The Ultimate Guide to Tow Floats: Your Questions Answered

If you are considering purchasing a tow float for open water swimming, you may well have some questions about their purpose, their benefits, and how to choose the right one. In this guide, we will address the most frequently asked questions about tow floats to hopefully help you make an informed decision.

 What actually is a tow float and what does it do?

A tow float is basically a brightly coloured ‘floatation device’, and its primary function is to increase your visibility, both from shore and to other water users. It acts as a safety ‘device’, allowing others to easily spot you while swimming. Additionally, tow floats can provide support if you become tired or experience cramps. And some models even offer the option to store essential items like water bottles, keys, snacks, inhalers or even a phone for that all important selfie.

Do I need a tow float?

Swimming outdoors can take you to a number of beautiful locations and although going for a swim in cold, open water can be exhilarating, it’s not without risk and it is important to enjoy the activity safely. Hazards can come in the form of other traffic in the water or even strong currents and streams. If you are new to open water swimming or you plan on swimming in an unsupervised location, it is most definitely sensible to have a tow float to keep you safe and seen. And actually, at many open water venues, a tow float is now compulsory.

How does a tow float work?

A tow float is designed to float behind you while swimming, keeping you safe and seen. Once inflated it attaches to your waist with a waist belt & leash staying out of range of arms and kick zone. A waist belt & leash will be included with every tow float you purchase, but replacements are available on the Outdoor Swimmer Shop and can be used as an extension belt if required, or just as a replacement if you’ve been unlucky enough to misplace your original one.

Does a tow float slow you down?

Contrary to what you might expect, swimming with a tow float does not significantly impact your speed. The bow wave created by your upper body actually pushes the buoy forward, minimizing any drag. Additionally, the short leash attachment ensures the tow float remains out of the way of your arm stroke and kick.

Can a tow float be used as a buoyancy aid?

While a tow float can offer support and act as a temporary buoyancy aid if you need to take a breather, it is not designed to replace a dedicated buoyancy aid or life jacket. Its primary purpose remains increasing visibility and ensuring your safety in the water.

 Will a tow float keep you afloat?

While a tow float is not intended to keep you afloat indefinitely, it can provide temporary support when you need to rest during your swim. Remember, its main function is to enhance visibility rather than serve as a lifesaving aid.

 Can a dry bag be used as a tow float?

Absolutely! All the dry bags on the Outdoor Swimmer Shop are designed to function as tow floats. With the same great ‘safety features’ as a tow float (i.e. another brightly coloured ‘floatation device to keep you safe and seen), a dry bag offers the added advantage of being able to store your kit, keeping it safe and dry while swimming. With a waist belt & leash included, you can easily tow the dry bag behind you. The water's buoyancy minimizes drag, ensuring it doesn't slow you down. They also easily support an adult’s weight so are perfect for those moments when you need a rest, which considering there is no side to hold on to when you need a five-minute breather and add that to waves, currents and windy days, you are likely to fatigue a lot sooner in open water than you would in a pool.

 How do I choose a tow float?

The ideal tow float for you will depend on your budget, specific needs and preferences. There are many ‘variations’ on the market now so consider factors such as the amount of storage required (if any!), and the intended use when selecting a tow float.

For most open water swimmers the most important feature is ‘high visibility’ and if this is your only consideration, the world really is your oyster! All tow floats on the Outdoor Swimmer Shop have been designed to ensure high visibility, so it is now down to budget and personal preference. Green, yellow, pink or orange? Dual colour or even camo? We’ve got you covered!

If you are new to open water swimming (don’t forget that you are likely to fatigue a lot sooner in open water than you would in a pool and you are also more likely to be out of your depth for some if not most of the time), or if you know you will be swimming extended distances or at higher intensity, a ‘larger’ dry bag provides better support for that much desired breather. Although the most ‘popular’ size seems to be the 28L which is more than sufficient to support you for a rest, dry bags are available in various sizes, from 20L all the way up to 50L.

If you do want some storage, but you’re not planning to take your entire kit and caboodle, you may want to consider a tow donut, which works in exactly the same way as a basic tow float, but has a nifty little integrated dry bag pouch, which sits neatly in the centre of the donut, out of the water and is perfect for storing small items or valuables. The little dry bag is easily accessible from the water (although we would probably recommend using a waterproof bag if you intend to take your phone - just in case!) and is also great for night swimming or swimming early or late in the day during the ‘darker’ months, as the little dry bag is just perfect for carrying a torch.

If hydration is a requirement, check out the hydration float. Ideal for longer swims, ‘hot’ swims and ‘salt water’ swims, it provides easy access to your drinks bottle (up to 750ml).

Perhaps you are looking to combine your swim with an invigorating hike or a blissful bike ride, in which case the wild swim bag covers all your needs. Cleverly designed as a back pack, just pack your kit, head out for your ‘adventure’, and when you are ready to ‘dive in’, just remove the shoulder and chest straps and voila, you are left with a dry bag/tow float.

In conclusion, a tow float in whatever shape or design, is an essential accessory for open water swimmers, providing increased visibility, safety, and support during your swims. Whether you opt for a ‘basic’ tow float, or a dry bag that keeps your belongings secure, this valuable swim safety accessory enhances your swimming experience while ensuring your well-being in the water.  Dive into open water swimming with confidence and peace of mind!