Transparency is Important on the Water

Before I could walk, I was on a boat and I grew up with the ocean at my door. Even now in my retirement, I thoroughly enjoy going fishing and shrimping – whether inshore on my skiff or offshore on my boat, the Nautical Gator. Knowing Murphy’s Law, I recognize that anything that can go wrong will go wrong – usually in the blink of an eye. That’s why I knew I needed to protect myself with the best boating coverage I could find, so I did what many boaters do: I purchased a maritime salvage and towing membership to make sure I had a resource I could call on in a pinch.

But as it turned out the service I purchased, widely known to boaters, isn’t all it claims. And in a state with 1,200 miles of coastline, there are untold thousands of Florida boaters who need to be careful before they get lured into buying into a towing or salvage service that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

After paying my annual membership fees for several years, I learned that the services which I was paying for were not all they were cracked up to be. In fact, it took me two years of asking questions to learn that the coverage I had been paying for wasn’t something I could really count on. The type of recreational fishing I enjoy often has me on the water day and night, heading several miles offshore. In those circumstances, I need to be certain that someone could come to my aid in an emergency situation or mechanical breakdown.

Unfortunately, I think some of these maritime salvage and towing companies sell a false sense of security.

In my case, the company I dealt with was [Maritime Salvage and Towing Company]. Although their marketing materials stated that “No time limits, distance limits or dollar limits apply within your home area,” the company’s leadership spent two years hemming and hawing and dodging my questions, before finally disclosing that they likely wouldn’t  make the trip to assist me in those circumstances. Their website and promotional materials never revealed this (and, in fact, implied the opposite), yet they were sure happy to take my money.

I’m sorry to say that my unpleasant experience with this company wasn’t unique – it turns out they don’t like to reveal how much their service will cost, how long it will take for help to arrive, or the conditions where they will not assist you.

While out shrimping one evening, I saw some boaters stuck on a sandbar in a river. The shifting tides made it impossible for them to get themselves off the sand. I offered to help, but they had called a maritime salvage and towing company and the company said help would be on its way shortly. Several hours later, the same boat – and its displeased passengers – were still stuck on the sandbar. I suppose if you don’t say when you’ll get there, you can’t be blamed for being late. In this scenario, the company’s vessel never even showed up and they had to wait all night for the tide to turn around before floating off the sandbar.

More recently, I saw an older couple struggling to get their small boat engine restarted amid a swift current. The current was about to push their disabled boat into barrier rocks. Fortunately (it seemed), a maritime salvage and towing company’s vessel happened by and asked if they needed assistance. The couple was grateful, but asked how much it would cost since they didn’t have a membership. Despite a stressful back-and-forth, they couldn’t get a firm price, so they ended up declining the “offer” of assistance and were left just a few feet from the rocks. They could have been in dire straits if I hadn’t been there to help.

I’ve been a business owner, so I fully understand the need for companies to make a profit. Maintaining a boat and crew costs a lot, and it’s fair for people to pay a membership fee to secure emergency maritime services – and to be charged more if they don’t have a membership. However, people deserve to know how much something is going to cost and exactly what they’re paying for – before they make a purchasing decision. This helps consumers make an educated decision about a service that could potentially save them in a dangerous situation.

Many (perhaps most) maritime companies are very reputable, clearly outline their services, and offer quality assistance in a timely manner. Unfortunately, there are a handful of predatory companies out there can give the whole industry a bad reputation.

When consumers entrust their well-being and safety – not to mention their cash – to maritime salvage and towing companies, it’s reasonable to expect that they get some respect and transparency in return. In a state where so many enjoy incredible access to our beautiful waters, don’t boaters deserve this much?