DIY: Towing line for canoe

Photografer: Erik Stormark
Photografer: Erik Stormark


When the river gets to shallow to paddle, a towing line is much appreciated. It allows you to go through the shallows without wasting energy on heavy portages. But what is a towing line? And where do you get one? A towing line is a 10-15 meter long rope with a Y-branching at one end. You won't find it in your outdoor store, but it's pretty easy to make one yourself. In this post you'll find how to craft a towing line, how to store it and tie it to the canoe. How to use it on the river will be another blogpost later on this summer.

You'll need:

  • a 10-15 meter long three strand rope. Works with both natural and synthetic fibre.
  • Folding rule
  • Sharp knife
  • Pen
  • Tape for electronics

Do like this:

1. Measure and cut the rope for one part of the Y-branching. I made it 120 cm long, since I wanted some margins, both when crafting and when tying it to the canoe.

2. Measure 20 cm from one end of the short rope - the already cut end as a suggestion. If you want, you can put some tape to mark how far you want to splice the strands and so that the rope won't unravel any further. I simply marked the point with a pen and pinched it, that worked as well.

3. Splice the three strands apart to your 20 cm marking. If you're smart, mark them with different colors. I didn't think of that until I wrote this. Another smart thing would be putting some tape to the ends of the strands for them not to unravel. Hehe.

4. Mark 1 m from the end of the long rope. Put the markings together so that your lose strands points towards the longer part of the rope.

5. Take the middle strand.

6. Open up the second strand closest to your marking on the long rope to a small loop and put the middle strand through. I folded the middle strand to keep the end from unravelling while doing this.

7. Open up the next strand on the long rope and pull the left strand through.

8. Turn the rope, (and prepare for too many strands in one sentence) so that you reach the strand beneath the strand through which you put the middle strand. This is the one you want to open up and pull the right strand through.

9. Find your middle strand again. (See, colors are a hit!) Now you're going to weave this above the closest strand on the long rope and under the next strand.

10. Weave in the left and right strands in the same fashion, but under their own strands. Be careful to weave all lose strands in the strands of the long rope and not mixing them up with loose ends.

11. Repeat the weaving 3-5 times over. If using a rope made of natural fibre 3-4 times is enough, synthetic fibre needs 4-5 inserts to hold. If you liked it as much as I did, go ahead and insert all you want until you run out of strands.

12. Cut of all loose fringes.

13. Two ways of finishing the end of the rope:

  1. Back splicing. Pull the strands apart about 15 cm from the end of the rope. Pinch, fold them backwards and insert like you did when weaving the two ropes together. 
  2. Put some tape around 3-5 cm of the ends. Not as pretty, but it holds and saves you some length of the rope.

I store my towing line in a bundle like this:

  1. Take the lonely end in one hand and wind up the rope between your elbow and thumb grip.
  2. When you only have the Y-branching left, grip the top of the bundle with one hand and wind the Y-branching around the bundle 2-3 turns.
  3. Fold whats left of the Y-branching and pull it almost through the loop between your turns and the top of the bundle. This should create a small loop sticking out on the other side.
  4. Pull the loop over the top of the bundle.
  5. Tighten by pulling the ends. If done correct, you'll now have a larch head (knot) to keep the bundle neat.

I tie my towing line to the canoe like this:

  1. I thread the Y-branching underneath the stern so that the long part of the rope hangs like a tale underneath the middle of the stern.
  2. Then I tie the ends of the Y-branching to the stern seat with clove hitches.
  3. I sort the long rope out, and I'm ready to tow!

By tying the towing line so that the pull comes from underneath the canoe, I've better control when towing it.

Was this post helpful and/or inspiring? Please, share it with friends and family! Do you split rope or tow your canoe? Please, share in the comments or in stories and tag @tracelessintiveden so that we may get a look at your crafts and adventures!

Tow in peace!


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