Tow floats are an essential piece of kit for today’s wild swimmers and outdoor swimmers. Tow floats are used by the wild swimming community as an aid to increase visibility, not as a flotation device. Understanding the best tow floats for open water swimming and the multiple options available in today’s market is the key focus of this article. So if you’re looking to better understand the various tow float functions and options available and find the best tow float for your swimming sessions, then read on. We will cover sea swimming floats, the best tow float for open water swimming and general tech behind open water swimming tow floats.
Note: even though they do offer buoyancy and may be used in an emergency to aid a swimmer, these are not and should not be sold or advertised as flotation devices.
Why Should you use a Tow Float when wild swimming?
There are many reasons you should use a tow float when wild swimming. 1: It will help keep you visible to others in the water, which is important for safety. This could be other swimmers, jet skiers, kayakers, tour boats, fishing boats, etc. It also aids coastguards and rescuers in locating you if you get into trouble, making it easier to spot you from the shore and in amongst rolling waves and open stretches of water. Remember, the whole point of a tow float is to increase visibility.
- For a full swimming gear guide check here. Designed for experienced swimmers and newbies.
Our Top Three Tow floats
Basic Tow float construction
High Visibility Colour
There are many colours available on the market, chose wisely. Sorry to keep hammering this home, but a tow float is a device designed to aid visibility, so even though your favourite colour may be black or you a soft touch for camouflaged patterns, do not waste your money on these stupid options. Tow floats need to be bright and highly visible and the best tow floats are brightly coloured. The best colours are bright or fluorescent Green, Yellow or bright Orange, everything else is just redundant fashion BS. Remember the whole ideas is to assist your outdoor swimming, it is not a fashion accessory.
The air chamber allows the tow float to float above the water and comes in two main options. 1: A single air chamber found in the more basic tow float designs and 2: The dual chamber option. The dual air chamber is a far better option as it allows for redundancy. If one of the air chamber is burst or begins to leak, the other air chamber will keep the tow float afloat and allow it to continue to aid you in being visible to other water users.
A quality valve is never to be underestimated. Valves that allow easy access, quick inflation that have built in one way protection to stem rapid deflation, and keep the air champers inflated without releasing air are key. After all, your safety buoy is inflatable and a poor or cheap valve is a key way for manufacturers to cut costs.
The waist belt or waist strap is a key aspect of every tow float. The key factors to consider here are how long they are and for the larger swimmers does the waist band sizing accommodates larger waists. Some manufacturers offer a waist strap extender to accommodate large waists. These are lightweight and comfy when worn with a wetsuit or a bathing suit.
A grab handle or carry handle, simple effective handle for carrying your tow float. Some come with a single grab handle and others come with two grab handles. Simple as.
Additional Tow Float Features
Dry Bag interior
Some tow floats offer a handy dry bag (waterproof) interior compartment. These are ideal for carrying items out onto the water. A dry bag is an excellent feature that allows you to take your key items or items that you need to carry with you on your swim, like your phone, car keys and changing robe. Be aware, however, of the advertised litre capacity of dry bags. Some brands state that the dry bag of their tow float is 20 litres, but that is false advertising. It is only twenty litres when there is no air in the chamber and therefor not accessible as a tow float. Most tow float dry bags can be filled with a small amount of key items, but always allow for space for the air chambers to be inflated.
Exterior Mesh Pouch
A mesh pouch on the outside of the tow float, these are great for carrying key items like medication, action cameras, chocolate bar, a sports drink, safety whistle, safety knife etc. Gives the swimmer easy access to key items. A few brands offer this mesh pouch tow float options, including Lomo and Swimsecure.
This is a novel idea. The flag essentially increases the height of the swim buoy above the water, bringing even greater potential to the tow floats capacity to be seen. A tow float with flags has been designed for open water swimmers who want maximum visibility and is therefore a good option for those swimming in the busiest of waterways, or for those that really want to maximise their visibility in choppy water.
Environmentally Friendly Materials
There are a few manufacturers that offer eco-friendly swimming floats or eco tow floats. However, large parts of these tow floats are still not biodegradable. The outer layers used in the construction of the air chambers will be however the belts, clips, buckle, valves and sections these are secured to are made from traditional plastic materials. However, a little progress in the direction of environmental credentials is always better than none.
Swimming in open water is fun and you are almost always guaranteed to see some amazing sights, be it landscapes, sunsets or wildlife. If you are taking along your camera, a tow float with an action camera mount is always a good option to capture the action.
Check out my full action cameras for wild swimming guide here.
Rucksack straps or shoulder straps instantly transforms your towfloat with dry bag into a handy and practice bag that can be used to transport key items to and from your swim, whilst allowing you to take those key items on the swim. Note: Taking key items out on the swim is a good idea, for if you come in difficulty or an emergency it means you can exit and access the interior items be it your phone for communication, medication, dryrobe for warmth or your car keys. The rucksack tow float is our preferred tow float.
Planning to swim at night?
A dry bag tow float has the capacity to take a bright light to its interior, making the whole float glow like a large bulb. This is perfect for late evening and night swimming.
Tow Float FAQ
What is a tow float and what do they do?
A tow float is a brightly coloured float that open water swimmers inflate and attach to their waist via a belt. The float increases visibility in the water.
Is a tow float the same as a swim buoy?
A tow float and a swim buoy are the same.
How do you use a tow float?
A tow float is a valuable piece of safety gear when swimming in open water. It is a dry bag that you wear around your waist and it helps increase your visibility to others. To use it, simply swim with it attached to your waist.
What is the best swimming buoy color?
There is no definitive answer to this question, as different swimmers prefer different colours for their buoys. However, some of the most popular colours include florescent green, yellow, and orange. These colours are all highly visible in the water, making them ideal for swimming safety.
What kit do I need for cold water swimming
Check out our complete open water swimming gear guide for peace of mind here.