Towing the disabled boat down the river

So we have a dead outboard. And, as we all know, outboards always choose inconvenient places to die, far from the trailer or the mechanic.

That means we'll have to tow the boat back. It's time to break out some of our towing strategies from last month.

This time, we got lucky: The tow boat is four feet longer than, and four times the weight of, the boat being towed. That makes things quite a lot easier.

We could tow astern with a long line, but that could be dangerous here. The disabled boat is a lighter and more efficient hull than the tow boat, and would tend to overtake the lead vessel when slowing down. That problem could be mitigated with a longer line, but then we wouldn't be able to keep the rig under control going through the 10-metre-wide narrows on the river.

Towing alongside gives us much better control. The favourable size differential (big boat towing little boat) means that steering is relatively easy, with only about ten degrees of right rudder needed to keep the combination tracking straight ahead.

There's no such thing as too many fenders when rigging a pair of boats like this.

The two short lines, one between the midship cleats and one between the main aft cleats, take most of the thrust. Two longer lines, one between the bows and one between the aft-most cleats, help to stabilize the disabled boat's position.

This setup worked perfectly for the four-mile tow. It was, however, a slow trip; with such a combination, you have to stay below the hull speed of the smaller boat, which is a bit over four knots in this case.

One important point to remember: The tow boat's skipper is in charge, and the disabled boat's skipper must check with the tow boat's skipper before changing anything. In this case, I was the skipper on both boats. In previous incidents, though, I've towed boats off the rocks only to have their skippers do something stupid- like starting the engine in gear- while I was trying to rig the tow lines. That puts both crews at risk. Once you've accepted a tow, let the skipper with the working boat call the shots unless you have a good reason to do otherwise.



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