Rescue Techniques for Disabled Craft

The Technique for Passing A Line


The US Coast Guard details the correct procedures…


It is a good idea to have ready at all times a suitable length of line.  Passing Line – a light line made up with a weighted knot for use in passing a heavier tow line to a vessel in distress without coming too close in rough seas or if the craft is on fire.  In calm seas and under good conditions, it is possible to come close enough to the vessel to simply hand the line over.


Sooner or later in your boating career you are going to be called upon to render assistance to another boater in distress.  If the disabled occupants don’t already have their life vests on tell them to do so.  Like any good sailor you want to help but you don’t want to stand your own craft into a possible danger area, so the following techniques may prove to be invaluable during a period of emergency.


The placement of stern cleats aft of the propeller and rudder post on most vessels results in a poor arrangement for towing another boat.  If the cleats or a towing bit were mounted forward of the rudder post and the propeller, the stern of the boat could then swing more freely without having to pull the deadweight of the tow along with it.  To avoid restricting the maneuverability of your craft, tows should be made with the use of a bridle secured to the amidships cleats.  Such an arrangement will permit your craft to assume a new heading easily and then bring the two about.  The two operations do not have to be done simultaneously.


The tow line should be as long as possible and should be secured to your craft and the towed craft in such a manner that is can be cast-off quickly should the occasion demand it.  Once your tow line is secured, start forward slowly and have a crew member at the stern to pay the tow line out very slowly.  When the line is about taut, shift into neutral, if possible, and let your vessel’s momentum take up the last few inches of slack.  Once the tow line becomes taut, shift into gear and slowly increase your headway until the tow is riding comfortably.


In rough waters, it is usually prudent seamanship to shorten the length of your tow line, bringing the other craft closer under your stern and “in step” with your vessel (in other words – on the top of a crest when you are and in the trough when you are).  If you have a large vessel and you are towing a small, sturdy craft, it is sometimes possible to put it right on top of the wave made by the discharge current of your screws.


Small Boat Towing is made easier if the occupants sit as near the stern as possible.  Sitting forward in a small boat as it is being towed will cause the boat to yaw badly.  (In rough seas, try to get the passengers aft in a small boat before you even attempt to tow it)


Towing is an art and skill that must be practiced before proficiency is achieved.