07 - Towing Techniques

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Sooner or later either you or a companion will need to be towed. Practice these techniques and you will be ready.

There are many reasons someone in your group or someone you run into may need to be towed. The most common one is a novice user who can not continue to paddle on his own. Other reasons are injury, such as tenosynovitis (inflamed tendons) or a shoulder dislocation from an improper high brace, seasickness, or debilitating hypothermia. Sometimes towing is necessary to keep a group together and get to a destination in time or ahead of bad whether. There are many reasons and one day you will need to tow or be towed.

Towing can be difficult and sometimes dangerous under difficult conditions and judgement needs to be applied as to when towing is appropriate. Practice in towing will increase the safety margin in high seas and wind.

Exhaustion to the point of not being able to continue or a reduction in stability occurs most often in those with a lack of experience. It is often associated with other conditions such as sunburn, heat exhaustion or dehydration. Proper precautions before and durig a paddle can reduce the chance of any member of the group becoming greatly fatigued. Once fatigued, many paddlers, especially men, are reluctant to be towed because of a stigma of failure that many will attach to towing. Towing is a safety procedure that assists all members of the group. IT'S OK TO BE TOWED. You are helping your group as well as yourself.

A serious seasick paddler will want to stop right there and die. They may be completely incapacitated with an extreme loss of balance. These paddlers must be suppported by another paddler rafting up with them or a special type of tow line rigging. In any case, they will be of little help paddling and probably at best can only steer with their rudder.

The first step in a possible towing situation is an assessment of the paddler. Approach his boat and call out to him with assuring words and ask him how he is. Keep your boat at 180 degrees to his so you can hear and observe his answers. Do not approach to within grabbing distance until you have assessed his rationality. There is no need to turn a towing situation into a rescue operation. Observe the paddlers demeanor and physical indicators. Does he have an obvious problem? Is he sweating? Red eyes from exertion or salt spray? Is he shivering? Is he coherent and responsive? Are his lips blue? Is he ashen? Is his skin dry?

After making your assement, explain to the paddler your intentions and why they are important. Solicit his assistance in the task. Move in toward his kayak and support his kayak by placing your paddle in front of his cockpit and leaning across his foredeck. If he appears dehydrated, have him drink. If he is exhausted and not sick to his stomach have him eat. If he is cold, have him put on some more clothes. If he is hot, use the water to cool him off.

Under most conditions, the paddler should put on more clothes, especially a warm hat. Having been exercising steadily and burning up calories, he is now going to sit there almost immobile. He is going to cool off. Now that you are here steadying his boat is a good time get him to put on more clothes.

You are soon going to be towing him and will probably be many feet directly ahead of him. If it is windy, communication will be difficult. Determine if he has a whistle. If not consider giving him yours. If he has a problem during the tow, he can signal you with it.

Now you need to assess the environmental conditions and the towing experience and capabilities of the others in your group. You need to assess the sea state, wind speed, current, course and length ot time to reach your destination. How many people in the group have skills to assist. How many tow lines are there? What are their lengths? What is the experience of the paddlers with lines? Does someone need to raft up with the stricken paddler? How many people do I have available to tow?

If the paddler is having troubles maintaining stability, but is not mentally debillitated, consider deploying his paddle float onto his paddle as a source of self support. Make sure the paddle leash is in place so it is not blown away by the wind.

Once you have made your plans, tell the paddler what you plan to do. Then do it quickly and efficiently. Nothing will frighten the towee more than a carnival of tangled lines and clashing boats.

If wind, sea and current conditions are light, the simplest towing setup is a single kayak towing the stricken paddler and perhaps his support paddler. If the paddler recovers some, the support paddler can pick up the tow to relieve the primary tower.

Get your tow line ready and check its fastening. If using an attachment to the boat decide which side the attachment is going to be on and then back away from the paddler and approach with your attachment side next to their boat. Move to the bow of the boat, hook onto the strongest portion of their bow toggle, reassure the paddler and move steadily in directly in front of the paddler. The wind will have blown you parallel to the troughs, so you will probably need to make a wide turn to get back on course. Do not try to angle quickly to the desired course. In towing, long gentle arcs will keep things from getting messy.

If you have another paddler available to tow, you can set a V tow. The extra paddler will make the tow go faster and provide some company. Set up a single tow and begin towing slowly. Have the second tower approach the towed paddler, hook on, then paddle off to form the V. In the V tow, the towing kayaks will tend to come together by the drag of the towed kayak. If using attachments to the boat, such as around the cockpit, leading tow lines to the outboard side of the kayak will help counteract that tendency.

Another two person tow is the inline tow. Here one woer tows the towee and the other tower tows the tower. Any number of kayaks can participate in this type of tow, but since all participant are connected, none but the first can disconnect independently.

If your fellow paddler is incapicitated and there are only the two of you, you will have to tow with a short line. Bring the bow of the towed kayak as close to the back of your cockpit as possible.. The towee may be able to lean across onto the end of your boat with his paddle underneath him. For some short rear deck and long foredeck kayak combinations this will not be possible. Your kayaks will bang together and get scratched, but there may be no other alternative.

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