• We apologize for the somewhat convoluted sign-up process. Due to ever-more sophisticated attacks by chatbots, we had to increase our filtering in order to weed out AI while letting humans through. It's a nuisance, but a necessary one in order to keep the level of discourse on the forums authentic and useful. From the actual humans using WCP, thanks for your understanding!

Tow line recommendations


New Member
Jun 26, 2011
I'm a new paddler with a tow line-capable PFD (Stohlquist Descent) and would like recommendations from experienced hands on a tow line that will work well in this configuration. I've seen an ad for a North Water PFD Quick-Release Sea Link, which seems good but potentially too short (15 ft. max, not 15 m). Advice? Thanks in advance.
The 15 m length you mention is a requirement for Coast Guard compliance: you have to have a buoyant heaving line of that length on your boat. That said, experienced paddlers I have talked to on this issue do not consider this line to be useful as a towline and carry it for compliance only.

The towline I have been experimenting with for the last year or so is about 7.5 m. Nothing is perfect, but that length has worked in a variety of applications, both practice and real-world.

In the last two courses I took, no piece of equipment generated more discussion than people's various tow systems. I have seen the North Water system you mentioned and spoken with its designer. It has its appealing points for sure, though the line is a little on the short side, as you noted.

The only systems I really didn't like were coaming lines: just my $0.02. I'm interested in what others have to say.

Personally I LOVE the North Water PFD Quick-Release Sea Link!! It is compact and easy to use. Works as a pig tail and an effective tow line for flat water. IF I need a longer line I can simply attach another length of line that I store in an accessible location. As a guide I have done a fair amount of towing and never had a problem with this system. I did tape the rope on to the carbiner though. I would rather have the convenience of this system than something more heavy duty. If I towed in rollers, it may be a different story though. :mrgreen:

That is my two cents. I have used other bulkier systems, but I tended to take them off and stow them away because they just were not as comfortable to wear.
I have a modified Northwater quick release waist tow line (aka the Burrito bag)

I don't like the Sea Link, or any other PFD mounted tow systems. They are too high up so in rough water it's really jarring on the body, and it feels much nicer having the load lower down. There is also no float at the carabiner, so once dropped... it sinks. We had this happen in a instructor training rough water rescue practice. Also the webbing is black which is nearly impossible to see in the water, and I ended up with it tangled around my leg in the same rescue practice. I'm also not a fan of coaming tow systems.

This was my burrito bag. I added a pigtail, which I remove in rough water. I also added a stainless D ring to clip the 'biner to to make drawing the tow quicker.

I recently re-vamped my system to mimic the northwater micro tow system. Unclip the red 'biner and you have a 16' short tow, and unclip the black one and you get the full 50'. I still have the pigtail for flatwater quick tows attached.

Some things to look for in a tow system are:
- large carabiners
- floats
- quick release
- and a shock cord system
Alana said:
Some things to look for in a tow system are:
- large carabiners
- floats
- quick release
- and a shock cord system

To which I will add: in my experience the carabiner that comes with the standard North Water pigtail does not handle saltwater very well. Your need a quality, marine grade ss biner.

Regarding floats, there is an interesting discussion to be had as to whether tow lines should float or not. My current, home-made system has a sinking line to which I have added a float at the biner. The danger of such a line is snagging the bottom. The danger of a floating line is the huge octopus-like mess it creates if it is not kept taut: entanglement is an issue, especially with longer lines.

Also, it is worth noting that different conditions require different approaches. Sheila who guides clients in an area with no swell, likes the very system that Alana doesn't like in rough conditions. My own tow system is only mid-length because my usual client is my son, whom I want to keep close enough for easy communication.

Lots to think about.
AM said:
To which I will add: in my experience the carabiner that comes with the standard North Water pigtail does not handle saltwater very well. Your need a quality, marine grade ss biner.
You are correct... I have had to replace a ss carabiner more than once since it's seized. The new smaller carabiners are higher quality, but they are way too small for cold gloved hands. I do like the fact that those 'biners have a loop for the line to go through. It stops it from moving around, but covering the knot in electrical tape solves that problem.

AM said:
Lots to think about.
Yes. Like you said, depends on the conditions, the boats, and the people you paddle with. The most important thing is that you know how to use your tow system quickly and safely. A good game is to play leap frog with a partner, with the front person towing. After a while, unclip and restow your towline while your partner takes the front and starts towing. If you try this a few times back and fourth you quickly realize if your system is effective... or not.
I too am interested in this at the moment. Last week I found and read this article from Wavelength: http://www.wavelengthmagazine.com/2008/spring2008_Strings_Attached.pdf

I currently have a Level 6 "Black Fly" which is more of a throw bag with some towing capability. I have it daisy chained down to about 15', and clipped with a caribiner which I can remove if I wanted the longer tow. I wouldn't trust the belt buckle though in nasty conditions. However, my primary expected use is towing my kids, and secondarily for towing a student - both for short distances in mild conditions (no swell). Having said that, I'm looking to get a better tow system and had liked the looks of the Northwater Sea Link as a "best of both worlds" approach that allows for the short pigtail tow yet allows a moderate-length tow as well, so I'm glad to hear of Sheila's experience.

For the non-PFD mounted systems, you simply wear it like a belt, I assume?

The GCW said:
North Water Sea Tec - w/ 30' line. http://www.northwater.com/html/products ... wline.html

I've only used it for training and haven't tried others but it seems ok.

This is the only ready made one I use. I do have a 6 ft chunk of line tied to a SS biner attached to my front deck perimeter lines. basically for contact tows.

I've tried just about everything available. Most either scare me or annoy me. These rejects have been tossed into a bin and pulled out for demo purposes only.