View Full Version : Towing astern vs towing alongside

10-23-2002, 01:35 PM
As the lost archives might reveal, I have a little lapstrake launch, 16ft, name of PIGLET, which began life as the Lowestoft lifeboat boarding boat i.e. a pulling boat. She has acquired a Yanmar 1GM 10 (and, incidentally, a standing gaff sloop rig!).

Some friends asked me to pull their engineless 30 footer up to the yard crane for haulout and so I did, today. I had never done this before. It was blowing a good 4-5, with squalls, and their boat was extremely foul, with about 3" of bristle like weed all over.

I chose to tow alongside, because we needed to make some sharp turns amongst moored boats - all passed off well, but we took a very long time.

I suspect that, had I towed astern, we would have got there sooner (we had the flood tide with us) but I would have needed to come alongside to get their boat under the crane, as there is no room to do it any other way.

I could not see a foolproof way of going from towing ahead to towing alongside, given the rough weather conditions.

Does anyone know a trick here? I was worried about getting alongside and warped up with breast ropes and a towing spring quickly, before we blew down onto something expensive.

Ian McColgin
10-23-2002, 02:01 PM
Given the two boats, I would take her on the shoulder a bit - tow boat on the yacht's quarter with the tow boat's aft 1/4 to 1/3 immersed length abaft the tow.

I don't quite see why towing from ahead would have been faster unless you had some waves to bump over.

In blustery conditions I can think of no good way to get from towing from ahead to towing alongside if you're single handed.

I'd not tow a boat like that from ahead in narrow waters without a crew aboard her to help steer around corners. It'd be nice to have a crew for steering even if towing alongside.

So let's do the exercise as if you have one person on each boat and while you may have some wind, you've no major seas.

If there's a space where you can lay the tow stern to the wind before the evolution and still get her turned whatever way you want once hooked up, so much the better. If you must be at all bow into the wind, perhaps you should try to hook up moving the tow boat along whatever is or is becomeing the tow's weather side on the assumption that generally if you have to counter the wind's turning moment, doing that in reverse gives more options. But this may be wrong for the layout of your harbor and it's only a slight preference.

I do recommend picking a spot where whatever you might drift onto to leeward is fairly durable and won't entangle you too much.

Just in case things don't go smoothly. . .

Anywho . . .

Put a fender at the tow boat's bow and two more - one a bit forward of amidships and one about 1/4 to 1/3 forward of the stern.

Slow the tow boat and stand off the bow a bit so your tow can drift past, hopefully nice and slow, while you trim the tow line, begin feeding it out forward at the obvious time, and make it fast to the tow boat's bow when you've set back far enough that the tow boat's stern is far enough back. You've just turned the tow line for towing from ahead into the head line for towing alongside.

Allowing the tow boat's stern to remain a bit out from the tow, hook up your strap - short line from tow boat's bow aft to something like the tow's quarter pretty snug. Then get your stern line on and tighten the two boats to parallel.

Hopefully the fenders did there job and in you go.

I've done this single handed in calm water. With a wind, having crew that actually knows the plan in advance - a rehersal helps - will get it done. Professionals can make this evolution with barges at a pretty good speed.


10-23-2002, 03:15 PM
Thanks, Ian. Just what I wanted.

Actually, there was no room to carry out the manoeuvre, so I did the right thing by towing alongside. Still, I will practice it for next time.

My other mistake was having the towboat too far forward on the tow - I can see why she should be on the shoulder.

10-24-2002, 12:38 AM
Over the years at the Center For Wooden Boats I have had occasion to move a great number of boats, its fun, once one gets the hang of it. The key is preparation, patience and the tug. 16' may present difficulties on having enough overhang.
On the hip is the best way to go, unless you are towing in open water. The key is the overhang of the tug, this gives the leverage to steer with. I try and have fore and aft spring lines and a head line for adjusting the bow. How the tug is lashed to the tow can make all the difference is control.
To have the best control when towing astern, the fulcrum point of the tow line should be forward of the rubber, about 1/3 of WL. This gives the tug leverage over the tow. A bridle to cleats midships work svery well. Run the tow line through the bridle and tie off to the after cleat.

Your launch-sloop sounds interesting, I grew up with a 16' motor launch. Manouvering single screw boats is second nature, but sailing - that is a mystery.

