End toggles are those lowly and often overlooked features of your kayak that you use to lift and carry your kayak with the help of another person. They go by many names: end toggles, carry toggles, carry handles, grab handles, end loops, and probably more that I’m currently forgetting. They come in a variety of styles, some of which are almost useless or at least not as robust as they really should be given the important functions that they serve. So why am I devoting a series of articles to such a seemingly insignificant part of a kayak? Because they aren’t insignificant, and these are parts of your deck rigging that deserve some special attention. In my next few blog posts, I’m going to talk about why you need good end toggles, what features constitute a good end toggle as well as not-so-good end toggles, and give you “how-to” instructions for fixing or replacing your end toggles.
Besides the most obvious use of lifting and carrying your kayak, end toggles also have important functions in rescue, recovery, and towing situations. When acting as the rescuer in an assisted rescue, it is likely that the first part of the capsized kayak you will grab in order to begin the process of emptying and righting the boat will be the end toggle. You want that toggle to be easy to grab, even with gloved hands, and strong enough not to break when you are wrangling a heavy kayak full of water. When you need to swim your kayak in through the surf, you want an end toggle that will be easy to hold, even while your kayak is being rolled in the waves, and that won’t threaten to amputate any of your fingers or wrench your arm out of its socket. If you are towing a kayak that lacks deck lines, that kayak must have an end toggle that can take the stress of towing in rough seas without breaking. If your whitewater kayak gets pinned on a rock out in the middle of the river, you need handles that will withstand the force applied when you rig your Z-drag to unpin it. And certainly, you need end toggles that are positioned for a comfortable tandem carry and won’t break as you are moving your loaded kayak.
Since all these functions for your end toggles require strength, every kayaker needs to take a close look at how the end toggles are attached to their kayak. For those with plastic recreational or sea kayaks, you’ll want to check if the toggles are attached with some sort of plastic or metal fitting screwed into the deck of your boat (Photo 1), or if the rope on the toggle is just threaded through holes drilled in the top of the deck (Photo 2). If the rope is just threaded through the deck and there is less than 2″ of plastic between the two holes, I would start thinking of better ways that you can attach your end toggles to your kayak. It is not unusual for toggles that are attached in this manner to rip out through the deck leaving you with a big gaping hole in the top of your kayak. You should not be using toggles like this to attach bow and stern tie-down ropes when you are car-topping your kayak. You should never use end toggles to hang a plastic kayak for any length of time because it will cause the hull to deform, but if your end toggles are just threaded through the deck, you are also at risk for having the toggle rope rip out of the deck which is a distinct possibility looking at the kayak in Photo 2. In Photo 3, you can see that there are several inches of plastic separating the holes from the ends of the kayak and the rope is threaded all the way through from the one side of the kayak to the other making it much less likely that the rope could pull through the plastic kayak.
If your toggles are attached to a separate metal or plastic fitting, how securely is that piece attached to the kayak? Do you need to add some backing like a large diameter washer making it less likely that the screw and nut can pull out through the deck? You may need to stick your head inside the hatch openings of your kayak on a sunny day to see this. You may or may not be able to reach the fittings to make changes even if they are warranted. However, it is best to know whether the existing attachments can be trusted, or whether you should be looking for alternative ways to lift, carry, rescue, or tow your kayak.
When holding an end toggle while swimming in surf or performing rescues, you ideally want your toggles to be close to the ends of your kayak, and the rope should be long enough so that the boat will not bash your fingers if it gets rolled by a wave. The toggle in Photo 1 is positioned too far from the bow of the kayak for holding the boat in the surf. I would consider replacing the ropes in Photos 1 and 8 with longer ropes. You also should not allow your fingers to be placed inside the loop of rope when holding the toggle as is shown in Photo 4. If the kayak rolls, the rope will twist around your finger (Photo 5) and could cause you to seriously injure or lose your finger. To prevent this from happening, you could wrap the rope with tape so that there isn’t enough room for your finger to slip between (Photo 6). I have also seen kayakers who have threaded a single rope from the the kayak to the toggle rather than making a complete loop (Photo 7). I personally don’t care for this option since it causes the boat to dangle unevenly from the toggle when carrying and I suspect that it may be more prone to failure if the knots aren’t tied carefully.
Are there any sharp edges on the kayak or deck fittings that may be causing the rope on your end toggles to fray? This is often a problem with fiberglass boats in which the toggle rope is threaded through a hole that is drilled through the ends of the kayak. Both of the ropes shown in the photos below will need to be replaced. When replacing the rope on the kayak in Photo 9, you would want to try to smooth the area around the hole openings to try to prevent the damage from recurring as quickly. The rope on the handle in Photo 8 is too short and should be replaced with a longer piece of rope.
On whitewater kayaks, the handles are used for slightly different purposes, but the need for strength still remains paramount. The handles on most whitewater kayaks today are made of metal and are bolted through the deck (Photo 10). They need to be incredibly strong so that they don’t break as they provide crucial attachment points for rescuing kayaks that are pinned in a rapid. However, in whitewater paddling, you want to avoid having things on your kayak that could get snagged on rocks or branches in the river. As a result, most handles today are mounted nearly flush with the deck of the kayak with a recess molded into the kayak deck just below the handle. The older handle style pictured in Photo 11 poses more of a potential snagging hazard. It is more difficult to hold onto either of these handles while swimming through a rapid, but whitewater paddlers are less inclined to hang onto their kayaks in the event of a swim. They or their paddling companions should hopefully be able to retrieve the kayak downstream, if necessary.
So hopefully you have gained a little respect for the lowly end toggles on your kayak, and have a little better idea of what constitutes a good solid toggle, and which toggles may need some improvement. In Part II of this series, I’ll show you how to replace some end toggles and handles that have become worn out and broken or just need an upgrade.