We are quite surprised as to how many experienced paddlers don't carry towing equipment or have any knowledge of towing. There are many trip leaders for clubs and outfitters who have never practiced towing. We practice towing on a regular basis in order to keep our skills fine tuned. The most common reason for towing is fatigue on the part of a paddler. The conditions may turn windy and paddler begins to lose energy. Another reason could be a paddler having trouble staying on course in windy conditions. In this instance, towing will help the paddler keep his/her bow pointed in the right direction. Both of these are easy tows because the person being towed is still paddling and the tower is only assisting. The next most common reason for towing is illness (motion sickness or physical injury). Other reasons for towing include: damaged equipment, lost paddle, or capsize at an inopportune time and/or place. Sooner or later you will need to tow or be towed, so this is a skill you need to practice.
Towing is a type of rescue and as with any rescue you need to evaluate the situation and come up with the best plan of action. You must consider the following: Is the person in danger? What are the conditions? What type of towing equipment do you have in the group? How many people do you have to help? What distance do you need to cover? And can the victim keep their kayak upright on their own? Note: The last question is critical! It's another reason for always paddling in a group of three or more. If it's only you and the victim how can this person who is sick or hurt keep the kayak upright without assistance? Who is going to tow? You are in a very bad situation and will need to signal for help. When with a group don't forget about the rest of the group when towing one person.
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