The Fight for Price Transparency Will Continue

The Stop Sea Piracy campaign was established to advocate for reasonable reforms and price transparency that would give Florida’s boaters a greater peace of mind on our state’s waters. Thanks to many of the campaign’s advocates and Florida lawmakers Sen. Dana Young and Rep. Shawn Harrison, legislation was introduced during the 2018 session targeting the unethical practices of disreputable maritime salvage and towing companies.

The Stop Sea Piracy bill was passed overwhelmingly by the Florida House of Representatives and advanced through seven committees, but unfortunately did not become law this year. However, the campaign was tremendously successful in raising awareness for an issue that affects so many Floridians, gaining support from legislators who are committed to bringing transparency and accountability to the maritime salvage and towing industry and peace of mind to Florida’s boaters.

The fight for safe boating and price transparency will undoubtedly continue. We are confident that Florida’s lawmakers will persist in their efforts to fight for Florida’s boaters and we are excited to keep advocating for consumer protections. We encourage individuals who have had unfair experiences with these companies to submit their stories on the website.

Could lawmakers force much-needed transparency on pirates?

Nobody likes to get scammed out of thousands of dollars, but that’s unfortunately what happens on Florida’s waters, according to Rep. Shawn Harrison.

That’s why he is sponsoring the Salvage of Pleasure Vessels Act, HB 469, which passed its final committee stop in the House yesterday, clearing the Government Accountability Committee easily with a 21-2 vote. Harrison’s legislation would help shut down a predatory and scammy practice where some maritime salvage and towing companies will provide assistance on the water to recreational boaters without disclosing the potential costs beforehand.

That wouldn’t be so bad, except that the costs of these services – which sometimes take only minutes – can range wildly from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars, and most boaters have no clue what they’re getting themselves into. The Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Dana Young, has called the practice “modern-day piracy” and many of the large commercial salvage companies have staunchly opposed the added consumer protections.
Continue reading…

Boat towing and salvage restrictions bill passes committee

House Bill 469’s splash at the House Government Accountability Committee Tuesday afternoon worked out to whether people consider boat salvers to be heroes or pirates.

They may appear to be heroes when they’re pumping out someone’s pleasure boat to keep it from sinking, and then maybe towing it back to safety, and possibly saving lives while they’re at it.

But when it’s time to pay the cost of the rescue?

The typical salvage award, based on centuries of maritime practice and law, is 5-10 percent of the boat’s value, attorney Rod Sullivan told the committee.

So when Eric Hall of Tampa got a letter from a lawyer demanding he pay a salver $30,000, for what Hall said was less than 10 minutes of pump work on his boat, House Bill 469 and its counterpart Senate Bill 664 were inspired. The sponsors state Rep. Sean Harrison and state Sen. Dana Young, both Tampa Republicans, said the bill was to combat “modern-day piracy.” Continue reading…

$30K for a 10-minute water leak job? Legislation targets maritime assistance charges

TALLAHASSEE — A $30,000 bill from SeaTow started Florida fishing boat owner Eric Hull’s campaign for a state law aimed at stopping maritime assistance services from charging what he and others believe are exorbitant and hidden fees for help on the water.

“I’m the reason for this legislation,” Hull said. “I just couldn’t believe this was legal.”

But SeaTow and other maritime assistance services are pushing back, claiming their terms of service are clearly spelled out in membership agreements like the one Hull had signed with SeaTow. Routinely, those memberships cost from a little more than $100 to nearly $200 annually, for services including towing, on-water jump-starts, bringing fuel for an empty gas tank, or freeing a grounded boat.

At the root of the conflict over the legislation is admiralty law, the federal law that governs maritime salvage operations. In some instances, such as damage that could lead to disastrous consequences for a boat, or rough weather that puts maritime assistance personnel in danger, that law comes into play. In those instances, assistance companies can charge fees to boat owners that can be as much as the value of the boat. Continue reading…

Pricing rule clears murky salvage costs

When you’re out on your boat and there’s a problem, it can be a scary situation. As a salvage operator, I’ve seen countless situations where boaters have required assistance. But needing help shouldn’t be an invitation to get ripped off by a predatory operator, and that’s why I support price transparency legislation for boaters.

