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Throw Bags Can Be Life Savers

You may own one of these rescue devices, but do you know how to use it properly?

An orange and black throw bag with yellow and blue line.

Courtesy, North American Rescue

A throw bag is a floating line designed to be thrown to a person in the water, usually to then pull the person to safety. They’re lightweight, compact, inexpensive, and relatively simple to use; the basic instructions are in the name. However, “throwbagging” is not like throwing a ball.

There’s a technique and it takes practice to develop accuracy. Start by throwing it on firm ground, in your backyard for instance, and once you’re comfortable, try launching it from the dock or boat.

Illustration of a man in a blues shirt and khaki pants preparing to use a throw bag.

Courtesy, North American Rescue

1. Prepare

Open up the bag, ensuring the drawstring is completely loose. Find the end of the line (it should be on top if packed properly) and pay out several feet. Securely hold the line with your nondominant hand. Do not attach the rope to yourself, and never wrap the line around your hand.

Three illustrations  showing the throw, catch and retrieve steps for using a throw bag.

Courtesy, North American Rescue

2. Throw

You can throw underhand, overhand, or sideways, whichever feels most comfortable and works best. Many people find underhand the easiest to start. With one foot back and your hips square to the target, wind your torso back, look at your target, unwind your torso, and release the bag at shoulder height. Your goal is to aim past the subject so that the line falls across their chest; you don’t want to hit them in the head with the throw bag!

If you miss, quickly recoil the line in your hands (don’t repack the bag). Let the empty bag partially fill with water for added weight and throw a second time. Practice until you get it right. Practice in adverse situations such as wind.

Illustration of hands repacking the line back into a yellow throw bag.

3. Repack

Always flake the line back into the bag; never coil it. You don’t want it getting tangled up when you next go to throw. The easiest and fastest way to repack is to hold the bag open with the last three fingers of each hand and use your index fingers and thumbs to feed the line into the bag. You can run the line over your shoulder to help feed it into the bag. Close and buckle the bag, leaving the end of the line hanging out so you can find it quickly. Be sure to rinse and dry your line after each use and store it in a place that’s easy to access (such as clipped to a railing).

With a bit of practice, a throw bag can be an invaluable tool in your boating safety arsenal. Though keep in mind that a throw bag doesn’t provide buoyancy and is NOT a U.S. Coast Guard-approved device, so you’ll still need to carry all devices required and approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and meet all legal requirements (

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Fiona McGlynn

Contributing Editor, BoatUS Magazine

BoatUS Magazine contributing editor Fiona McGlynn and her husband sailed their 35-footer trans-Pacific for two years. Now living north of 59, she’s part of their local search and rescue team and edits, a millennial boating website.