In a recent comment thread on Facebook, several kayakers expressed the view that they don’t like people carrying their kayaks by the end toggles because they felt it causes undue wear on the toggle cord. I want to dispel this myth. While there is good reason to carry a kayak by holding onto the boat itself, it isn’t to keep from damaging the toggle. The toggles are designed to be used for lifting and carrying a kayak as well as for providing a place to grab onto the kayak securely during certain safety and rescue maneuvers. Using the toggles to lift a kayak makes it easier to lift with a straight back which is the safe way to lift. Once standing, I normally transfer the bow or stern of the kayak into my arms, but there are certain kayaks which are not easily or comfortably carried in this way so carrying by the toggles is required.
You will not cause damage to your end toggles if you use them to lift and carry the kayak. The two primary sources of damage to toggle cords are: UV exposure and stress when transporting your kayak on a vehicle. You should regularly inspect the cord on your end toggles for evidence of this damage. Look for fading and fraying of the cord, and check to make sure that the knots aren’t coming untied. There isn’t much that can be done to prevent UV damage unless you never take your kayak outside. However, you can reduce wear on your toggles when transporting your kayak by not attaching bow and stern lines to the end toggles and securing the toggles so that they don’t blow around while driving.
The reason that you should try to carry your kayak by holding onto the kayak itself is that most people do not take the time to inspect their toggles and so it becomes more likely that the cord may break while you are carrying the boat. This can result in damage to the hull of the kayak when it hits the ground, especially if it is a composite boat. Given the low cost for a couple feet of cordage and the ease of replacing it, it could be argued that you should just go ahead and replace the cord on your end toggles every year as part of basic kayak maintenance.
To replace the cord on most sea kayak end toggles, first cut the existing cord and remove it. When cutting the new piece of cord, leave it longer than you think you will need. It’s always easier to cut it shorter once you have installed the cord. The best way to cut the cord is with an electric cord cutter or “hot knife” as it seals the ends of the cord as it cuts. If you don’t have an electric cord cutter, get one because they’re really cool and you’ll use it a lot!! (Sorry, that’s my inner gear geek coming out). If you don’t have an electric cord cutter you can seal the ends by holding them briefly in a match or candle flame until the cord ends just begin to melt.
Thread the cord through the hole in the boat or the deck fitting that holds the cord. Then take one of the ends and push it up through one of the small holes in the plastic toggle as in the photo. If your toggle is an enclosed tube, you will need to keep pushing the cord until it comes out one end of the tube. Tie a secure overhand knot leaving at least a half-inch of extra cord beyond the knot so that it will not untie itself. Repeat the same procedure with the other end of the cord pushing it up through the other small hole in the toggle until it protrudes from the other end of the toggle.
This is where it can be very helpful if you have left your cord longer than it needs to be. Tie the second knot loosely leaving a long tail of extra cord that will stick out of the toggle tube. Pull on the cord until both knots have receded back inside the toggle. Check the length of your cord to make sure the toggle hangs down far enough so that you can easily hold on to it while swimming, but not so long that it will be dragging in the water when you paddle. If you need to make adjustments to shorten or lengthen the cord, just pull on the extra tail of cord that and retie the knot. Once you are satisfied with the length of your toggle cord and the position of your knots, you can pull the tail out one more time,tighten the knot, trim the cord back to within about a half-inch of the knot, and seal the end with a flame.
If you are unsure how far you want the toggle to hang down, you can leave the tail sticking out for the time being until you have gone out to practice some rescues and boat swimming. Once you are happy with the length, you can go back and trim the tail later.