Kayarchy - the sea kayaker's online handbook and reference


Rafting-up & towing

Greenlandic kayakers

This picture is courtesy of Richard Best.



Rafting up

Raft of four sea kayaksWhen two more kayakers sit side by side, holding onto each other's kayaks, they make a raft which will not capsize or break up in normal sea conditions. One way to demonstrate this to a student group is to have some of them get out of their kayaks at sea and walk around the raft. Choose light people - a lightweight kayak will be damaged if a 90 kg man walks on the deck.

A raft makes a stable platform for deep-water rescues. In rough conditions or during a rescue, a firm grip is needed to keep the kayaks together. One kayaker can lean right onto an adjoining kayak, resting his/ her entire upper body on it and gripping it firmly with both arms.

Casual rafting-up takes only a few seconds and is handy when you want a hot drink, a chat or to take photos.

Two sea kayaks rafted up

Wind or currents can move a raft along at walking pace. You can keep an eye on your position from time to time using transits, and if the raft is drifting into danger one or two of the group can separate and tow it.

Towing a kayak

It's easy to tow a sea kayak because its long slim shape goes in a straight line with little resistance. Towing a very short kayak is a lot more work because it has more drag and will swing from side to side, to the extent that it may capsize if towed too fast.

We like to tow with an ordinary whitewater tow-belt or occasionally with a paddle park / tow point. Some sea kayakers prefer to use a towing cleat. To attach a tow line to another kayak you can use a snap-link or a quick-release knot. Either way, practice under controlled conditions so you know that you can detach your tow line when you're upside down!

Simple long tow

Suitable for towing a sea kayak in good conditions. The person doing the towing simply pays out (say) 5 metres of tow line, attaches it to the front of the other kayak and starts paddling.

Simple long tow by kayak

On a calm day, the person being towed can sit back and relax. If the casualty is tired but otherwise OK it will make the rescuer's job easier if the casualty uses his / her paddle to steer. See Stern Rudder.

Rafted long tow

If there are three of you and the casualty is unwell or is in a very short kayak, the third person can raft up with him. If everybody is using sea kayaks, a single rescuer can quite easily tow both boats.

Rafted long tow by kayak

Simple short tow

If there are only two of you and the other kayaker feels unwell or is in a very short kayak, use a short tow, somewhere between 30 cm and 2.5 metres long.

Simple short tow by kayak

If you use a really short tow with a paddle park / tow point the other kayak will be alongside yours, and the other kayaker can hold onto the back end of your boat. If you find it hard work to go in a straight line you can ask the other kayaker to pull until the kayaks are parallel. He can rest his upper body on the back of your kayak and close his eyes.

Group tow ("husky tow" or "V-tow" )

To tow a long way on open water, two or more kayakers can tow the casualty at the same time. Each attaches a tow line to the front of the casualty's kayak. If they both have long tow lines, one can use 10 metres of rope and the other 6 metres. This makes it easy for them to avoid each other.

If more than two kayakers are towing, they can spread out in a fan shape like huskies pulling a toboggan. High-speed towing by two or more kayakers is a fun way to warm up. The towing kayakers need to keep looking over their shoulders to see all is well, because three kayakers generate so much power they may not notice the difference if the casualty capsizes.

Group tow by kayaks

Towing in surf

Inside the surf zone, it is best not to attach one kayak to another. The rescuer will not be able to respond to a big wave, and if anybody capsizes they may get tangled up in a tow rope and find it difficult either to roll or bale out. You can use a rafted or contact tow instead. See Shunting With A Kayak, below.

Towing other small boats

Sea kayakers quite often encounter small boats in trouble and can easily two a beach inflatable, windsurfer or sailing dinghy with two crew. Towing long distances or heavier weights is not something to do lightly because it can give you a repetitive strain injury.

If you're carrying out a rescue, you are the boss. Take control of the situation and don't put up with any b******t from the casualty. Generally you want to attach the tow as close as possible to the front of the towed boat. Deploy the full length of your tow-rope and instruct the casualty either to tie it to the front of their boat or to put it through a fairlead at the bow (or wrap it once round the forestay if it's a sailing dinghy) and hold the end in their hand so they can easily detach it. If it's a sailing dinghy, instruct them to retract their centreboard / daggerboard. This will reduce drag and reduce the amount by which the towed boat swings from side to side while you tow. If there's any wind at all, unless it's from behind instruct them to take the sails down. Ask them to use the rudder to keep directly behind you.

The windsurfer most likely to need a tow is the beginner on a big, floaty, high-volume board. An expert with a low-volume board may need a tow if the wind dies and the current is taking him / her away from land. The casualty will have to lie on top of the board and hold the tow-rope near the front end. This is fine with a floaty board but otherwise the casualty's weight near the front will make the nose sink, so you may need to experiment. If you are going more than 100 metres or so, the casualty's sail should also be on top of the board and not dragging in the water. This is seldom possible unless the casualty detaches or at least slackens the wishbone boom at both ends, removes the battens and partly rolls the sail. Use your discretion, because this will take two or three minutes and will totally disable the windsurfer, so you will then have to tow it all the way to the beach and not just into smoother water.

Shunting with a kayak ("contact tow")

If you don't have a tow-rope or you are in the surf zone where it would be risky to attach yourself to another kayak, you can still achieve quite good results.

To shunt a single sea kayak, get in line with it so that you and the casualty are facing each other. Paddle forwards until your bow is just past the casualty's cockpit. Tell the casualty to hold onto your kayak. He can lean onto it, putting the weight of his upper body onto it while holding onto your decklines with both hands. Then you can pull or push his kayak. If you are going more than a very short distance, attach the end of his kayak near your cockpit. The ideal thing for quickly attaching another kayak is a paddle park / tow point.

Shunting one kayak

To shunt a pair of sea kayaks, get them to raft up together, then put the bow of your kayak in between theirs and start paddling forwards.

Shunt by kayak





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