Categorized | Articles, How-to, Tips & Tactics

Installing A Stern Drag Chain

Installing A Stern Drag Chain

Article by: David Rodrigue (Drodrigue)

This is a fairly inexpensive way to install a drag chain on a sit-on-top kayak. $48 if you have to buy everything listed. You may have many of the items lying around the house or shop.

This write-up may look a bit complicated, but that’s because I explain a lot of adjustments I made to my setup. It is really 4 basic steps to install:
•    Attached leash to boat
•    Install hook loops to guide the line to the back and control tracking
•    Tie leash to chain
•    Wrap chain in tape

Total installation time less than 30 minutes

Tools required:

•    Hand drill (if using the hook loops)
•    1/8 drill bit
•    Phillips screwdriver
•    Knife (to cut leash cable)
•    Lighter or matches (shrink heat wrap)

Parts and Cost: (you can substitute anything to suit your needs)

  • 1 Retractable Dog Leash (23 foot length rated for dogs up to 24 pounds) – $20.00 Available at Wal-Mart or the local pet store
    • Do not buy the strap type, get the line that is approx. 3/32 inch in diameter
    • If you purchase the 16 foot length, be aware that it will take approximately 6 feet of cable to go from where you connect the leash to the back of the boat. 10 feet of line may sound like a lot…Just know that your chain doesn’t drag straight down. It will pitch out depending on amount of resistance it is pulling against the yak. I am guessing you could use 10 feet of line in a moderate current if the water is 5 feet deep (just a guess).
  • 2 metal Carabiners (approx 3 inches long) – $6 for both
    • Available at Home Depot, Lowes, sports stores, yak shops, etc.
  • 2  nylon hook loops – $5
    • Available most anywhere that sells boat supplies store
    • You may have to hit a specialty boat store to get the nylon type
  • 4 stainless steel screws  size10x3/4 inch – $1
  • 1 galvanized logging chain 22 inch length, size 3/8 – $7
    • This 22 inch length of chain weighs 2 lbs. 4ozs., adjust to suit your preference
    • Available at Home Depot, Lowes, etc.
  • 3/32 inch heat shrink wrap – $5
    • Available at Home Depot, Lowes, or electrical supply stores, etc
  • 1 small roll of 2 inch wide Gorilla brand tape – $4
    • Available at Home Depot, Lowes, etc.

1)    These instructions describe my setup on a Wilderness Ride 135 SOT kayak (see Fig. 1). I believe they will suffice for any SOT. The instructions explain many adjustment decisions I made, so with minimal imagination and technical aptitude you should be able to adjust for a sit-in setup as well.

Fig. 1

2)    Attach carabiners to retractable leash and then to the yak. You probably want the retractable leash to be right beside you. I have seen them attached to the side handle on Native Manta Ray 12. When I tried that on my setup (Wilderness Ride 135), the leash was sitting behind me quite a bit. When I tried to move it forward by removing one of the carabiners, it made the leash handle stand up on it’s side (binding with the biner and the loop hook the biner was hooked to)…That didn’t suit me, so I moved it to the hook loop (see picture). You may have to make a design adjustment to position the leash handle where you have comfortable access to it. I positioned mine so that it is directly beside me…I didn’t want to have to reach backwards to operate it since it takes two hands to raise the drag chain.

As you can see in Fig. 2, I connected the retractable leash to an existing hook loop on the right side of the boat. The leash lock and release buttons are facing inward on my setup….suited me better. The direction it faces is mostly personal preference as long as you can keep the release button away from your leg/hip. I have a wide yak, so less chance of me unintentionally hitting the release button.  In Fig. 2 you can see I have wrapped the paddle strap around the leash handle. That firmly pulled the leash handle down to the top of the boat and pulled the setup further to the outside of the kayak far enough so my hips will not hit the release button. If it is a problem on your setup, just flip the retractable leash over so the buttons face to the outside.

Fig. 2

3)    Attach the hook clips to your back storage area to guide your line (see Fig. 3). I suppose this is purely a personal choice since the drag chain will function fine without guiding the cable. I wanted the line out of the way in the back storage area, so I opted to use the guides.

I used the nylon material hook loops because the plastic ones break easily and I didn’t want the stainless steel type. I placed them in an area that will not interfere with any gear I am hauling like a crate or cooler. The less chance of contact with something solid is a less chance of breaking one or pulling the screws out of the yak. My design runs down the right side of the yak.

I placed the hook loop on a ridge inside the storage area (the line is already running through it in Fig. 3). You can’t really tell from Fig. 3, but it is below the top surface of the yak, so it cannot be knocked off during loading/unloading in the truck (see Fig. 4). Just think about attaching it to a recessed location when attaching the guide to your yak.

