View Full Version : Towing runabout behind the houseboat

09-09-2014, 01:48 PM
I've been limping by on this issue for a while now and trying different methods to move our runabout along with our houseboat so no one is left out of the fun houseboat cruise while leaving the dock. Each different method has its advantages and its drawbacks as well. For example, tying it to the back of the houseboat with a long tow line clipped into the bow eye is great for towing and not damaging the boat, until you need to stop the boats or maneuver around the dock or anchor point - you can't. I've had my brother-n-law or dock mate hop into the runabout at the beginning of the no wake zone and dock it individually, but this only works if they're around. My wife refuses to try to dock the Regal by herself. :roll:

So far this season, I have gotten by pretty well with tying the Regal to my port side and hauling it out along the side of the HB, but this has its drawbacks as well. 1 = I've seen a friend's attempt to do this end with him swamping his runabout and nearly sinking it when the bow line came undone and the runabout swung around and got pulled backwards from the stern line. :o 2 = To tie the Regal to the side, I must 1st back the HB 1/2 way out of the slip. Next, I need to retrieve the Regal and take it to the HB to tie it up. All this is done in reverse order when returning to the dock. Quite a PITA! 3 = Last time we were out, a 40' Sea Ray blew by me on the side of the HB that the Regal was tied to, which made the poor boat bounce against the HB like a ping pong ball. Thankfully, I have huge fenders there and we had no damage. After that last experience, I told the wife we're not doing that anymore.

I'm finally to the point where I need to spend some more money to get this to where it's maneuverable, cost effective, manageable and safe. So far, I've identified 3 options:
1. The Boat Hitch (www.theboathitch.com) Im pretty confident this thing would work well, however I got a quote for $850 + S&H. At that price, this thing is practically cost prohibitive. Additionally, I will have to modify the mounting area of the HB to accommodate the mounting bracket. Thatll add more cost to this equation.
2. The Towdster (www.towdster.com) A relatively simple looking idea here and cost is around $400. I need to install 2 cleats on the swim platform, which should be easy enough. I think Id need 2 of these poles to form a V going from the stern of the HB to the bow eye of the Regal. Similar to The Boat Hitch setup, Id attach long ropes going from the corners of the HB to the stern cleats on the Regal. Im hopeful this would prevent side-to-side movement, making the HB maneuverable. I have a call and an e-mail into this company to confirm this.
3. The Dock Shock (www.dockcalm.com/products.htm) Similar to the Towdster, but more useful. This is actually meant to be used for mooring the boat, instead of using mooring whips. Id use these in the same fashion as the Towdsters as I described above, except I could also use these to tie the Regal to the side of our houseboat while anchored as well. This would hold the Regal off the side of the HB when the inevitable skier or gawker flies by to take a look at the big houseboat. I called the guy that invented these and he says it should be able to function as a towing device as well, but after looking at it more closely, I have my doubts for towing. I think the ends will break under the strain while towing. At minimum, I think Ill buy one of these to solve my anchoring issue. Im very tired of dropping my activities to run down and push the runabout off the side of the HB when some jerk wakes us.

Are there any other products you guys have used or seen that I could consider for towing?

09-09-2014, 05:19 PM
At the risk of making a bad pun, I'm in the same boat. I have been using a 60' polypropylene rope to tow my MasterCraft behind my houseboat for several years. I have a wishful eye on theboathitch. I am about over my sticker shock and ready to get one. The Dock Shock looks to be okay, but my side towing seems to put a lot of force on things. I have to sometimes tow through boat wakes and storm waves and wouldn't trust the Dock Shock in the open water. The towdster looks to be weak when it comes to backing up. It's one thing to have a jet ski turning sideways when you back, but that could concern me with my 21' boat. Using the towdster with lines going from the stern corners of the ski boat to the stern corners of the houseboat seems like a good idea until I consider the logistics of getting in and out of the ski boat to attach the lines. I am thinking that this is one of those times that paying the price stings once and buying a less-useful product would sting every time I used it.

09-09-2014, 05:54 PM
Well stern lines are necessary for the Boat Hitch to work as well, so don't let that be a deterrent to the Towdster.

I talked to both company owners about their products. Towdster should allow us to back the boat as well with stern lines in use. Also, instead of forming a V with 2 of them going to the bow eye on my Regal, I would run 1 to each bow cleat. This should help stabilize the runabout when going in reverse or turning.

The Boathitch company just moved and say they won't produce parts again until Spring. For my setup, it would cost $750 delivered.

Lots to think about......

