Tender Love

Tips for Safe Towing

FSF Staff October 27, 2015

Whether you are making a quick trip to The Bahamas or long distance cruise to the Caribbean, dragging a tender along for the ride can enhance angling experiences and overall enjoyment when visiting a foreign destination. And while many yachts haul flats skiffs on the foredeck while en route to their next port of call, this is not always an option depending on the size of the tender and type of mothership. Additionally, towing rather than stowing eliminates the aggravation of launching and retrieving the tender, and also the need for an expensive davit mounted on the bow.

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Photo: Rope Inc.

While tenders were traditionally used to shuttle passengers to the coast in areas with limited or poor dockage facilities, nowadays tenders provide entertainment in the form of fishing, exploring, diving, wakeboarding, beachcombing and much more. However, no matter your reason for bringing along a second vessel, towing a boat of any size comes along with some inherent risks that cannot be overlooked. Adequate planning and being outfitted with the proper equipment is absolutely essential to safe towing no matter the vessel, sea conditions or distance to your final destination. This is no place to skimp!

…towing rather than stowing eliminates the aggravation of launching and retrieving the tender, and also the need for an expensive davit mounted on the bow.

First and foremost, you need to make certain that both vessels are properly outfitted to handle the stresses associated with towing. Modern sportfish boats and luxury yachts are equipped with heavy-duty, through bolted stern cleats with backing plates mounted in each corner of the transom. These cleats are suitable for all but the most extreme towing applications.

Your tender must also be properly outfitted with a stainless steel towing bit, or towing eye. The standard eye commonly used for trailering is not sufficient, so don’t even think about it! Additionally, you absolutely cannot tow from the bow cleats of a center console because the higher angle of the towline makes for dangerous and poor handling characteristics. It’s much safer and more efficient to pull from a lower angle at a point just above the waterline. While you can have any vessel outfitted with a custom tow bit, builders like SeaVee, Intrepid and more offer specialized towing plates with a balanced spread of strategically placed anchor points to assist in the safe transport of your center console.

It should come as no surprise that a vessel making a trans-Atlantic crossing would need a more heavy-duty tow bridle than a Florida yachtsman making the 60 mile run across the ’Stream to The Bahamas during a flat calm summer day. This is why Fort Lauderdale based Rope Inc.—the industry leader in marine cordage—creates custom tow bridles for clients traversing open oceans across the globe. For the safety of the tow boat and tender, Rope Inc. recommends a Y-shaped tow bridle specifically designed for your particular tow vessel, the tender weight, desired towing speed and to some extent the waters you will operate in. Best of all, Rope Inc. provides strength certifications for you to supply to your insurance company for the rope and hardware used in their custom tow bridles.

While tow bridles are highly customizable, for towing a center console in the 30-foot range the professionals recommend a 50 to 75 foot bridle with legs made of premium grade marine nylon. The hawser, which is the main line connecting the tender to the bridle, is manufactured with the highest strength 12-strand synthetic Spectra available. Spectra can be easily stowed, it is easy to handle, and best of all it floats! With this setup, the premium grade nylon bridle provides necessary stretch compared to Spectra. Towing with straight Spectra can easily break equipment, so it’s vital your designated bridle and towline are constructed with the appropriate materials in the correct strength rating. Anything less and you risk a complete disaster!

Once underway, you’ll likely have to make an initial adjustment in towline length to make sure the tender is riding the swells in sync with the tow vessel to eliminate the stretch, slack, and consequent shock loading of the line. Most captains tow their tender just past the third wake position.

While the jury is still out, some recommend towing the tender with the motor(s) tilted down for additional drag, however the benefits are debatable. Other options used to keep the tender in line with the towing vessel include dragging a short length of chain from the tender’s stern. Really, it all depends on the specific characteristics of the yacht and tender, as well as the tow rig. Each situation is unique so it is best to get all of the details sorted out by trial and error on several short trips in varying sea conditions before undertaking a 500-mile journey.

If you do it right, when you reach your final destination you’ll have a tender to explore the area and near-shore waters, but do it wrong and you can risk ripping out a bow eye, damage to the tow vessel, or the loss of your tender altogether.

Finally, don’t lose sight of the fact that once you get underway with tender in tow, the yacht becomes a tow boat under the Rules of the Road and the tender becomes a towed vessel, so each must display the proper day markings and navigation lights.

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