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Old 31-05-2018, 14:06   #1
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Sea Tow: Only for milquetoasts?

A Sea Tow boat passed me the other day and it made me wonder about their service.

Their memberships, popular among occasional pleasure boaters in the USA, are $180 per year and entitle the member to free on-water assistance under a fairly limited set of specific circumstances and within certain financial limits.

It seems to me that most of the situations they cover are ones that I would expect to be able to resolve without their help.

The inland lakes where I've spent most of my time until now have (or had in the years I was there) a fairly strong mutual aid culture. People would get tows from passing boats if they were disabled.

Are they worth a closer look? Or are they just for the unprepared and inexperienced?

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Old 31-05-2018, 14:16   #2
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Re: Sea Tow: Only for milquetoasts?

They pulled my drunk teenage ass off a shoal about 20 years ago.

So it was certainly worth it to me then, especially since the tide was going out. Their ability to get all that horsepower into very shallow water was also nice.

Oh but I was *definitely* unprepared and inexperienced.

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Old 31-05-2018, 14:16   #3
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Re: Sea Tow: Only for milquetoasts?

In over 30 years of sailing on Lake Ontario I've never required a tow BUT in my travels up and down the ICW I've used TowBoatUS more than a few times.

I would not venture out of Lake Ontario without towing insurance. I prefer TowBoatUS to Seatow. It may be that your boat insurance has a clause that includes towing. On an inland lake I would not bother getting extra towing insurance.
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Old 31-05-2018, 14:35   #4
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Re: Sea Tow: Only for milquetoasts?

In Florida I had Sea Tow... well worth it. But get the good package. An experienced offshore sailor, I ran aground a few times. Most the time I figure I can get off. But once, in the ICW south of Miami I ran aground hard. The bottom was not mud as much of the ICW is but hard sand. I tried everything. Finally called Sea Tow. Surprisingly they had trouble getting the boat (47 ft) off also. Finally he said he would try one more time. He attached to the halyard at masthead and the side of the boat. heeled the boat over big time and dragged us off bumping and banging. Incidentally, it was the same GPS line I used entering that harbor the afternoon before (Stadium) I must have just snuck in and missed by inches I guess, not a lot of Tide down there.
Another time I bought the cheap package and ran out of diesel in the ICW (long story, new boat) It was about 1 mile to a marina with fuel. Sea Tow advised me my package didnt cover it and it would be $600 for one mile tow. I told them to pound sand and towed with the dingy out of the ICW and spent the night anchored there. Dingied to get fuel next am.
"I spent most of my money on Booze, Broads and Boats. The rest I wasted" - Elmore Leonard

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Old 31-05-2018, 14:40   #5
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Re: Sea Tow: Only for milquetoasts?

Sea Tow is great in a place with skinny waters and shifting sand!!

We had it the whole time we were cruising SW Florida and it surely paid for itself many times over. The water is so skinny that you just can't go anywhere without taking risks you would never take if you didn't know help was around the corner.

I don't believe I could even get within sight of land there in my present boat
"Parce que je suis heureux en mer, et peut-Ítre pour sauver mon ame. . . "
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Old 31-05-2018, 14:57   #6
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Sea Tow: Only for milquetoasts?

Since I have had bigger boats I have always had it, but never used it.
There did use to be a culture of helping each other, and it has to some extent gone away, I assume due to Sea Tow and Boat US existing.
I almost had to use it once, got stupid and ran aground with my CC years ago. I was talking on the phone with Sea Tow answering questions and being advised that if I was hard aground, they couldnít help. I asked for a definition of hard aground and she couldnít give me one. I was telling her I couldnít get myself off, did that mean hard aground?
Meanwhile Bubba showed up with his pontoon boat and pulled me off.

I only have it, cause I know it will be thousands of $$$ if I need it and donít have it. I have seen them charge others that much. I have towed others that couldnít afford it more than once, and was followed closely by Sea Tow and the FWC like I was doing something illegal, FWC never asked if they could help, which back in the day before Sea Tow they did all the time.
I donít think they were FWC then, maybe called game wardens?

Before Sea Tow and Boat US, the USCG used to help also, but now that they exist the Federal Government bows out cause they would be interfering with a Business.
I know this cause the US Army used to have what was called MAST, or Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic, what it was was Military Huey Medevac birds would respond to Civilian traffic accidents and transport to the Hospital.
Due to the size of the aircraft etc. UH-1 could carry far more equipment than most of the Hospital little helicopters, but MAST is gone, they were taken to court and made to stop, cause the Hospital couldnít compete with a free Huey.
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Old 31-05-2018, 15:01   #7
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Re: Sea Tow: Only for milquetoasts?

We cruise full time and are 10,000nm from our home in Miami but we draw almost 8ft and when near home we rejoin SeaTow as we enter Biscayne Bay.

We get a ‘welcome home Moon Dancer’ and the Sea Tow owner in Dinner Key usually comes out in the tow boat to greet us. He has been known to provide a boat taxi service for my wife. The last time we used them we got our anchor tangled with the mast and rigging of one of the many derelicts sunk in a hurricane.

However, the fact that there is one honest owner does no alter the fact that many Sea Tow franchises are predatory.

"Remember, experience only means that you screw-up less often."
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Old 31-05-2018, 15:24   #8
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Re: Sea Tow: Only for milquetoasts?

