What to Do When A Boat Needs a Tow


You and your friend had a fun day on your ski and on the way to the dock, you notice a boater in distress and possibly in need of a tow. Obviously, jet skis aren’t like other boats and don’t have the same towing capacity as something like a Boston Whaler. Personal watercraft are smaller, weigh less, and don’t have heavy duty engines with the horsepower needed to tow a larger boat. However, that doesn’t mean that one can’t render aid and offer a tow to a lightweight craft, such as a John Boat or small skiff.

First of all, it’s good idea to have two people aboard the ski so one can act as a spotter while the other drives. The spotter will make sure the towline doesn’t get caught in the wash while also keeping a close eye on the vessel that is being transported. If your ski is equipped with a transom that includes a tow hook, then you can tow something within reason!

Speak with the person operating the boat that has run afoul and ask if there is a problem and if so, how you can assist. If the boat simply ran out of fuel, a battery needs a charge, or another minor issue, you may be able to assist in a different manner. Jet skis are efficient speed machines so it would be easy to promptly help out the people in distress by running one of them ashore with you, grabbing what is needed, and making your way back to their boat to take care of the problem.

If you and the captain agree on attempting to pull the boat, size up the situation by circling the vessel in need and make sure your and your ski are capable of performing the task at hand. If a tow is in order and you and your ski can do so safely, go for it as long as one of you has the proper line to use for this particular circumstance.

Nylon is a good choice because of its ability stretch, lack of UV degradation, and reliability. However, it can have terrible consequences due to its ability to snapback. This can cause serious injury and more problems for you and the boaters in distress. A powerful floating tow-line is great, if one is available, otherwise an anchor line in good condition is a reasonable alternative.

You’ll want to approach with your bow into the wind or prevailing current if possible. Throw out a line and make sure you and the boat you’re offering assistance are at least 100 feet apart. When using a jet ski for towing, the stern tow is probably best due to the lack of cleats on a ski. Place your stern to the other vessels bow, using a stern knot, such as a bowline for this type of tow.

A highway man’s knot may be a better choice when using a PWC for towing purposes. This knot is a quick release, which sounds ideal for the person using a ski to pull a boat. Make sure the line is slack! Take your time and also see that everyone is in a life jacket. Also, check the amount of fuel that is in your tank. No need to create a second crisis!

Make sure that you and the captain have a plan before hand as to whether to continue the mission or what to do if it becomes necessary to abort. If the sea surface conditions are not suitable for your ski to tow a boat or if the boat is beyond your scope of capabilities, render aid in another way such as helping the crew to safely wait it out while someone with more capabilities is on the way.

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Ocean Priselac

An avid mountain and bodyboarder who lives by “if you don’t go, you’ll never know,” with an affinity for wildlife and animal rescue; surf forecasting is a huge part of Ocean’s life and was a winner in Red Bull’s Project Swell several years ago. The 2014 LB2CAT was her first jet ski competition and can’t wait to do it again!

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  1. linkman 28 March, 2017 at 21:05 Reply

    “Throw out a line and make sure you and the boat you’re offering assistance are at least 100 yards apart.”

    That’s one really long tow line.

  2. Mike McClernon 31 March, 2017 at 11:28 Reply

    The first time I towed a boat, i got in a hurry, couldn’t tie a decent knot as the boat was pushed ashore, and decided that if I went slow enough i could just hold the line. I wrapped the line around both my body and my hand. I was able to release the line just a fraction of a second before my thumb was torn off. Literally.

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