Towing a boat

Towing a Boat

If there’s no alternative and you feel you can safety tow the disabled boat with your vessel, follow these tips:

  1. Rig up a bridle to spread the strain of towing to two points on your boat using two dock lines.
  2. Always approach the disabled boat into any wind or current to prevent drifting.
  3. Once the tow line is secured, take the slack very slowly and then accelerate gradually.
  4. While towing: go slow, never put your boat in reverse, and plan to make wide turns.
  5. Tow the disabled boat to the nearest safe harbor or dock.
  6. Make your final approach to the dock or ramp into prevailing wind or current.
  7. Slowly approach the dock, secure your boat, then use the tow line to pull the disabled boat to the dock by hand.


Be sure to communicate that, as the captain of the towing vessel, you will be command of the operation.

As you rig up the bridle with two dock lines:

  • Pass the bitter end of each dock line (the end without a spliced loop) through a transom eye of your boat and then to the stern cleat on that side of the boat.
  • A long anchor line—ideally at least 100 feet in length and already on the other boat—can be used for the tow line.
  • Remove the anchor and secure the line to a bow cleat, then through the bow eye so that the pulling force is on the center of the disabled boat.
  • Next pass the other end of the tow line through both loops on the end of your bridle, and tie the line with a bowline knot.

Once the tow line is secure and you begin towing, remember that you should never put your own boat in reverse. This could allow the tow line or bridle to snag on your prop. Also keep in mind that you are not going to be able to get on plane. Plan to tow the boat to the nearest safe harbor or dock, even if that’s not the ramp or marina where the disabled boat started out.