When safety is at stake, let boaters make an informed decision

Last year, I was out on the water in my 22-foot fishing boat and experienced an issue with the bilge pump that ultimately caused my engine to cut out. I called for a tow from a well known and national maritime salvage and towing company and they gladly towed me the 15 miles back to shore. The bill I received for this tow was about $1,200, which was pricey but reasonable in my opinion. Thankfully, my insurance covered this cost and it came with an annual membership to this national company. I was glad to have insurance and now glad I have a maritime salvage and towing membership.

Several months later – in August of 2016 – I took some clients out onto the water again for a fishing charter. I noticed that there was a slight crack in the hull that was causing water to leak into the boat. The progressive influx of water caused the engines to shut down. This was worrisome, especially considering the need to keep the clients aboard safe and at ease. I began communicating through the available channels to request assistance, including contacting the Coast Guard. I was assured that a maritime salvage and towing company – the same company I dealt with previously – was sending assistance.

Thankfully, we were able to control the leak by using buckets to bail water out of the boat. After we removed enough water, the engines finally restarted and we were able to get back underway. As we made our way back toward shore, every few miles we used the buckets to pail out more of the water.

It had been about an hour since the maritime salvage and towing company had been contacted, and we were about eight miles from shore when their boat arrived. They asked if we needed assistance, and we explained how – even though it was taking some time – we were easily making our way back to shore. He offered us a pump to save us some time, and to follow us back to land since we didn’t need a tow.

The company’s representative never set foot on my boat and simply handed us a pump. The fix was simple and only took a few minutes, and every few miles we would pump enough water out of the boat to continue our journey back to shore. The representative told us he would bill my insurance – so imagine my shock when I learned that his minimal efforts ended up costing more than $3,800 because technically it constituted a salvage claim.

This is terribly disappointing. I wasn’t able to make a truly informed decision on whether or not to accept this service, because he never provided – never even hinted at – what the total cost would be. I also believed that whatever cost I might incur would be covered under the membership that was included on my previous tow.

While I remain truly grateful for the assistance, the episode convinced me that this kind of service should be required to identify the potential costs up front. It is deceptive to offer assistance like this company’s representative did, without providing an estimate of the potential costs involved.

To this day, I’m not sure whether I would have rejected the services from the company – it’s certainly possible I still would have accepted the assistance to ensure that my crew, my clients, and I made it safely back to shore. However, I would have been able to make an informed decision, and I would have felt better about the entire situation, if an estimate had been offered.

There’s no denying the importance of having services like these available, and everyone who spends time on the water appreciates the safety net they provide. Nevertheless, in the future I hope maritime salvage and towing companies are held accountable and required to provide an estimate that will give boaters greater peace of mind and allow them to make informed decisions on whether to accept or reject these crucial – and costly – services.