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Old 02-13-2015, 12:24 AM   #1
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Towing a Dinghy

Had a discussion yesterday with a friend and the towing question came up.
Inland, when not on the davits, I tow my dink with a line taut so that the bow is slightly out of the water to reduce drag and I use a nylon rope. When in the Gulf or Carrib, I towed with a nylon line. He thought I was crazy because nylon could get caught on the prop. He uses polypro because it floats. I thought he was crazy for using polypro because it deteriorates in sunlight and is not all that strong and trustworthy.

I have never towed with a trawler in open water before, only a sailboat. My question is only for those of you that tow in rivers and lakes, which towing line do you use?
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Old 02-13-2015, 12:38 AM   #2
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Use to use 1/2 " nylon with salmon saine net floats near both ends of the tow line. Now I have changed to Poly. Yes it will deteriorate over time, however our weather allows for extended life. Poly is cheap. We use 3/4 to tow our 12 foot alum. skiff when we do tow. Normally on the Davis hooks across the swim step.
My opinion lays with what you are comfortable with. In addition, I constructed a tow bridle that has a center point hook. Even with it being poly, I include a single fishing float as a precaution to offset the weight of the metal hook.

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Old 02-13-2015, 08:05 AM   #3
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I tow small boats for a living.

my answer is....it depends.

The main reason to use line that stretches is to avoid shock loading on the line and hardware.

If you tow with too thick a line or too short a line doesn't matter what you use as it won't stretch as much as you might need it to.

Dingy towing depends on how strong the hardware is and how fast you tow it. At 10 knots and a couple hundred pound dingy....you could probably use a solid rod as the forces just aren't great till the dingy swamps....then they get ugly quick.

Good poly line is OK...but does deteriorate faster it seems. Floats on nylon or pvc standoffs help keep line out of a prop....but even poly can foul on a prop if you aren't watching.

Often described to extremes....dingy towing is not one method suits all.

If you have an assistance captain near you that you like and or trust...ask them about your setup and conditions you would be towing in if they have been in the business awhile...while it may not be a perfect answer...chances are it's based on a load of real life experience towing.
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Old 02-13-2015, 09:16 AM   #4
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I use a 3/8" poly line for my 8 foot Avon. The nice thing about poly is that it is cheap and easily replaceable. With the high amounts of summer sun in the California delta, poly typically has a life of less than one season before the signs of deterioration really start to show.

I love the fact that poly floats. I have fouled my prop with nylon in the past. The inconvenience from it was more than enough to convince me to get a floating line.
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Old 02-13-2015, 10:03 AM   #5
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I tow my inflatable with 3/8 nylon. Once at slow cruise of 7.7kt, I throw out more line to get the dink on the front face of a stern wave so it sorta "surfs", minimizing drag. If If I come to where I need to maneuver, go to the stern and pull dink in tight to keep line out of prop.

Towing at 18kts is iffy, as dink wants to fly. Tried 20kts and it really wanted to fly. So for fast running it needs to get on the big boat.
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Old 02-13-2015, 11:01 AM   #6
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I use polypropylene for a tow line and replace it every year or so as it does deteriorate in sunlight. I have towed for thousands of mile this way. As Ski said I adjust the tow rope length so the dinghy is surfing down the stern wave. I tow a about 7 kts displacement speed on my trawler.

But I never tow in open water. If you get caught in 20+ kts of wind and your dinghy swamps, it won't be fun as usually you will have to return to protected waters to empty it. Meanwhile you are towing a sea anchor.

