Tow Astern


  • Practice and develop the boat handling skill of towing a disabled boat or a sailboat.

Setting Up the Drill:

  • Equipment: 1 towline and 1 towing bridle for each boat

Conducting the Drill:

  • Each boat prepares a bridle using a bowline on a bight.
  • Operator approaches boat to be towed, briefs it on procedures, intentions, and hand signals to be used, and picks up the other boat’s towline.
  • With an even number of boats, it is often best to have the boats tow each other. With an odd number of boats, have the odd boat tow the trainer’s boat or the sailboat.
  • The towboat should secure the towline to the loop in its bridle.
  • Each person should be given the opportunity to make a series of turns with a boat in tow. Rotate crews as necessary.

Teaching Tips:

  • Make people aware that the purpose of a bridle is to reduce loads on attachments points on the towboat and allow the towboat to hold a course with minimal steering adjustments.
  • Make people aware that towing cleats or eyes need to be reinforced to withstand the towing loads.
  • A longer bridle reduces the load on the towboat’s attachment points. Suggested length of each leg of the bridle is 2 times the towboat’s width.
  • Towboat’s parallel approach is typically used in light wind and sea conditions, and when the boat to be towed has some forward speed. In the case of a sailboat which may have some way on or lie stern to the wind, the parallel approach may be used by making an approach parallel to and on the windward side of the sailboat.
  • Towboat’s crossing the “T” approach is typically used in strong wind and sea conditions, or if the boat to be rescued is drifting with no forward motion. When picking up powerboats which often lie abeam to the wind, it is conventional to cross the “T” by crossing the bow of the boat from downwind and picking up its towline
  • There needs to be a means of communication between the boats by hand signals or VHF radio.
  • Adjust the length of the towline so both boats are on a similar position on the waves.
  • When towing, start slowly and keep a steady strain on the towline without snapping or jerking it.
  • Reduce speed gradually to prevent the towed boats from overrunning each other or the towboat.
  • Make wide turns while towing.
  • Emphasize the importance of taking the towline from the boat to be towed rather than using your own. At times, it may be necessary to cut the line in which case you lose your towline.
  • Teach the concept of “leaning on a tow” where gentle pressure is applied on the towed boat and then wait a few moments to start responding rather than applying large amounts of power with resulting damage and loss of control of the tow

Common Errors:

  • Approaching the boat to be towed at too fast a speed.
  • Applying too much power when starting the tow which jerks the towline and the towed boat.
  • Making turns too tight for the tow.
  • Reducing power too quickly which causes the towed boat to overrun the towboat.


  • Safe Powerboating Handling On-Water Skill Standard 6.5 and its rubrics
  • Start Powerboating Right! textbook pg. 142
  • Safety & Rescue Boat Handling On-Water Skill Standard 3.2 and its rubrics
  • Safety, Rescue & Support Boat Handling textbook pp. 38, 41, 42, 51 (crossing the “T”)