I used screws instead of bolts because I didn’t have access to but nuts on the bolts. I would have preferred bolts over screws…it just didn’t work out for me.

Fig. 3

Fig. 4 shows the side hook loop located below the surface of the boat.

Fig. 4

My yak has a factory groove in the stern to store/secure a rudder (see Fig. 5). I don’t have a rudder system installed, so it was a good spot to let the line exit the boat. I placed my second hook loop in the center to guide to cable into the grove. Again, the hook loop is just below the surface of the boat so that it cannot be knocked-off/damaged when loading/unloading (see Fig. 6). Keeping the guide close to the surface also allows very little pitch to be on the line when the chain is dragging, so there will be minimal stress on the hook loop.

You want the drag chain to go out of the center of the back of the boat so that your yak tracks straight when the chain is dragging. If your boat isn’t setup with a rudder grove, or you feel that you want to control exactly where the force-of-pull is on your yak, use another guide on the rear. Again, be mindful of the placement of the hook loop since it will probably stand-up on the yak and potentially get broken.

Fig. 5

Fig. 6 shows the stern hook loop just below the rudder grove. Notice there is minimal pitch of the line when transitioning from the grove down to the hook loop.

Fig. 6

Fig. 7 shows the cable running from the leash handle to the rear of the yak.

Fig. 7

4)    Tie the cable from the leash to one end of the chain. You will need to cut off the strap hardware so that you have the bare cable from the leash.

Be sure to lock the leash before cutting so it doesn’t retract all the way into the lease.

I used the heat shrink tube to bind my knot (see Fig. 8), but I suppose you could just super-glue the knot if you choose. If you use the heat shrink tube, be sure to slip the heat shrink tube onto the line before you tie the knot. After you have tied your favorite knot, slide the heat shrink tube down over the knot and heat with a lighter. Be careful not to burn the cable. This tightened up well on my knot and there is no chance it will come untied.

Fig. 8

As mentioned in the parts list, I used a 22 inch length of galvanized logging chain (see Fig. 9). It weighed two and a quarter pounds which was my target weight. You could use smaller chain, but you would have to double up to keep it short. There are 2 lb ball weights available at sporting goods stores that would work as well. Use whatever you like, just be sure to think about how it might bind between rocks, etc. The slender stature of the chain was my particular preference.

Fig. 9

5)    As I mentioned earlier, my yak was fitted for a rudder system at the factory. The two screws on the back of the boat are dead center where my drag chain line hangs (see Fig. 10). The rubber washers used from the factory did not completely fill-out the side of the screw heads. I just added some larger rubber washers. That filled in the gap under the head of the screw so my line wouldn’t get cut/worn by the end of the screw head.

Fig. 10

6)    Wrap the chain in tape (see Fig. 11). I used the black Gorilla brand tape. Gorilla tape is thick (17mil) and is the strongest adhesive tape I have used. Taping the chain keeps it quiet when dragging. I like the black color to assist with stealth, but other tape would probably work fine. When making an alternative tape choice, just know that it will be constantly wet and subject to a lot of abrasion while it is dragging.

Fig. 11

7)    Fig. 12 is the final picture of the drag chain hanging off the back of the yak. It will probably hang down in the water 10 inches below the bottom of the boat when it isn’t stored in the back of the boat.  I doubt that will slow the boat down too much when I am paddling calm water. You could consider doubling the chain over when tying/taping it to make it shorter. That way it would not hang below the bottom of the boat. Or, just flip it in the boat for storage when you not using it to drag.

Fig. 12

Final Word of Caution:

Several kayakers have warned me about using drag chains and anchor systems in a river. They mentioned the danger of getting the chain/anchor stuck in rocks when the boat was in rapids. A couple of guys said they genuinely feared for their life in those situations so it is important to make sure your chain is up when running rapids.  They advised to keep a fixed blade knife available should you need to cut away in an emergency. The drag chain can be a great calm-river setup to assist with slowing the boat for fishing, but use sound judgment and caution when determining if this setup is safe for you and your environment. Barring religion and family, safety comes first.

3 Responses to “Installing A Stern Drag Chain”

  1. blake says:

    Count me in the too dangerous for me club.

  2. Boyscout says:

    Great post!

    I would advise against looping the chain to make it shorter. It will get hung up more often. What I have done is use 2 shorter chains to get the same weight but a shorter lenth.

  3. blake says:

    Well I wanted to edit my previous comment to add more detail, however, I don’t see how to do that. Anyway…

    I do occasionally anchor with my canoe, and think your setup would work well on a canoe with an anchor. So some of you guys that have RobRoy canoe (ultimate), I think it would work well.

    I do use drag chains on my pontoons and raft, but control the drift with that size platform is much different than a low sided and narrow kayak. I have had to donate several chains over the years. Snagging isn’t fun even in the big boats.


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