Top 60 Boating Tips by Boating Magazine

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


You're aground in the bay, your mast has broken and you're out of fuel. Or, your boat is sinking, at the dock. No problem, the Coast Guard will come to your rescue. Wrong. Okay, you can call the Harbor Police. Wrong, again. Well, how about a commercial towing service. Right.

Wait a minute, you say. We pay taxes for these services. Well, you're partially right there, but budget cuts and funding reductions have required many governmental agencies to reduce their services to the public. The Coast Guard had many additional duties added over the years, without adequate funding to support all their activities. Cuts needed to be made, and unfortunately, recreational boating had to bear, what would seem, a disproportionate share of the service cuts. And, commercial vessels fared no better. The primary mission of the Coast Guard always has been, and remains, safety to life on the high seas. If a situation at sea presents a direct and imminent threat to life, you can count on the Coast Guard to respond. But, they are not a commercial tow or salvage company. Commercial towing companies have done battle over the years with governmental agencies, accusing them of taking away their livelihood by offering free services. Deep budget cuts and liability issues settled the matter. The Coast Guard and other governmental agencies wouldn't be providing services offered by the private sector.

This also holds true of the Harbor Police. Their primary mission is law enforcement in San Diego Bay. They will also respond when there is an imminent danger to life, but, like the Coast Guard, they are not a commercial tow or salvage company. It isn't that they don't want to help, simply that economics and legal issues preclude any help that the private sector can provide. The Harbor Police, and the Coast Guard, will stand by if needed, until commercial help arrives, and assist to reduce danger to life, but will not perform commercial services.

So, now where does this leave you, the recreational boater? Actually not that bad off, so long as you recognize the differences in services offered. and avail yourself of those services judiciously. Most commercial tow services provide towing, ungrounding, dewatering, salvage and other related services, but be prepared to pay. These services can be very costly. Vessel Assist, SeaTow, and perhaps others, offer towing and other services on an annual fee basis, similar to the auto club on shore. Be sure the one you choose provides you with the benefits you want, such as towing to your port of choice, and the coverage area fits your needs. Boat/US offers members a basic tow allowance as part of membership, with higher limits available at an additional cost. Some marine insurance policies can have towing added at an additional cost.

The main point is knowing who to call, and when. If there is a matter of safety to life, including sinking, fire or medical emergency, call the Coast Guard immediately. If you need a tow, run out of gas or are grounded, you'll need a commercial service like those listed above. You can still call the Coast Guard, but you'll be referred to a commercial service. And. a word of advice: If you're in doubt as to the seriousness of the matter, or if you think the problem will likely escalate into a life threatening emergency, call the Coast Guard first. They will get the details and advise you of the proper party to handle your situation. They'll even contact a commercial service for you, if needed.

Look at this philosophically; you wouldn't expect the Highway Patrol to tow your car home, nor the National Park Service to tow your RV home. So why expect the Coast Guard to tow your boat back to port. The days of free services are gone forever, but you do have choices available to help you enjoy a worry free boating season.

Safe Boating.

1 comment:

Marilynn said...

Firstly, the title made me want to scream out "GHOSTBUSTERS!"

Secondly, I didn't know that you couldn't just call the harbor for towing and such. I guess it's just like on the road, except you call a two boat instead of a tow truck.