What is a tow float and what do they do?
A tow float is a floatation device that open water swimmers use to increase their visibility in the water. They are lightweight to keep drag to a minimum and are brightly coloured, normally florescent orange, pink or yellow, to stand out from the water. This should alert your presence to other water users, including boats, and help you attract attention in case of emergency.
Another use of a tow float is as an inflated aid to hold on to in the water, to either use in an emergency or grab hold of to take a much needed breather during a hard workout. Many floats are now made with a ‘dual chamber’ which splits the inside of the float into sections: one side holds air to create buoyancy, and the other side acts as a handy dry bag for valuables, with extra layers to protect the insides in case of puncture.
Tow floats are often mandatory for ‘skins’ swimmers (those swimming without a buoyant wetsuit), beginners, and children, as they offer that bit more security and peace of mind to a nervous newbie.
Is a tow float the same as a swim buoy?
Tow floats are known as swim buoys and can also be called inflatable dry bags or tow buoys. Wording differs because not all tow floats include the same components. Some will be your bog-standard floats with a waist rope to attach to the swimmer, and others will include more components like extra dry-bag compartments for stashing valuables as you swim, attachments to hook on straps and use as a backpack on dry land, and an attached safety whistle to attract the attention of those around you in an emergency.
How do you use a tow float?
Simply stuff your valuables in the ‘dry bag’ section of the float, if your float has this feature, and roll up the top to seal. Then attach the float around your waist like a belt, allowing the adjustable leash to trail behind you when swimming. If the conditions are choppy, you may find that the float bumps against you when in motion, so try and arrange the float to flow away from you with the direction of the wind.
Take a break by wrapping your arms around the float and floating, or use as a kickboard if you don’t want to put your head beneath the water. Tow floats are especially handy for those susceptible to cramp, offering a safe means of rest until the cramp subsides.
What are the best value tow floats?
Want to give tow floats a go? Here are some top picks for you to consider:
- We like this innovative float from WildPaces, which comes with detachable arms straps to double up as a bag out of the water. Grab yourself one from Amazon for £26.99.
- Try out this Lomo float, which includes a dry bag section and flags for extra visibility. Buy now from Amazon for £27.99.
- Take a look at Zone3’s 28L dry bag tow float, available from Wiggle for £25.
- Another pick from Zone3 is this donut tow float, with accessible snack bag for on-the-go refuelling. Get yours from SportsShoes for £26.99.
- Check out HUUB’s florescent tow float, which has a ‘waterproof’ inner compartment for valuables. Buy now from Wiggle for £26.99.
- For an innovative alternative, check out TekraSports Tekrapod, a safety device that can be worn on the back and inflated if needed. The brand claims it’s a streamlined solution to swim safety with ‘no drag’.
Check out our essential open water swimming kit guide for more advice.
Top image from Unsplash/Susan Flynn