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  • Phil Keetley

Alternative uses for towropes?

A good quality towrope is an essential piece of equipment, and one of the few items that I would not launch without. Ever. In our attempts to ensure that every bit of equipment has several uses, I am keen to explore what else we can use our towropes for.

Lots of people certainly use towlines as a washing line to dry kit whilst out on expedition.

Sea kayak kit drying on tow rope

Boats tethered to the shore

Rather embarrassingly, I once got out of my tent one morning to find two of my three boats missing! This is possibly the worst situation for any sea kayak guide. It was unfortunate, whilst I had predicted the rise of the tide and pulled the boats up, I had not predicted that the torrential rain that night would cause the river near the camp to flood, taking our boats away with the ebb tide! Thankfully I had one boat left and was able to paddle out in a mad frenzy and find my two missing boats in the lee of a few islands not too far away. Since then, I religiously use my towrope to tether my boats, regardless!

This photo shows some clients tethering the boats with towropes in preparation for the arrival of a coastguard helicopter - a scenario we train for on our Sea Safety Week.

Preparing for a Coastguard helicopter

When operating around rocky cliffs, towropes become essential in lots ways. I always carry a Jeff Allan style throw tow bag on my back deck, as well as a waist mounted tow system. This provides me lots of options around the rocks. I can launch the throw bag to effect a rescue in a dangerous gully or cave. If bringing clients ashore on a rocky landing, I swim in first, tied to my boat on a full length tow - keeping the boat well away from me. Once secure on the rocks, I then have the throw bag ready in case anyone struggles with the swim. I can also reverse this procedure to swim out beyond impact zone towing my boat.

Pulling the boat in to the shore once secure on the rocks

I have also tethered a strong swimmer to the throw-line, ready to conduct a live-bait swimmer rescue, similar to river paddlers. These skills are not often required, but sea kayakers venturing in to serious rocky environments ought to carry throw bags and know how to use them.

Live bait rescue - rocky landings

In a challenging rocky environments, knowledge of rock climbing techniques and anchors means that the guide can secure a rope to use as a handrail to get clients past a dangerous step or ledge. Potentially even using the rope for short roping techniques for nervous clients, or even belaying people up or down a tricky rock section.

Towropes are not climbing ropes and whilst 10mm floating line may have a recorded braking strength of 1300kg, it is not dynamic rope and must not be shock loaded. It is fine for helping people with security on steep ground, but must not be used for belaying a lead climber or in any situation that could shock load the system. We teach some of these skills on our Incident Management and Sea Safety courses.

Tow ropes can provide a great aid in making emergency shelters, using the line between trees or split paddles as poles as a a roofline.

Sea kayak emergency shelter building

Towropes are super useful in camps. You can secure hammocks to trees; secure food bags up trees in bear country; and even tether creels to the sea bed overnight for catching crabs and lobsters. Rope is essential in any camp.

Solo paddlers can secure themselves to their boats in rough conditions, ensuring that they can never be separated from their boats and equipment. Additionally, it is worth considering how your tow line might be deployed as a drogue, attached to the front of the kayak to help keep the boat facing in to the wind and waves in a sea survival situation.

Sea survival position - tow rope used as a drogue

I have used my towline as a fishing line, simply attaching a lure and trace to the ed of the line and trolling behind the kayak as we paddled, saving carrying an extra length of line.

One ingenious colleague used their two rope to demarcate their camping spot in a hugely busy campsite whilst out with the van for a non-kayaking day!

Here is one that you probably have not thought of....securing and trussing a lamb that needed rescuing from a cliff!

Tow rope used for security on steep ground - and lowering a stuck sheep!

The happily rescued lamb - trussed by a towrope

So there are endless uses of a tow rope, and no self-respecting sea kayaker should be afloat without one.

If you have any ideas or alternative uses for a tow rope, please do comment below and share your thoughts.

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