Tow floats are important for open water swimming safety. But with the wide range of tow floats and dry bags available, it’s difficult to know where to start and what to look for in a tow float. That’s why we’re here. We’re going to take you through all the key features to look for when you’re researching and choosing your future tow float.
What to Look for in a Tow Float?
The main purpose of a tow float is to make you more visible in the water. Visibility in the water makes you safer as watercraft are more likely to see you and it is easier for rescue teams to find you in an emergency. It also makes it easier for your spotter on land or swimming partner to locate you and keep an eye on you.
As visibility is the purpose of a tow float, the most important thing you need to consider is the colour. Choosing a tow float that is dark or the same colour as the water (like blue or black) defeats the purpose of the tow float. To be visible, you need a float that is brightly coloured or high vis.
The most common float colour is bright orange, which provides optimum visibility in the water. Other colours that are commonly available and provide excellent visibility in the water are neon pink, lime green, and high vis yellow. The benefits of choosing a pink, green, or yellow tow float is you’re more likely to stand out and be identifiable in a group of swimmers that are likely to have mostly orange floats.
A tow float needs to be durable so you can rely on it not deflating or sinking while you’re swimming. Tow floats come with either one or two air chambers and some come with a dry bag compartment. To be durable and give you more protection in the water, we recommend choosing a tow float with two air chambers. This is because if a single air chamber tow float gets a puncture, it will fully deflate and lose buoyancy. Instead of safety and visibility, you’d be left struggling to carry your deflated float while trying to swim back to land. With two air chambers, if the float suffers a puncture, the second air chamber will keep the float buoyant and allow you to safely continue with your swim.
With tow floats, you have the choice between one or two air chambers. However, dry bag floats usually have two air chambers in order to encase the dry bag compartment. Depending on what you store in your dry bag (and the weight of it), the buoyancy level and drag will be affected. Tow floats are very lightweight so they float on top of the water and cause little to no drag while swimming. However, when storing items in the internal compartment of a dry bag float, the float will be heavier. Naturally, this means that the float will be slightly lower in the water (but still floating on the surface) and will have more drag.
Whether a tow float or a dry bag float is better depends on your needs. If you’re a competitive open water swimmer, less drag would be better so you might choose a tow float (two air chambers would be best). However, if you enjoy going for swim hikes or starting and finishing your swims in different locations, the dry bag float might be best for you as you can bring any items you might need with you.
When considering whether to choose a tow float with a dry compartment or not, along with the impacts on buoyancy, you also need to consider the storage space you need. Tow floats come in different shapes and sizes and have different features with different purposes.
One option is a basic tow float without any storage room, like the Swim Secure Tow Float. Another option is a tow float with external pockets or a small dry compartment accessible in the water, like the Tow Float Elite. This is ideal if you need to bring a couple of smaller items with you on your swim (instead of leaving them on land at risk of being stolen). These small pockets are perfect for your car keys, a water bottle, energy snack, your phone or medication.
A third option is a dry bag with an internal dry compartment. Internal dry compartments come in different sizes and tend to range up to 50L in capacity. This is great for swim hikes or swimming to a different location so you can bring lightweight items with you like a towel, light shoes, or a change of clothes.
Tow floats and dry bags can be attached to you in different ways but the most common method is a leash and waist belt. This attachment is designed so that the tow float floats behind you, out of the way of your arm strokes and kicking legs. The waist belt is usually adjustable to fit swimmers of different sizes and tow floats are available with adjustable or non-adjustable leashes. We recommend non-adjustable leashes as the tow float is designed to float in the ideal place and it avoids the adjustment buckle loosening which could mean you’d need to constantly stop and adjust the leash length.
Each brand of tow float has a different way of attaching the tow float, leash, and waist band together, but you should receive instructions on how to do this. If not, you should be able to find it on their website. For example, attachment instructions for Swim Secure can be found here.
Although in the water most tow floats are attached by leash and waist belt, when on land, tow floats and dry bags can have other attachments. For example, some floats have backpack straps. Most of the time these backpack straps are only to be used on land and once in water, you detach the backpack straps and attach the leash and waist belt.
There are a couple of tow floats available that stay deflated in a backpack in the water but can be quickly inflated if needed. However these tow floats only provide visibility in an emergency and don’t provide general visibility throughout your swim which is one of the main purposes of tow floats.
Another thing to consider when choosing a tow float is the safety features that are integrated into the float or that can be attached to the float. The main safety features to consider are lights, a whistle, and handles.
Floats are available with integrated lights and whistles. However, we don’t recommend choosing your float based purely on an integrated whistle or lights. This is because as long as there is somewhere to attach a light or whistle, other features (like colour and buoyancy) are more important. Lights and a whistle are available to buy and can be attached to handles, loops, or placed inside a mesh or clear pocket on the float.
For example, the Tow Donut has a clear central dry compartment that can be accessed in the water. A light could be added into this compartment to increase your visibility in the water at night. You could also store a whistle in this compartment with the ability to access it in the water in an emergency.
Handles are also an important safety feature. The main purpose of float handles is to make it easy to carry the float when out of the water. These handles can also be used in the water to hold onto and provide some buoyancy support in an emergency. Although tow floats are not intended to be used as buoyancy aids and shouldn’t be relied on if you’re not a competent swimmer, they can support an adult in the water if needed in an emergency. There are different types of handles available from plastic handles on one side of the float to rope handles around the edge of the float.
This blog has covered the main things to think about and look for when choosing which tow float is the right one for you. Whether you want an internal dry compartment, optional backpack straps, or attachable extra safety features, Swim Secure has a range of tow floats and dry bag floats to meet everyone's needs. Check them out and find your perfect float today.