10-24-2002, 11:52 AM
With your tow, choose towing ahead or towing alongside based on conditions and duration of tow. If it's bouncy, towing ahead is easier on both vessels topsides. If it's a long tow, towing on a hawser is easier on all hands. Certainly on a long tow on a hawser, not constrained waters, lock the rudder amidships.

One other pointer for towing alongside, certainly rig yourself w/springlines for taking the ahead/backing strains, and angle your towing vessel somewhat bow-in towards the towed vessel, like a line down the centerline of the towing vessel would pass through the bow of the towed vessel--makes it easier to go along.

As for going from towing ahead to towing alongside--in this case you're probably best to let go aft and come around to get on the hip--less chance of fouling a screw or such in the maneuver.

10-24-2002, 05:59 PM

I will keep practising.

The reasons she acquired a rig ....

1. The false keel needed to get depth for the prop more or less said "look, I've got enough lateral area, sail me!"

2. A safety measure.

3. Peace and quiet - given a fair(ish) wind one can progress silently

4. The mainsail was secondhand and cheap

5. It's fun!

The boomless standing gaff means that the rig clears right out of the way of cargo and passengers when in launch/workboat mode.

10-25-2002, 03:55 PM
Lots of good advice above. For your situation, definitely tow alongside. The only thing I would add is if somewhere along your route you have to turn into a stiff wind, have the towboat on the leeward quarter of the tow. This gives you a bit more leverage and puts less strain on the forward lines, cleats, etc. as you turn. At a harbor where I worked for some years we moved a lot of boats, including some sizeable ones, with a heavy skiff & 5 HP Johnson outboard.

Dave Fleming
10-25-2002, 04:12 PM
In days long gone bye, I used to sit at the living room window of my Grandparents apt. watching the tugs move barges and lighters around New York harbour. If there were just two barges the tug would be in the center of an inverted "V" with the stern of the tug clear of the barge hulls. Pilot house afforded visability to see over the covered barges if they were part of the tow.
Singles were snugged up along side and it was rare to see those harbour tugs with a tow astern. Even the tugs with several heading up( north ) the Hudson to either the NY State barge canal or cites along the way. The tug was affixed to the barges.

10-25-2002, 04:49 PM
Question/observation and responses much appreciated by this longtime watcher of boat/tug/tow handling. We are lucky to have so much to learn. Some modification of Bernie Huddleston's quotation on sailing is always appropriate (with the comment that imagining in detail how the process will go before letting go the mooring goes a long way in the end) -- "Speed and performance are gradually acquired as you sail and maintained nly with concentration and effort. Conditions are always changing and opportunities are always presenting themselves. Sailing [towing] is the art of being conscious of these things and using them or letting them go as you please."

10-27-2002, 02:19 AM
Fritz Fuhrman was a dextrous towboat operater who made a weekly run from San Francisco to Berkeley towing a barge loaded with newsprint. He always landed at the same pier, bringing the barge in on a short tow and snapping the whip to land the barge neatly and gently. Everyone around the harbor knew not to tie up to that pier on Fritz's day. Well, almost everyone. Once in a while someone would leave his boat there, and Fritz would have to make tight circles in a crowded mooring area, waiting for the boat to be moved and fuming all the while.
Fritz shared our wonder at what the world was coming to when fiberglas boats began to show up, and he shared our antipathy for them. So one very blustery day he arrived, and beheld a small fiberglas sloop tied right in the middle of HIS pier. The wind was too strong to circle around. You guessed it. Finally fed up, Fritz snapped his whip, the barge landed, and with a very satisfying crunch the boat disappeared. There weren't very many large pieces to be brought up. I don't know how the insurance, if any, worked out, but Fritz was judged blameless and enjoyed being the local hero for some time afterward.

11-08-2002, 05:42 PM
Very interesting and informative post -- thanks to all contributors.

I have had occasion to tow one sailing vessel with another -- most successfully on the hip. But I have tried to think how I would do it astern, with only a Sampson post on the deck back there and that considerably behind the rudder. A bridle would be an awful mess, what with lifeline stanchions, mainsheet, tiller, etc. If anybody has figured out a graceful way around this, I'd like to hear it. The pivot point has to be forward of the rudder if you don't want to get her "in irons." I watched sadly as two guys did this exact maneuver the last day of the PT Wood Boat show, with a sloop that was on the beach in that SE blow that set in. Couldn't control the tow boat, much less the derelict.

There's a fun little book -- Primer of Towing, George H. Reid - Cornell Maritime Press, 1975 -- that covers the biz pretty well at the 101 level.