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Contact towline


Jul 25, 2016
Banks Peninsula, New Zealand
A while ago I derailed a thread on rescues with talk of my contact tow:


I've now photographed my setup, which may be of interest.

This is the towline, which is short length of cord with a carabiner and float on one end. A Highwaymans Hitch secures it to a stainless steel ring that is free to slide on a line across the deck. On my own kayaks this line is permanently attached, but if I'm travelling and using other boats I have a short line I simply tie between deck lines. As the ring is free to slide the towline can be deployed to either side. When not in use it is secured under deck bungys, or on my kayaks in a net bag, which has been removed here for clarity. Pulling on the free end releases the towline.

First step of Highwaymans Hitch.

Second step.

Third step.

I also use the towline to attach a stirrup to assist another paddler in. It has a loop which is adjustable with a prusik knot, which changes the length of the stirrup to allow for differing boat widths and paddler's leg length. The stainless steel clip in the loop is to attach it directly to deck lines if the towline is not used. There is a spreader bar to help the paddler get a foot into the loop. I have lashed the loose ends and covered them with PlastiDip to reduce entanglement hazards.

Prusik knot detail below.

Anyway, this may be of some interest.

As always, if someone can test to failure I am keen on feedback.


Interesting - thanks for the pics. The ring and hitch is less 'clunky' than a shackle, for sure.

Can you explain a bit more how you use the stirrup? Most of the ones I've seen attach to the swimmer's boat somehow (looping around the cockpit coaming is one type)- is this stirrup something you'd use to get back into your own boat? And it's attached to the foredeck?
I keep it attached to my boat, raft bow-to-stern alongside the person to be helped in, and chuck it over their deck and into the water. From my foredeck it goes behind their cockpit.

It is adjusted to length using the prusik knot. When the paddler (swimmer) is facing their boat from the side they put their foot closest to their stern into the loop with the spreader bar. Turning towards the stern makes this easier, but then they turn back to face their cockpit.

Assisted by me if required, they use leg strength to basically stand straight up, and when the stirrup is adjusted correctly their hip hinge is at the level of their deck. They then flop onto the rear deck, bring their bow leg into the cockpit, remove the foot from the stirrup, twist over and sit up.

I have used loops around cockpit rims, stirrups tied to deck lines, both theirs and mine, and in the days of aluminium shafted-paddles, tied around boats and paddles.

This system works the best as their weight pushing down on the stirrup lifts the edge of my boat closest to them, which I counter by leaning onto their kayak. The clip still allows me to attach it to deck lines if needed.

Hope that makes sense, if it needs clarification just ask.
Thanks John, interesting set-up. I am using something similar but with a small quick-release shackle... that I don't like. A question: as you're contact towing, the system is going to slide on the rescued kayak side of your kayak and the loose end of the line coming out of the highwayman hitch is likely to be hanging between the two kayaks. How easy (and how fast) is it to grab and pull it in case you want to let go fast? Would it be useful to tie a loop very close to the Highwayman to keep that line close by and have something easier to grab on?
Hi Pascal,

grabbing the line has been okay in training, I've never capsized while contact towing for real.

I hadn't thought of a loop; I went with a simple line to have fewer things to possibly tangle. For the same reason I tried, and rejected, a plastic ball on the end of the line, it was just one more thing hanging around. I found that if capsized, again in training, it was easiest to locate the line attached to the towed kayak, follow it back to the hitch, and then past it to the loose end.

When I'm back paddling I'll give your idea a try.

Thanks for the feedback.

Welcome, John. I have to try it myself as well. I didn't even think about releasing after capsize, but that's obviously a good thing to test as well.

Wish I could test it in XChurch. Just noticed your location and it made me smile: I spent a year there in 1987-88 and had basically a non-stop blast exploring the South Island. Beautiful country!
I've had to contact tow for REAL a couple of times plus less demanding though other real situations - get it right or someone dies. Except for the first time, I've always had the kayaks facing the same way during the rescue so there is no end-for-ending to get to the contact tow setup position after the rescue.

Yes, the first time doing it as told and finding it, as far as I was concerned, to be wrong.

When contact towing, the towed person is stabilising the tug, or should be as they are holding the aft end of the towing kayak. If strong winds and the "target" destination downwind, raft and run. Very stable.

Also no kayak on kayak to empty during the rescue as it wastes time, can lead to damage and needs skill without any real advantages. If dealing with a loaded kayak, weather conditions that caused the capsize and it is just too difficult. Hand over a pump after the rescue and let the wet kayaker warm up as they do some pumping - if necessary.