Safety update

November 1995 Small craft being towed

This safety update is issued to raise awareness of the potential serious risk to safety during towing. It provides safe practice tips for how best to reduce the risks involved and to alert people to the risk to safety associated with towing.

This safety update is for

  • Small craft masters under tow
  • Fishing vessel masters under tow


The following important points are for the attention of small craft and fishing vessel masters under tow or towing.

Safe practice tips

  1. The towed craft should not offer her own line to the towing vessel unless particularly requested. Control of the length of line to be used on tow should remain with the towing vessel. A long tow line is essential in rough or choppy conditions.
  2. When making a tow line fast in the towed vessel ensure that no movement of the tow line is possible abaft the stem post should the towing vessel alter course or the towed vessel yaw. This means the tow line must either pass through a Panama or other type of fully enclosed fair-lead at the bow before being made fast. If neither is available the tow line should be secured at the head of the stem post so that the lead from the towing vessel is direct to the towing point. In a vessel with a bowsprit, a bridle, permanently carried as a part of the vessel's gear is advisable. If being towed by the stern, the tow line should similarly be held rigidly amidships at the transom. If this is not possible, a bridle should be used.
  3. When making the tow line fast, remember that most bitts and cleats are not designed to take the strain of a towline and could carry away under strain. Make sure the tow line is secured to the strongest possible point and is backed up to a solid part of the vessel's structure.
  4. When under tow or towing, keep clear of the lines except when emergency dictates otherwise.
  5. Keep the deck area around the tow line as clear as possible.
  6. Watch the tow line for chafing.
  7. Where possible keep your vessel trimmed slightly by the stern if towed bow first and vice–versa if towed stern first.
  8. Where a loss of rudder is involved, compensation for yawing can be made by streaming a heavy line astern.
  9. Agreed signals must be set up between the towed and the towing vessel.

Original source content - Boat Notice 161995, November: Small craft being towed.

Email updates

Get an email notification when a safety update is available online.


Contact us for more help

If you have any questions about this safety update, please contact our Wellington office.


New Zealand (toll free):
0508 225 522

Call Maritime New Zealand now

Tell us what you need help with and remember to include your contact details (email address and phone numbers).