Towing has been around long before yachting

Jan 5, 2016 by Guest Writer

This letter is in response to the Owner’s View column in The Triton, and is aimed precisely at the captain who opposes towing and claims “the most knowledgeable” surveyors and insurance adjusters will back him up. [“Owner’s gain, crew’s pain when yacht tows tender,” page 6, October issue.]

Towing, like any marine endeavor, requires preparation. Both the tow and the towing vessel need to be set up properly. Also, the crew manning one or both vessels need to be trained and familiar with the required equipment and procedures to tow safely and securely. This includes any surveyors or insurance adjusters involved, of which there are many of both.

Towing has been around since long before yachting was even a spark in some owner’s eye. The procedures have been refined over several hundred years from the early days of towing sailing ships with oared boats. Everything that floats — and even some things that do not — have been towed.

The correct implementation of these highly evolved procedures requires its own skill set, a skill set that is rarely found in yachting. The owner in the referenced article mentioned that his captain had this experience “in spades.” I wonder. If his captain was as well versed as this owner thinks, towing his tender should not have been anything more than a minor inconvenience.

For the sake of this response, we are not talking about towing a vessel larger than the tow vessel. We are talking about towing a 20-, 30-, 40-, or maybe even a 50-foot boat with a 100- to 150-foot yacht. It is all only a matter of scale. The size of the tow, as well as the size of the towing vessel, dictate the size of the towing gear required, just the same as any vessel’s ground tackle is determined by the tonnage to be held fast and in what conditions.

The task of towing a 30-foot center console with a 100-foot motor yacht is not at all difficult, nor is it the least bit unsafe, if done properly. It can indeed be daunting as well as downright dangerous for any captain or crew unfamiliar with the procedures, skills and equipment necessary.

I might mention here that a well-versed captain should have at least a rudimentary knowledge of how to rig up the required gear to tow his own vessel out of harm’s way, even with a small blow-up boat, should the need ever arise.

An excellent source to assist any captain in becoming familiar with towing techniques is called “Primer of Towing” by George H. Reid. It should already be on every yacht’s bookshelf along with several others, such as “The U.S. Navy Towing Manual” and “Tugs Today.”

It is hard for me to imagine any self-respecting captain who has not read Farley Mowat’s “Grey Seas Under” or “Serpent’s Coil” at least once.

As to the extreme limitations imposed by the owner’s insurance company in the referenced article, I can only say fire them and hire another insurance company that is more familiar with the risks associated with towing. Such a company would also be aware of the increased relative safety of the towing yacht by having a high horsepower platform that would be able to tow a stranded yacht out of harm’s way.

Towing a vessel should be a fun and easy task to teach crew, practicing in fine weather with smaller tenders or blow-up boats. It isn’t rocket science at all and is largely governed by practical considerations, all of which can be found in the abundant literature available.

Capt. Michael Dailey has been in yachting more than 20 years after a career driving tugboats in the commercial sector and six years in the U.S. Navy driving submarines.