RENDERING AID: HOW TO SAFELY TOW OTHER BOATS
Rendering aid to fellow boaters is tradition. TowBoatUS captains offer advice for doing it safely.
You’re on your way home, feeling the last warmth of the sun as it kisses the horizon, when the cellphone rings. A buddy, with his wife and three kids aboard, can’t get his motor started, and there isn’t a commercial towing vessel nearby. Consider this advice before offering a tow back to port.
Boat and Gear Limitations
Your cleats and lines may not be the floating, low-stretch lines and generously backed hardware found aboard towing vessels. Your alternative will be a strong, long anchor line to tow with and a pair of dock lines for a bridle (see illustration below). “Nylon line stretches more than half its length,” warns Capt. Clayton Tieman of TowBoatUS in Tampa Bay, Florida. “If something breaks, [the line’s] going to snap back and become a projectile.” Even while using a bridle, with dead weight pulling on one stern corner or the other, you should expect to turn your bow only 20 degrees at a time. Take it slow and steady, and anticipate heading changes well in advance.
“If there is no emergency, don’t make one,” says Capt. Terry Hill of TowBoatUS in Potomac, Virginia. To buy time, anchor the disabled vessel. “Make a 360 around the boat and size up the situation, then back off and make a plan.” Communicate that plan, as well as an abort procedure, to everyone on both boats and get everyone into life jackets.
“We always try to approach with our bow into the wind or the current, whichever is prevailing,” Tieman says, although in some situations this isn’t possible. “You’re in command,” he stresses. Well-meaning advice from others might be based on handling a different boat than yours. “Whether it’s an I/O [sterndrive], or single outboard or twin inboard, you know your vessel. If you don’t deem it safe, don’t do it.” That might be the case with intoxicated or overbearing people aboard the disabled boat too.
Once the towing line is passed, maintain a safe distance while it’s secured. “Take up the towline slack very, very slowly. Just bump it in and out of gear,” Hill says, “and never, ever back down with that towline behind you.” Read more