09-10-2014, 08:24 AM
I tow my dinghy on a "short" leash from the port stern cleat. The painter is short enough that it can't get in my prop, and has floats on it as well. Generally when maneuvering it flops over on the port side or lays against the stern platform. I can even bow-in to a slip without worrying about the dinghy till after I get the houseboat tied up.

That's fine for a dinghy... a heavier runabout creates other problems. I ran aground once and my 17' fishing boat punched a hole in the houseboat's transom.

09-10-2014, 08:48 AM
Well stern lines are necessary for the Boat Hitch to work as well, so don't let that be a deterrent to the Towdster.

I probably didn't explain well my issue with the stern lines. You're exactly right that the stern lines would be helpful or even necessary with either the Boathitch or the Towdster. It would be easy to attach those stern lines with the Boathitch because the bow of your Regal would be right up against the stern of your houseboat. You'd step from one boat to the other to put the lines in place. With the Towdster, your Regal would be back far enough that you couldn't step from boat to boat. My tightrope walking skills wouldn't let me walk down the Towdster lines. Even if I had the ability to jump ten feet from boat to boat, I wouldn't want to be landing on gelcoat after a ten foot jump from houseboat to Regal. You would probably end up trying to place both lines of the Towster and both stern lines in place before you let the Regal go back all the way. Given that both of the Towdster lines look to be about ten feet long and are stiff, handling all four lines could get to be a challenge in all but the calmest of winds.

09-10-2014, 08:58 AM
It is an age old problem. I use a 80 ft tow line on my runabout. I tie it on either side or the middle depending on what I want the runabout to do around the dock. Backing down with the Towdster will most likely break it - look at the physics involved. The Boathitch should be OK, but I still don't trust it and at $750 for what is basically about $200 in parts, it is expensive.

I will just continue to deal with the tow rope.

09-10-2014, 09:50 AM
EastTN - I agree. Looking at the pictures of the BoatHitch, it gives me heartburn to think we're paying $750 for that. If one of you crafty fellers on this forum could make one of those, I'd be willing to pay for it. :)

09-10-2014, 12:32 PM
Welding is the one thing that I really wish I had learned somewhere along the way.

09-11-2014, 06:27 AM
E.TN, if you're interested in getting a BoatHitch, you'll have to wait "until next Spring," according to the company owner. They moved locations and hasn't produced any this year even.

A friend of mine agreed to fabricate something like this from aluminum for my boat. I don't want to wait until next year to install this. I want to start using it at the start of the season. I'm going to take a bunch of measurements for him this weekend and we'll see how this goes. We haven't talked price yet, but he did say it will cost less than the $750 quote I got from BoatHitch. Really, the most difficult part about this is fabricating the aluminum. The rest of the components can literally be bought from Wal-Mart and bolted on.

When he's done making mine, I'll see if he'd be interested in producing more for other people.

09-12-2014, 07:45 AM
I saw a houseboat up on Cumberland several years ago that actually had a runabout garage. The last 20' or so of it was a drive in garage for your runabout with hydraulics to raise it out of the water.

09-12-2014, 11:36 AM
I'm betting the wife wouldn't allow for that in my boating budget.

09-13-2014, 11:10 PM
This is just theory, as our dink is an inflatable kayak snugged up against the overhead of our stern deck, and I've not investigated the commercial options. But here goes this old bat's thought: What if you took two 8- or 10-foot lengths of pvc pipe (depending on your beam), threaded a line through them and maybe a pvc Y connector in the middle, attached to a third PVC pipe to make a Y-shaped bridle stiff enough to keep the runabout from bumping the back of the boat when you stop? You'd make sure to have some extra line at the "top" ends of the Y that could be fastened snugly to your sternmost port and starboard houseboat cleats. Then, according to my untested theory, you could clip the line that forms the stem of the Y to the bow of your runabout? When it's time to bring the little boat alongside for boarding, you'd just free one side of the bridle, and bring the whole assemblage on-board, hanging onto the bow-line of the small boat, which I'd fasten to the junction of the three pipes so you could reach it when you've shut your houseboat motors down, without risk of entangling the line in the prop. Or maybe you could drill holes in the third PVC pipe, and attach spring clips, so that the painter of the small boat could be drawn up along the third part of your bridle, and fastened in the middle, between the two arms of the Y, for easy securing and retrieval. OK, maybe that's dumb, but it'd be cheap to try. Let me know if that works?

09-14-2014, 03:34 AM
The PVC/rope system works, and the price is right.

09-15-2014, 06:40 AM
It will work until you have to back down hard, then you will break the PVC.

09-15-2014, 07:26 AM
I made a diagram of what I'd like to do. What do you guys think?

