In calm conditions, would you offer a tow to a broken down yacht? James Stevens answers your Questions of Seamanship

Do you offer a tow or not?


Paul and Jill are sailing their 11m cruising yacht, Rigel, south along the French coast to Carteret on the west side of the Cherbourg peninsula.

There is a marina with a sill and the entrance channel dries, so they are aiming to arrive in a couple of hours, about an hour before high water.

About 12 miles from Carteret, Paul and Jill are motoring over a windless sea when they come across a sailing yacht about the same size as Rigel with the crew waving their arms and clearly in trouble.

Their problem turns out to be lack of fuel.

They are heading for Granville another 50 miles down the coast.

The favourable south-going tidal stream will turn in a couple of hours and flow northward at about two knots.

The easiest solution would be for Paul and Jill to hand over a can of spare fuel, but unfortunately they used it a week ago and forgot to replace it.

Should Rigel take the yacht under tow? If so, where?

If they go to Carteret, will they get there in time and how are they going to handle a tow in a very confined marina?

It will be difficult enough finding a berth for Rigel, never mind a disabled yacht.

Alternatively, should they leave the other yacht and tell them to either anchor or call the emergency services or maybe a towing company?

What would you do?

Continues below…


A sailing yacht without fuel on a calm sea away from hazards is not in grave and imminent danger so there is no urgent reason to help.

On the other hand there is a tradition of helping your fellow mariner.

The weather is calm so it should not be a problem taking a similar sized yacht under tow with a fair tide for the next two hours, so Carteret is reachable.

It is worth securing the towline to a bridle on both the towing and towed yacht. It spreads the load of the tow.

The towline should be as long as possible. It is helpful to prearrange a VHF channel between tug and tow.

On arrival in Carteret, ideally a call to the Capitainerie will give Paul and Jill the opportunity to release the tow.

If there is no response from the harbour or marina, the best plan is to tow alongside.

The towed yacht should be firmly secured with bow, stern and spring lines with the stern of the towed yacht forward of that of the tug to make steering easier.

The towed yacht should steer under the direction of the tug.

As they approach the marina the towed yacht will need fenders and warps to come alongside, and the manoeuvring should be slow.

Slowing down by going astern will cause the raft to rotate, which is fine if both yachts are aware.

The courtesy would be for a bottle to change hands once alongside.

Enjoyed reading Do you offer a tow or not?

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