Perfecting the Toss Requires Some Practice


Passing a line to a helper on shore is as basic a part of seamanship as tying a bowline. You’ve probably seen an old salt seaman cast a line 40 feet as casually as passing the pepper, but more often you’ve seen the line launched with a huge arm swing, only to tangle and fall short of the mark. A few simple tips, all assuming you are right handed and you are throwing -inch line.

Tie a Figure 8 on a bight (photo #5) or other bulky knot in the thrown end of the line. The extra weight doesn’t carry the line, but it does help it straighten out to full length. The knot is only required when throwing long distances.

Coil the rope into your right hand in clockwise loops about two feet long, up to a maximum of about 10 loops (when tossed underhanded the coil will unwind). Do not remove the twist that forms in the coils; you want what is called a figure 8 coil. A neat coil, like you would want to use for storing a rope, will fly into kinks as soon as you throw it.

If your target is more than 20 feet away, slide the first coil up into the crook of your elbow and coil an additional 8 loops in the same direction.

Transfer the second coil to your left hand and slide the first coil back down into your right hand.

Toss the coils in an underhanded manner so that they unwind as they fly. The left-hand coil is tossed more lightly and released a split second later.

Aim well past the target and a few feet to one side, so that it can drape over an outstretched arm.

When done correctly, this procedure will let you throw a line as far as 40 feet in a moderate cross wind (and a greater distance if the wind is behind you). This includes an allowance for the rope to fly past the receiver.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him at