09-15-2014, 08:59 AM
Backing down hard? Tell me about that? I'm still learning the rudiments, here. Would you not bring the dink or runabout up snug along the non-docking side before you did any abrupt maneuvering or got in close quarters? I would be concerned about loose line being entangled in the props otherwise. disclaimer:my main boating experience was long ago, and limited to one-design sailboat racing. I have much to learn about these unwieldy powered contraptions.

09-15-2014, 10:38 AM
My slip is 21' wide with 80' fingers. There are fingers on both sides, so there is not a non-docking side - the whole boat fits inside the slip. Sometimes when docking, you just have to back away from the slip, circle around, and try again. Sometimes you have to back down hard (put it into reverse and back away quickly). In that scenario, the PVC pipe would break. If I am single handing it, I pull the runabout about 60' back and take it slow. If my wife is with me, she will either pull the rope in and keep the runabout from floating all over the place, or she will bring the runabout in separately.

My tow rope floats, but I have sucked it into one of the outdrives twice now.

There is not a perfect solution.

09-15-2014, 10:44 AM
GoVols, The geometry looks right on what you are trying to do, but my concerns would be:

1. The size and weight of your runabout
2. The strength of the cleats that you are attaching to

Both of these will come into play when you are in reverse. If you have to back down hard, then I think that the PVC will snap and your runabout will turn sideways to your houseboat. It will still be attached with four ropes and you will not be able to push it off to the side. If that happens, then it will get ugly pretty quickly.

09-15-2014, 11:48 AM
GoVols, you're onto something that would solve a lot of the problems of towing at a low cost. I don't think I would give it a go, however, because of the same issues I raised with the Towdster. I really liked your idea to have someone build something more along the lines of the Boathitch. If you can find someone to make them for a good price, I'm in. If EastTN is in, that's three of us. On the other hand, if you look into this and find that we're approaching Boathitch's prices, at least I can feel better about dropping $750 for something that looks like it ought to cost half that.

09-15-2014, 03:16 PM
I made a diagram of what I'd like to do. What do you guys think?

That looks good, what size and schedule PVC.
I would guess at least 1" schedule 40.

09-16-2014, 06:24 AM
The way my boat is set up, I could bolt/pin one of these to my swim platform and accomplish the same thing.


My swim platform is reinforced to carry a 1,500 lb jetski, so it could handle it.

09-16-2014, 07:31 AM
That looks good, what size and schedule PVC. I would guess at least 1" schedule 40.

I was going to use a 1.5" ~ 2" PVC pipe. Not sure what the "schedule 40" means, but I was going to ask the gents at HD to give me the strongest PCV pipe they have. I'm going to put the rubber caps on the ends to prevent scratches to the boats and put a swim noodle around it to make it float as well.

Even if I don't tow the boat with this setup, I found a great picture on another forum of someone's idea that holds the boats away from the docks and off the fenders so they don't scratch the gel coat. PVC would only be ~2' long and the runabout would be tied to the side of the HB, but only when anchored.

The attachments feature on this forum must be broken. It doesn't matter how I size my pictures or what the file type is, they won't work! :mad:

09-16-2014, 07:35 AM
The way my boat is set up, I could bolt/pin one of these to my swim platform and accomplish the same thing. http://www.trailerpartsdepot.com/itemdesc.asp?ic=6114%2E606&eq=&Tp=

Very interesting. That's something to consider as well. I see the height is adjustable, but even on its lowest setting, my guess is it would still be too high out of the water for your bow eye on your runabout to clip into. Also, you'll still need some ropes to go from the very corners of your HB to the midship or stern cleats on your runabout to hold the boat straight through the turns.

09-16-2014, 09:03 AM
Schedule 40 refers to the thickness of the PVC. It is commonly what is used for drain lines.

My swim platform is right on the water. The top of the platform is maybe 8 inches above the water.

09-16-2014, 09:37 AM
Interesting following you alls thoughts on this topic. Seems to me the winch setup would fail to allow enough free independent movement of the boat in tow. Like others here I think the original would in fact be simple enough to make myself the hard part would be finding a source of the aluminum tubing that would properly sleeve together to make it work. IMHO I'm thinking it would be up up-most value that the boats are able raise and lower independently of one another to help circumvent damage to one or both boats.

The attachments feature on this forum must be broken. It doesn't matter how I size my pictures or what the file type is, they won't work!

Yep I can't attach photo's also. The upload from your computer link appears to be dead.

09-16-2014, 12:22 PM
That is why I will continue to use a rope.