The legislation would require maritime salvage companies to give boaters an estimate before providing service. This is important because many boaters aren’t aware of the costs of some of these services or what situations constitute a salvage claim. Continue reading…

Dana Young: Florida’s boaters deserve consumer protections, too

As an avid recreational boat owner and sixth-generation Floridian, I know there’s no better way to enjoy our state’s spectacular waters than taking your boat out.

And I’m certainly not alone — Florida is home to almost 1 million registered boats, and every one of them has an owner who delights in our beautiful coastline and lakes. Unfortunately, the fun of boating can be spoiled when predatory companies take advantage of a boater in distress.

Many boaters pay for memberships with maritime salvage and towing companies in order to be covered for services like fuel delivery, towing and so on. But sometimes these companies seize on the opportunity to unfairly classify assistance as a “salvage claim,” a classification that lets them charge outrageous and unexpected fees based on the value of the boat, not on the value of their actual services. These fees can sometimes end up costing tens of thousands of dollars for what should be a relatively simple job. Continue reading…

Protect Boaters

FL KeyNoter Editorial

For many boaters, the term “salvage claim” may be an unfamiliar one, but for me it was a costly reality that I experienced last fall.

On September 10, Hurricane Irma made landfall on the Keys damaging many boats, including my own. My boat was secured in a Marathon marina and, although it fared better than many, the hurricane blew some of the hatches off and brought a significant amount of rain, allowing water to get caught in the bow of my vessel.

Approximately four weeks later, I decided to call a maritime salvage and towing company to help remove the excess rainwater. Continue reading…

Help for Boaters Against Modern-Day ‘Pirates’

Marine towing and salvage

Help against modern-day piracy

As an avid recreational boat owner and sixth-generation Floridian, I know there’s no better way to enjoy our state’s spectacular waters than taking your boat out. Unfortunately, the fun of boating can be spoiled when predatory companies take advantage of boaters in distress.

Many boaters purchase memberships with maritime salvage and towing companies in order to be covered for helpful services. But sometimes these companies unfairly classify assistance as a “salvage claim,” a classification that lets them charge outrageous fees.

But here’s the real shocker: Because the cost isn’t disclosed up front, these companies can stick boat owners with extreme salvage fees after the fact. This is a case of powerful companies preying on the vulnerable and unsuspecting — an act of modern-day piracy. I recently met with a constituent who was charged $30,000 after one salvage company spent less than 10 minutes providing assistance. Continue reading…

Forget the Somali Coast – Florida Might be the Sea Piracy Capital of the World

Most modern-day sea piracy occurs near the port of Djibouti, just north of the Somail coast in Africa. The port is near one of the busiest shipping routes in the world, which happens to be adjacent to the near-lawless nation of Somalia. The combination results in regular attacks from desperate pirates looking to hijack ships and steal valuable cargo. But there’s another lucrative pirate market just off Florida’s coast: the maritime salvage and towing business.

In a state where the economy depends on tourists flocking to Florida’s waterways aboard ski boats, fishing boats, charter vessels, diveboats, parasail operators and countless other watercraft, it’s vital that boating and waterborne activities remain within a family’s budget.

But outrageous stories of abuse stemming from from predatory business practices have begun to circulate in Florida’s capital city, far from the relaxing beaches and emerald green waters off the coast of Key West or Destin. Continue reading…

Senate Advances ‘Modern-Day Piracy’ Bill Requiring Marine Towing Estimates

A Senate bill seeking to control overcharging by marine salvage and towing companies passed its first committee Monday — despite some industry concerns.

SB 664, sponsored by Tampa Republican Dana Young, will require written cost estimates — if requested by customers — before a salvage or towing company can provide work costing more than $500.

Young filed the legislation last month to prevent what she called “modern-day piracy.”

“The actions of a limited number of these companies amount to a form of modern-day piracy, and it must stop,” Young said. “Unfortunately, there have been some terrible abuses in a system that many boat owners rely on.”

Young said consumers throughout the state feel “misinformed and misled” by ambiguous salvage claim fees that pop up when a boat owner requests last-minute aid on the water — particularly in a state such as Florida with an abundance of waterways and boating. Continue reading…