Towing someone from your standup paddleboard

Towing is not something a lot of people think about when heading out on a standup paddleboard, but you may want to change that thinking.  There are a number of reasons why you might need to tow someone and it’s a lot easier to do if you have the right equipment and the knowledge of how to use it. A towline is a good item to have in your sup safety arsenal.



Waist towlines are ideal for towing a paddleboard because if you have it around your waist it is always easily accessible. They look like a fanny pack and feature an easy release pull so if you become tangled or need to get the line off immediately for some other reason, it is easy to do. At the other end is a carabiner that you will hook up to the person/board you will be towing.  Your waist is a very stable point to tow someone from. Small tugs around your waist shouldn’t throw off your balance.


If you are carrying rope with you when you paddle, it’s always a good idea to have a knife with you too…just in case. Getting tangled up can be incredibly dangerous, so it’s important to have a way to free yourself (or someone else) if necessary.  You might also want to carry some extra leash loops- paracord works great- with you. They can be used for a variety of things, one being to hook up to an extra leash plug on the nose of the board if there is one.


It’s never a bad idea to carry a tow line with you, but it’s an especially good idea if you are heading out with a group, especially if you are leading a group, or if you have people of varying paddling abilities going along.


Some examples of when you might need to tow are

  • Someone gets hurt and they are unable to paddle on their own.  You have very limited ability to treat injuries and other medical conditions on the water, so the priority is getting the person in distress to land where they can get proper medical attention.
  • Someone is too tired to paddle on their own
  • A paddler needs help staying on a trajectory
  • There is an equipment problem inhibiting proper paddling
  • Your towline might also come in handy if you are in rough conditions and you need a rest but you can’t safely get to land.  If there is dock or pylon you might be able to tie off to it for a bit until you get going again.


Tips for towing

There are lots of different ways to hook up a towline

  • You want to tow nose first whenever possible so that you have the benefit of the fin helping the board track straight.  Fin first makes the board zigzag a lot wasting energy.
  • If there is a leash plug at the nose of the board, this is a great spot to place a leash loop and hook your line up to it
  • If there are bungees on the front of the board you can attach to these
  • If the person you are towing is alert and can lie on their belly with the paddle under them, you can tie your line to the paddle handle and tow from that
  • If none of those are options, you can tie the towline around the wide part of the board and that will work just fine too but is a little bit harder to execute in the water, and warrants practicing ahead of time.

General tips

  • Before you go out you should inspect your line to make sure you are not all tangled up and that there is no damage to it. You do not want to find that out when you are in an emergency situation and you need the line right now!
  • If you don’t have a towline and need to tow someone, your leash can be very useful for that. You can attach one end of their leash to the paddle handle (or to another point on their board) with the other attached to your leash loop, but the towline has a lot more slack and will keep you from bumping into each other and gives you a lot more versatility. Also you don’t want to risk anyone being separated from his board when you are already in a dicey situation, so this is not a preferred method, but it’s better than nothing.
  • Paddling on your knees adds more stability. In order to effectively help the person in need, you really need to stay on your board.  You can certainly tow from standing too, but be thoughtful about the risks, conditions, and your situation to determine the safest way to get back to land.
  • It bears repeating…wear your line on your person.  It does no good if it is in the bottom of your dry bag when have an emergency situation. Usually emergencies don’t occur because everything is nice and calm and quiet. If you are in rough waters it’s a lot harder to stay close to the person you are towing and to hook up a line. If it’s not close at hand, you are wasting valuable time.
  • Stay aware of hazards…shallows, rocks, or branches that could catch a fin, fishing line, etc.  You don’t want anything to interfere with your boards or get tangled in the line. So keep a good distance from tied up boats where your line can get tangled with the boat’s line.



             left: towline as it attaches to the waist pack             right: emergency release…just pull the red ball

Towlines are one of those things that you hope you never need, but they are important to have if you do need them. You never know how useful it can be until you are in the moment and someone needs your help.  They are not a big investment but could get you or someone else out of a dangerous situation.

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