Owner’s gain, crew’s pain when yacht tenders towed

Sep 29, 2015 by Peter Herm

In 30 years of big boating, I had never towed a tender until last season. Now that I have done it, I will not go back to little blow-up boats. (I used to call them inflatables, too.)

But I do realize that towing a large tender is not the favorite addition for captains and crew, and I fully understand why. Unfortunately, my boat is not yet big enough to keep a pair of 30-foot tenders in a climate-controlled garage below decks like, say, Steven Spielberg on M/Y Seven Seas. (Note the yet in that sentence.)

Last season, we towed a 30-foot center console from Florida to Grenada and back. It was a dramatic improvement for the overall guest experience compared to the 18-foot inflatable on the sun deck.

We could anchor in one place and see the area by tender in some pretty choppy water without torturing the guests or moving the big boat. We caught some big fish and the ladies were much happier not bouncing around and getting wet on many trips. It was also nice to have two decent tenders so that a group could go to the beach while others went to fish.  

When I proposed the towed tender idea to our captain at the time, he was understandably not excited. For him, it was another project with its own list of items to break and maintain. It would be a new headache, something to worry about in transit, and potentially another crew member or fraction thereof to manage, house and feed. Completely normal concerns.

The boat’s insurance company was also not enamored with the idea. The premiums were not so bad, but the policy had limitations on cruising area, nighttime towing and a long list of other exclusions rendering the coverage almost non-existent.  

The insurers were also concerned about the captain’s experience in towing, which fortunately he had in spades. He knew exactly what we were getting into; both the agony and the pleasure.

My reaction to both captain and insurance company was that we should try it and see what happened. We set up the towing rig correctly and had a detailed towing plan in place, including placards in the wheelhouse. There were lights, cameras and a GPS tracker on the tender. We added anything the captain recommended to make towing the least aggravating and safest possible. A slight crew adjustment was also made in that the mate became a licensed captain as well.

The results were spectacular. Other than a broken foredeck hatch on the tender in heavy seas off St. Lucia, it was a near flawless experience. Guests were thrilled, the beer was colder and the fish bigger. For divers, the experience was also better. We could go to farther dives, and egress from the water for old fat guys like me was much easier.

Once again, as in all owner/crew relationships, it required full disclosure and discussion. It is incumbent upon the captain to help the owner make an informed decision; the risks, expense and rewards.

I cannot now imagine cruising the islands without a towed tender. It enhances the overall experience considerably and is worth every penny of the additional cost. And when it comes time to reposition any distance, we’ll be shipping it. There’s just too much potential for loss or damage on a long trip when we’re not stopping and using it.

Like all things boating, it is not cheap to tow a tender, but as a good friend of mine has said on construction projects, if you are going to do it, do it right. Swallow the dog, swallow the tail.

With the proper planning, crew and precautions, a towed tender is a fabulous addition to any boat. Yes, there is the opportunity to lose a tender when towing in heavy seas, but it is more likely to get stolen in many places. It is worth the risk.

Bow west, high tide only.

Peter Herm is the pen name for a veteran yacht owner who is an entrepreneur based on the East Coast of the U.S. Contact him through www.the-triton.com/author/peter-herm.