Tow & Be Towed


  • Practice and develop the boat handling skills of towing a disabled boat or a sailboat, and being towed by another boat.

Setting Up the Drill:

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

Conducting the Drill:

  • Each boat prepares a towing bridle.
  • 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.
  • Each person onboard the towboat takes a turn at the helm.
  • Break the tow and the other boat becomes the towboat. Each person onboard the new towboat takes a turn at the helm.

Teaching Tips:

  • For beginning operators and crew, the instructor may have to help with the bridle.
  • 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 educes the load on the towboat’s attachment points. Suggested length of each leg of the bridle is 2 to 3 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 boat from overrunning the towboat.
  • Make wide turns while towing.
  • 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.
  • Reducing power too quickly which causes the towed boat to overrun the towboat.


  • Safe Powerboating Handling On-Water Skill Standards 6.4, 6.5 and their 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”)