09-16-2014, 01:08 PM
The diagram I posted allows for both boats to bob independently, which makes it more appealing to me than the BoatHitch. Key would be to get strong PVC to withstand the forces. Really though, the HB isn't a cruiser, so I can't see the forces (stopping or turning) on the PVC pipes being too much to easily break the PVC pipes, especially when the HB only goes 9~10mph at WOT. Then there's still 2 of the PVC pipes sharing the burden of the stopping or turning the runabout. Even when turning, the rear of the runabout is being pulled by the midship support ropes. Still top speed isn't so much the issue here, it's stopping the HB. Which is even less of a concern than the top speed b/c stopping this barge isn't a quick action either. If I hit a stationary object bringing the boat to a stop, I would think breaking those PVC pipes would definitely be a concern, but at that point, it would be the least of my concerns.

I think I'll experiment a bit with this setup this weekend at the lake and report back next week. Maybe I'll eat some crow, but I've put a lot of thought into this b/c a solution simply must be found.

09-16-2014, 01:09 PM
I have a motivation to tow closer to my houseboat that I haven't mentioned yet. We sometimes see wind chop get three or even four feet high where I boat. Even though a typical runabout has closer to two and a half feet of freeboard, we get by because in waves that big we usually go slow and bow high into the waves. But a towed boat doesn't have the benefit of bow rise. A friend of mine learned that the hard way towing his Malibu behind a houseboat. His Malibu was a direct drive Sunsetter so his freeboard was closer to two feet. He was towing his Malibu when the winds shifted unexpectedly and he found himself in the teeth of a nasty windy storm. My friend didn't want to leave his wife at the helm of the houseboat and certainly didn't want to put her out in the ski boat so his only choice was to keep towing and try to duck into a side canyon. Problem was, at the end of the rope he was using, the waves were lapping at the front of his Malibu. He was close and was keeping all but the frothy tops from from splashing into his Malibu when someone in a cruiser came by at a distance of about 30 feet. The first wake from the cruiser put about 6 inches of blue water over the bow of the Malibu. That dropped his freeboard to less than two feet so the second wake put even more water in the Malibu. By the time the third wake came, the Malibu was low enough in the water that it went down. My friend was forced to cut his tow rope to prevent damage to the houseboat as the Malibu went down.

If my friend's boat had been close enough behind the houseboat to so that the houseboat took the brunt of the waves, he would still have his Malibu. Instead, he was facing the prospect of hiring divers to bring his boat up. The National Park Service that governs Lake Powell said that the boat had to come up. They didn't care if it cost a half million dollars (the bid if they found the boat deeper than 200 feet) or whether he had insurance to cover it.

Because the weather can change suddenly where I boat, I have additional incentive to tow closely behind my houseboat, even if I can't find a way to do it cheaper than what Boathitch charges.

09-16-2014, 03:05 PM
Plumbing was my family's business. I would not categorize any PVC pipe as strong compared to metal pipe. Here is a link showing specs:


I have never seen schedule 80 or 120 PVC in a "normal" store.

09-16-2014, 03:05 PM
Endurance - what if they divers cannot find it?

09-16-2014, 05:24 PM
Endurance - what if they divers cannot find it?
Sadly, the NPS doesn't care what you have to go through to find your sunk boat. They take the position that if you haven't found it, you need to keep sending divers down (at their hourly rate) until you do find it. Finding the boat is often a big part of the cost. My friend got lucky. He was towing with a floating rope so the rope was coming straight up from his sunk boat. On the diver's last tank of air, the diver's arm brushed the floating rope which led him down to the boat.

It seems like we've talked here about the advantages of towing with a rope that floats. I don't think I ever thought about this particular advantage of floating rope.

09-17-2014, 06:44 AM
I used 1" thinwall, it's relatively flexible, springy, and lightweight, but then I was just towing a dinghy. Strength wasn't that much of an issue as the nylon line inside the PVC does the towing. I think Sch 40 should work for a larger boat. You don't want it TOO rigid as that will just put added strain on the boats' fittings, and metal pipe or tubing would eventually bend or buckle.

Eventually I gave up the PVC as it was too much of a hassle to get the boat alongside. Now I simply use sections of pool noodle to keep the painter out of my prop. That may not be an option with a bigger boat.

I generally tow my dinghy or runabout up fairly close, both to allow it to benefit from the shelter of the houseboat and to keep it under control around the dock.

09-17-2014, 08:26 AM
So I am pulling my boat out this fall and doing a lot of work to it. I am going to include adding some way of towing a boat or jet-ski and the boat hitch looks exactly like what I need. I was going to weld something like this directly to the rear deck but having it removable looks better! Question"; it does pivot at the boat end ...right? I missed reading that but seems to me it has to. I think that is what I am seeing as I only see one pin at the bolt on end.

edit: I dug deeper and this hitch is fixed in height.