What’s My Line   By Syd “Bruce” Marsden :  Towing
I would like talk about something that we all hope we will never need for our own boat but something that you might need to do. What is a six-letter word that can instill fear in us all? “Towing”. But it is not really as bad as it seems, once you know the basics.
Let’s put your fears to rest.

No two tows are exactly alike, but all require the same amount of attention to detail. There are 2 basic positions of towing, they are stern tow and along side tow. There are a lot of things that you will take into account when taking someone in tow, but the most important thing to keep in mind is safety. All it takes is one careless moment to get into danger or lose the tow.

This article is not meant to cover everything about towing but to get you familiar with the basic towing operation. The first thing to do is to access the situation. Is it a job you feel comfortable doing and is your vessel adequate for the job. If not, then the best thing for you to do is to go get help or stand by until help arrives. No matter what you decide, the first thing to do is to make sure that everyone has a lifejacket on. Remember that the most important concern is for the
safety of all personnel, not the vessel itself.

If you decide that it’s a go, the first thing to figure out is, will it be a stern tow or along side. A stern tow is used for a long tow in open water, and an along side tow is used for greater control in congested waters or where control of both boats is a must. When setting up a tow, the best line to use is double braid. But whatever line you use make sure it is in good condition and strong enough for the task at hand. If it were to break it would be like a rubber band breaking under load. The 65’ tug that I was stationed on in the USCG had a dent in the aft cabin, it was left when a towing hanger snapped under load. It was never repaired as a reminder for the crew.

Also make sure that all cleats or hardware that the line attaches to is secure. Its bad enough when the line comes back at you, but imagine what it would be like with a metal object attached to the end. Make sure there is a knife or something to cut the towline in case of an emergency. For general safety, it is a good idea to always have a sharp knife on you when you are boating. If it is a stern tow, assign a person to keep watch on the towline at all times, remember it is not far from that “high speed winch” (the prop) under your boat. A little too much slack in the towline and you are now both in trouble.

With the tow line hooked up and all set to go, start letting the tow line out slowly and make sure everyone stays out of the line. Once the slack is out and the tow where you want it, you need to make sure that the speed is ok for the boat being towed and the towline needs to be lined so that both boats are in step. That is both boats are going up the front of a wave at the same time. Remember, that the two line should have a dip in it, not a tight straight line. The longer the tow, the greater the shock load the line and hardware will be able to take. Also, it is very important to remember to make all moves and speed changes slowly. Sudden speed changes could sink the vessel being towed or put it on your stern.

Now for a side tow. This is the best way to maintain the best control over both vessels. When properly tied together, both boats will work as one. And if you are worried about size difference, think about this one. I have taken a 41’ boat weighing approximately 29,000 pounds in side tow with a Boston Whaler powered with a pair of 70 hp Johnson outboards and moored it up to a dock with zero handling problems.

One thing that I forgot to mention earlier is that the boat being towed should normally keep their rudder amidships but when maneuvering in side-tow sometimes having the towed vessel move their rudder on you calls will help.  Make sure that you have plenty of fenders and the following lines secured; bow line, forward spring, after spring and stern line. The bowline goes from you bow to the bow of the other boat and is used to hold the towed boat’s bow in. The easiest way to switch from a stern tow to a side tow is to walk the towline up to the bow.

When setting up the side tow, it is very important to make sure that your rudder is behind the transom of the towed boat. If you do not do this it will be almost impossible to turn the tow towards you. The stern line is secured on your inboard side of your stern to the outboard side of the towed boat.

The forward spring line goes from your bow to the stern of the towed boat. This is the line that will be doing the towing when going forward. The after spring line goes from your stern to the bow of the towed vessel and this one takes the strain when you are backing down. The longer that you can make the spring lines the better. Once you have the lines tied up, put your boat in astern and remove the slack from the forward spring line. Then slowly go from astern to forward and remove the slack from the after spring line. You are now ready to finish your tow. Always remember, slow approach, best approach.