Here’s the scenario: You headed out to Bahia Honda for the day. You chilled with your pals, drank some cold ones, ate an Italian sub drenched in oil and vinegar from the Publix deli to cure last night’s hangover, and then the sun heads down and you all pile aboard to head home.
Only the boat won’t start.
The battery’s as dead as a goldfish you won at a county fair when you were five.
What to do?
Start speed dialing on your iPhone or Blackberry ‘til you score a signal. When you get and answer on the other end, demand they “send a tow boat!”
“Usually their battery’s dead or they have a faulty field gauge,” said TowBoat U.S. Key West owner, Captain Sean Morely.
As he fields our questions from the sea The Key West Weekly learned Morley, an Atlanta native, was stationed in Key West with the Coast Guard for four years before he jumped ship to run a business.
“Mini-season is very busy for us. I couldn’t even tell you how many calls we field a day. We’re all standing on the docks ready to go, ready to assist,” Morley confirmed.
His operation runs all the way out past the Tortugas. Besides dead batteries, he deals with boaters running aground and missing the channel markers and end up stuck on top of the reef.
Nationwide, TowBoat U.S. is situated in nearly 300 locations – including Hawaii, the Great Lakes, and the Gulf Region – with 600 vessels ready to rescue stranded boaters.
According to Scott Croft, public affairs officer, the concept was created in the early 80s when the Coast Guard was faced with budget cuts. Congress passed a law saying the military could no longer do emergency towing.
“In the past,” Croft explained, “You could just call the Coast Guard if you ran out of gas. Then the question was posed, ‘why are we towing boats when we need to be focusing on life-saving, search and rescue, drug intervention, and immigration?’”
The year was 1983.
Today, migrant smuggling is still one of reasons Morley receives calls.
“They usually are south, requesting fuel, and their stories are vague. They’d rather contact us than the Coast Guard because they don’t want to get in trouble.”
Unbeknownst to the immigrants, Morley wet his appetite for the boating business as a Boatswain. Upon receiving such calls, he promptly calls the authorities.
“It was big for while when I first took over the company in 2000, but recently the Coast Guard has put a halt to it. At least in this area.”
Two of the main reasons TowBoat U.S. receives calls include:
1.) General Engine Failures
2.) Dead Batteries
“Or there’s water in the fuel operator, the sand belt broke, the water pump broke, or there are corroded wires,” Croft details.
He said in this stormy economy, folks are skimping on repairs.
“People put off buying a new battery or doing repair.”
So, his best advice: don’t skimp on maintenance and have a towing plan.
“If you don’t have one, it’s very expensive. $200 – $250 an hour without a plan. You’ll be charged from when the towboat leaves the home dock, finds you and brings you back. A national average of $600!” Croft made the case for membership. “You really can save yourself a chunk of money having a tow boat plan, which is $125 a year for an “Unlimited Saltwater Plan.”
Croft mentioned if your plan is to call some friends on your cell phone, you’d better have another plan. A catalyst could ruin your weekend and crush your checkbook.
The sunny side: Sean’s always curious to see what kind of quagmire you’re going to wind up in, and he’s sweet on the savin’.
“I would say that wakin’ up and not knowing what the day is going to be is the best part about my job, and I enjoy being able to help people come back to dry land.”
TowBoat Key West
Half the battle is locating the boaters. Their batteries are usually dead or they could have hit a rock or sand bar. “It varies,” said Captain Sean Morley, “I take several calls a day without any real rhyme or reason to them.”
“Doesn’t make a difference any time day or night,” TowBoat U.S. Public Affairs Officer Scott Croft reiterated. “Whether you need a jump start or ran into the reef, we’ll come get ya.”
TowBoat U.S. works like AAA. Boaters can pay a minimal annual fee for unlimited towing. Even if you trailer up to Lake Erie for some Walleye action you’re still covered!