I, like most people, am not the athlete I used to be. I lettered in baseball during high school, but now, throwing any sort of object makes me feel like my shoulder is made from rusty, decades-old iron.
Not making it to the major leagues isn’t the end of the world for me, but like most sailors, I need to be able to effectively move lines all around the boat I’m working on. Throwing the bowline onto a dock is doable, but there is little I can do by myself if one of my lines needs to be run over the top of something, or thrown a long distance in case of an emergency. To me, there is nothing more frustrating than a wet line that didn’t make it all the way to its intended target.
That’s why I and the rest of the crew at The Teak Rail were so excited when an oblong package from Specialty Products Co. showed up at our doorstep a few weeks ago. Inside the box was a tool that is invaluable if your arm works about as good as mine, and we had endless fun testing it, too.
After testing it and loving it, we’ve decided that the SS Series Line Launcher is the best rope gun a sailor can buy.
Although I did feel an awful lot like Batman when using the SS, you need not be the savior of Gotham to use this launcher effectively. It uses one of three different .22 caliber blanks to fire a projectile up to 100, 150 and 250 feet, depending on which color blank used. Attached to the projectile is a spool of 600 feet of 150-pound test nylon rope. After firing, reloading is as easy as grabbing and inserting a new spool of rope.
Line launchers are incredibly useful in emergencies when your boat must be towed in or tied off from far away. Having one of these guns could prove to be the difference between being dragged out by a current and being towed safely to shore.
The SS comes with a pistol-type grip and a full-length shoulder stock to increase accuracy when firing. Mike, Chef Len, John and I all had a shooting competition with this launcher that went well into the evening that we first got it in the mail. I won’t fully disclose who won, but unfortunately it wasn’t me, even though were all pretty much crack-shots with it.
Included in the launcher kit are two different kinds of missiles. The aluminum missile weighs eight ounces and has an aerodynamic shape. It flies the farthest, but shooting a half-pound of aluminum at a fiberglass hull makes me cringe just thinking about it. The plastic missile is made from dense polypropylene foam and covered in rubber, and it’s the one we recommend while aboard your vessel to minimize dents and damage.
We loved testing the SS. It is hands down the best launcher that we have ever seen, but we picked up some alternatives to test out to see if we could find any weak points in the SS. In short, we couldn’t, but in the spirit of competition, there were some valid reasons for picking up some of the other line launchers available.
The first alternative we looked at is the Bridger C85 Shoulder line gun. If you’re a fan of Chevy Chase’s Christmas lights, this line gun is perfect for you. If a line gun could be opulent for the casual sailor, this is certainly the one. It’s big. It’s heavy. It’s got a wood stock and fore-grip, and besides the line spool, it looks just like a real shotgun. The C85 can shoot a line up to 750 feet, depending on rope and projectile used. Excessive is the first word that came to my mind when I first saw John fire this, and I think it is just too heavy-duty for what we were looking for. If you work aboard large commercial ships or for the Coast Guard, the C85 definitely delvers the strongest punch of the line launchers we looked at.
With that increased strength, though, comes a lot of regulation. The C85 is classified and regulated in the same category as any normal firearm. Not too big of a deal if you work on an oil rig and you need your lines thrown, but the casual sailor is forced to go through many more hoops when travelling with a firearm. Without even considering price, the C85 is just not the right fit for what we were looking for.
On the opposite side of the firepower spectrum is the Big Shot Line Launcher. The Big Shot is essentially an eight-foot pole with a slingshot attached to the end. A weight is attached to the end of the line you’d like thrown, and the weight is shot like a water balloon towards your intended target. In addition to one-piece, eight-foot poles, the Big Shot can be bought with a two-piece fiberglass pole in case you need more portability.
The Big Shot was fun to use just like the SS, but ultimately the consistency of shots drops significantly when fired manually. It is infinitely more reusable than the SS and the C85 because it doesn’t use bullet blanks, but the performance of the Big Shot is simply not comparable to the other two launchers we tested.
Unlike the C85 launcher, the SS is not classified as a firearm. This means there are not stringent regulations on it when checking into foreign ports, and the Coast Guard will be out of your hair far faster if you get boarded and don’t have to declare a firearm.
There is just simply no other product available that matches the performance of the SS. I was easily able to hit targets over a hundred feet away after only one practice shot. When purchased as a kit, the SS comes with a waterproof carrying case that holds two missiles, two spools of line, the launcher, three canisters of blank bullets and a cleaning kit.
In conclusion, the SS is an incredibly useful tool for those (all) of us unable to throw lines over 100 feet. It has a compact, durable design that splits in two for maximum portability. The launcher is incredibly accurate with little experience shooting it, and I had a tough time leaving the SS in the office when I went home because of how fun it is to shoot. If you think you could use a stronger arm to launch your lines, the SS line launcher is the best rope gun a mariner can buy.