2 bows, one line secures the sterns (its a good idea to use a long line and connect the opposite side cleat of the towed boat to allow some spring ) and a third line connects the middle-front of the towing boat to the stern cleat of the boat being towed. This is the line that actually does the work. It is a direct line. Spend time making sure your lines are snug and don't allow too much movement, and that the middle line is actually the one under tension.
When I bought my Tanzer 22 I had it towed Side By Side. It worked very well. I steered from my boat since the towing boat was quite short.
Unless the towing boat is soft zodiak or inflatable you need to set up a line of bumpers between the boats.
If the 2 boats are the same length or closely matched then its best to make sure the RUDDER OF THE TOWING BOAT is further behind the towed boat. If the rudder of the towing boat is too far forward then it will be very difficult to turn from the towing boat, and almost impossible to turn towards the side the towing boat is located.
If the towing boat is much shorter than the boat being towed such as the case of a short inflatable with a large motor, then what will need to happen is the towed boat steers and the towing boat provides power. So make sure the rudder is there and working.
The advantage of towing side by side is control. Its much simpler to maneuver around and to dock. It is possible to put the motor in reverse.
If the tow is tricky get a professional.
If you are not comfortable with conditions, or not feeling well. Or if your equipment is poor you're taking a chance.
Towing Rope and Knot
Many towing ropes are made of Nylon. Because nylon is strong, resistant to abrasion and UV degradation it is a reliable rope. Its best feature for towing is that it stretches some and gives a bit of cushioning as the boat is towed
If you don't have a cleat at the back of the towing boat a harness set up might be better to centre the load. This is just a rope that runs from side to side of the towing boat. The line from the towed boat attaches to this sideway line.
There are many hitches that are useful. In towing if you think you might need to quickly release the knot then using a highway man's knot can be safer. It is not a secure knot and needs to be watched otherwise it can let go. The cleat hitch is more secure.
This web site reflects my personal ideas and doesn't represent anyone else's point of view.