Hi, Jammer,

I notice you're in the Minneapolis area, a far cry from the East Coast. I think you should talk with the owners of similar size vessels to yours, and learn what they do. In many areas, there is still camaraderie of small boat sailors, and I have no reason to believe that is not true of where you are.

Also, the ICW is a place of frequently shifting sands, but your area's sand and mud banks may be fairly stable, so the decision may depend somewhat on the geography.

However, if you're planning to exit the Great Lakes and continue down the ICW, you might consider some form of towing insurance, as it appears to be both shallow and to have shifting sand banks.

Whether you are ready to extract yourself from a mistake, if you have the boating skills, you mostly can, or not, is something you have to look inside to see. We've got ourselves off a lot of sand or mud banks over the years. However, as you consider my opinion here, understand that we did offshore cruising without any kind of insurance for many years, and it was a very different feeling for a California girl who had always had insurance for everything. I think that American urge for insurance has, if anything, increased over the years. It may be a factor in your considering whether or not you want towing insurance, pushing you towards it when you don't really need it.

If you are comfortable with reading your charts, and have got good at relating what you see on the chart to what is there around you on and in the water (like rocks that can sink you, and sand banks), then maybe you don't need it where you are. Depends on your confidence in your skills, and your area. Nothing at all to do with "milquetoast". It is not manhood that is in question when you question values, but a host of other traits.

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Old 31-05-2018, 15:48   #9
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Re: Sea Tow: Only for milquetoasts?

I went through Cape May, NJ a few years back and I remember the Tow Boat US guys sitting on top of their tow boat like a bunch of vultures. A friend of mine bought towing insurance and he used it a lot. Only three times to get out of the Chesapeake Bay and a couple of times on the ICW. He finally ran the boat aground in the Bahamas and sold the boat. We are all a lot safer now.
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Old 01-06-2018, 05:54   #10
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Re: Sea Tow: Only for milquetoasts?

We have been "Gold" Members ("Unlimited Towing") of BoatUS since the start of the program in the 1980's. While we have not needed a tow (thus far), there are many other benefits to the membership that we do take advantage of including discounts on fuel and transient mooring/dock fees that off-set the cost. And, sooner-or-later the inevitable need of a tow will more than justify the expense, regardless of where one happens to be.
"It is not so much for its beauty that the Sea makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from the waves, that so wonderfully renews a weary spirit."
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Old 01-06-2018, 06:17   #11
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Re: Sea Tow: Only for milquetoasts?

It's insurance.

Personally I would never go without it, although I've yet to need to use it.

When one towing event could easily cost more than 10-20 years of premiums, I think it's a pretty fair deal.

I've probably run aground a dozen times in my current boat, exclusively in mud. Been able to get off every time but if I'd gotten really stuck just once...
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Old 01-06-2018, 06:26   #12
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Re: Sea Tow: Only for milquetoasts?

Sea Tow for milquetoasts? Sure. Just like life jackets, EPIRBs, emergency flares. Heck! Carrying a VHF is probably for milquetoasts. Real men don't need no stinkin' help from nobody never!
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Old 01-06-2018, 07:04   #13
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Re: Sea Tow: Only for milquetoasts?

Even for our small boat, the annual insurance includes a tow membership. I haven't ever needed it, but I know other small boat owners who have had problems and needed it.

Sort of like AAA/CAA membership I imagine; the annual charge isn't peanuts, but its peace of mind. And cheaper than one a la carte tow.
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Old 01-06-2018, 07:29   #14
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Re: Sea Tow: Only for milquetoasts?

I have a catamaran sailboat (at least I did up until a few weeks ago), and a flats fishing boat (250 hp outboard). The sailboat draws less than 3-1/2 feet and has been aground twice - both times in the ICW. Both times towed off by Tow Boat US, using my insurance. (Otherwise, est cost $700 per incident.)

I am also on a fishing forum, and I am amazed by how many posts there are of people thanking their "fellow sportsman" for towing their fishing boat for hours after they spun a hub, or ran aground, or whatever. One poster who was the good Samaritan said he towed a boat for three hours, and then when they approached the dock the towed boat ran into the cowling on his outboard and cracked it, costing $1000 for him to replace. To me, pay your $180 for the insurance, and don't expect me to waste my day towing your cheap a**. It's a $70k+ fishing boat, and your expectation is that some other boater is going to be your insurance?

Only for "milquetoasts?" No, for those boaters that can gauge the cost of insurance vs probability of needing it, and don't depend on others to bail them out.
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Old 01-06-2018, 07:31   #15
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Re: Sea Tow: Only for milquetoasts?

When I was repowering our boat, I purchased the top-level package from Tow Boat US and I used them to to tow our boat back to the yacht club when the engine was out (it took time to prepare the engine room for the new engine and I didnít want to pay for yard fees and slip fees). Once the engine room was ready, I had Tow Boat US tow the boat back to the yard - both tows were covered by the package I had bought.

Our 6í6Ē draft was challenging at times in the ICW so we purchased coverage from SeaTow - they donít make you wait 30 days for the policy to become active like Tow BoatUS does. We were watching the charts closely and confirming depths on Active Captain when we ran hard aground in a place where we should have had plenty of water. SeaTow arrived within an hour and after a gallant effort was able to pull us free once I unfurled the genoa and sheeted it in tight. Without that coverage, the tow would have cost us over $1,100.

Fair winds and calm seas.

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