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Old 02-13-2015, 11:23 AM   #7
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We use braided floating tow line that we got from Defender. I can't recall if it is made by New Enlgand Ropes or Samson, but they both have similar products. We've had it for at least five years (bought it when we had the sailboat) and still shows no signs of UV damage. That said, we don't use it all the time - most weekends to tow the small inflatable and at anchor to tie our blow-up floating toys to the boat. More expensive than nylon or polypro, but to me worth the investment and I'd buy it again.
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Old 02-13-2015, 11:40 AM   #8
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I use something similar to Ski. I do tow at 16-18kts. And yes, the dinghy can get airborn if it is rough. But the motor keeps the stern down and the tow line keeps the nose down so it flies pretty damn level. The conditions that cause this are usually the conditions I try to avoid. But you do get caught in it. I keep a close watch on it and have never had one poop....AB290 with 15hp two stroke.
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Old 02-13-2015, 08:09 PM   #9
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I tow a 17' center console with a 50 Merc and use 2 - 1/2" line on the river. I usually run about 6 to 7.5 mph, I use a short bridle type setup and tow it close to the swim grid with a short line from the eyebolt to a cleat in the center of the grid. I've towed on a long line but this arrangement works much better while locking thru, no having to shorten the lines when we get near the lock. I hook up the bow eye line 1st, then a line from each transom cleat to the forward cleat on each side of the CC. The bow line keeps it centered and if I slow down it won't allow it to overrun the swim grid, this line is slack while towing, I've found there is no danger of it overrunning the swim grid if I leave the lower unit just barely in the water.
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Old 02-13-2015, 10:04 PM   #10
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djmarchand-

You raise a question that has been rotating in my brain over many years.
Your comment on towing on open waters is the trigger. As I approach our local open water where concerning seas begin making minds think on when the filters were last changed, and is the anchor tied down, deck secured. and such, one additional question nags. The 12 foot aluminum skiff on the transom step secured by Davis hooks will not go anywhere yet in normal launching of this same skiff on the hook while an easy chore, can produce moments. When I relate those steps to launch with the thought of 3 foot plus seas, and 20 knt +winds, mounting the outboard (4 hp) if that even possible, wearing flotation equipment, I begin thinking if recognizing water conditions or anticipate them via weather forecast, launching in calm water and towing. As we travel at 7 knots max and actually slow down if condition warrant, the speed is not a factor. The thought of comfort that one of several emergency processes has been elevated. Hence one of the major reasons I traded nylon for poly.
Good to have this thought off my chest, this was a grand opportunity to state it.

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Old 02-14-2015, 05:01 AM   #11
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Al brings up a good (and only slightly off-topic) question: WHEN to tow? Or more to the point, when NOT to tow?

I have snap davits on the swim platform, so for long or open passages, that's where the dinghy sits, tipped up at a 90 degree angle. I can't imagine trying to snap it in if there are any kind of seas. So this has to be done before leaving protected waters.

My nagging doubt is when to avoid the snap davits and make the effort to hoist it up. It will fit on the sun deck, but it's a major pain to get it up there. I imagine in the very worst conditions, getting pooped by a following sea might rip the dinghy off the snaps or tear off the lines that hold it up. I'm not sure how bad it would have to be, but I know I'd be unable to bring it aboard long before it reached that point. So I'd have to decide before I left protected waters. Until now I've never had to make that call, but I think someday I might.
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Old 02-14-2015, 05:43 AM   #12
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Hummmmm clarification I have the same dingy/skiff set up as CaptTom Perhaps I had mis- communicated.
CaptTom and I have opposing views. Were I in a "Sinking" situation or "Mayday". where launching the skiff were to be in play, the launching conditions would be almost unattainable in my opinion hence the thoughts of the skiff being towed in those conditions allows for comfort on that matter.
Not that I do, but the thought crosses the mind after the fact.
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Old 02-14-2015, 09:48 AM   #13
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Good point Al. But again, in those "mayday" situations, it's more likely a towed dinghy will swamp or flip.

As the saying goes, you never step down into a lifeboat, always UP. In that case, having it on deck might be better than having it clipped to the transom - who knows if you could un-clip it, especially since the boat would probably sink by the stern.

As you say, something to ponder. I'm not sure there is a "right" answer until it actually happens, so I hope to never find out.
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Old 02-14-2015, 10:39 AM   #14
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Boat fire at sea can be very unpredictable when and where you have to get off....and so might be sinking from a collision.

I would want people off quickly as they would be in the way and probably panicky anyway.

Thus the reason to either have a dingy at the immediate ready or a life raft in addition.

Towing isn't a great solution unless the dingy is extraordinarily self bailing and stable...it also has to be heavy enough to withstand flipping in winds. Reading about the loss of that trawler off Cuba not too long ago that the captain blamed on dingy towing makes one ponder.

Swim platform flip ups might be ok....a lot of variables.
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