Although modern propulsion systems, sophisticated GPS units and onboard safety equipment offer peace of mind on the water, it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan just in case something goes seriously wrong. And trust us when we tell you that if you spend enough time out at sea, then you’ll eventually be confronted with a mechanical issue that you simply can’t overcome. It may be something as simple as a faulty fuel gauge, or maybe you mistakenly forgot to turn off your battery switch. Whatever the case, sometime in your boating career you will find yourself dead in the water. When the unfortunate incident occurs, who are you going to call?
While Good Samaritans have been known to tow helpless boaters back to port, without the proper equipment and skill set this practice can be extremely dangerous. This is especially true when attempting to unground a vessel. More harm then good can actually be done with greater damage to the vessel and the fragile environment, not to mention jeopardizing the safety of both vessels’ occupants.
For example, the service agreement does not apply if the member is only a guest on a vessel, which in our opinion makes sense. It is the vessel’s owner who ultimately should be responsible for that vessel.
Around Florida, the two main players in the professional towing assistance game are Sea Tow and TowBoatUS. Both offer reliable service that you can count on, but there are key differences in regards to membership and assistance that may or may not play in your favor. While both providers offer assistance to the general boating public, if you are not a member, then the essential services they offer come with a hefty price tag. Membership levels and coverage vary with both providers and the verbiage that defines the membership agreements can be quite confusing, so make sure you thoroughly understand the membership details and definitions. If you don’t have the proper coverage and membership for your particular problem, then you may be in for a sad surprise when it comes time to make that dreaded call. Bottom line is: make sure you’re covered with a membership to a towing organization.
Sea Tow has been in existence since 1983, and was established immediately after the U.S. Coast Guard stopped responding to non-emergency calls. Since their inauguration, Sea Tow has grown exponentially and now includes 28 franchise locations around the state of Florida with well-equipped vessels operating out of over 70 ports, both inland and coastal. While Sea Tow offers membership options for both recreational and commercial operators, their most popular membership is the Gold Card. For only $149 a year, the Gold Card provides membership benefits for any recreational vessel under 65-feet that has an engine and is registered to, or owned by the member. Any person operating a covered vessel is entitled to receive membership benefits for that vessel. The Gold Card member may also use his/her privileges on any vessel that he/she charters, rents, leases or borrows. The Gold Card membership includes free towing, jump starts, fuel drops, prop disentanglements and dock-to-dock tows when your primary boat needs to be towed from your home port to a repair facility. Sea Tow does not impose distance or dollar limits in your home area, and they also offer Universal Towing Coverage. This benefit is great for boaters who routinely travel to distant waters because it provides coverage in regions where Sea Tow does not yet have a franchise. With Universal Towing Coverage, Sea Tow will arrange and reimburse for assistance towing up to $250 per hour and $5,000 per incident.
With coverage that seems too good to be true, it’s important to understand the limits of Sea Tow’s Gold Card Coverage. For example, the service agreement does not apply if the member is only a guest on a vessel, which in our opinion makes sense. It is the vessel’s owner who ultimately should be responsible for that vessel.
While TowBoatU.S. has 67 locations in the state of Florida, their membership levels aren’t quite as simply spelled out as the aforementioned provider, however in no way is their service compromised. Their most basic plan features an $18 annual fee, with a $24 membership fee. With this level of membership, TowBoatU.S. will cover $150 per towing incident. Considering the hourly rate and time associated with most towing operations, it is in your best interest to step up to the next membership level or you will be forced to cover all expenses accrued over $150. Their most popular plan is the Unlimited membership. For $125, plus a $24 membership fee, TowBoatU.S. covers 100-percent of the cost associated with any tow at sea, to your home dock or repair facility. Unlimited membership also covers a tow from a restricted use dock to your home dock or repair facility. However, if you’re boat is broken down at your home, Unlimited membership only covers 50-percent of the cost of a tow to a repair facility.
The next option is the Unlimited Gold Card and features all of the same benefits of the Unlimited service package in addition to covering 100-percent of payment for a tow from your home dock or mooring to a repair facility. While TowBoatU.S. defines their unlimited service area as at least 50 coastal miles, most local providers offer extended service at no extra charge, so be sure to check with your local branch. TowBoatU.S. also states that every one of their towing levels provide service for any boat which the member owns, borrows or charters, however if you are a guest, again the owner of the vessel is on his/her own.
Before selecting a marine assistance provider, contact your local Sea Tow and TowBoatU.S. operators and look closely at the membership options offered. Word of mouth is a great way to guage the quality of service, which can vary by location. The truth of the matter is that you can’t go wrong with either organization. Even if you never need the services, you can’t beat peace of mind on the water for far less than a dollar a day.