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Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Kevin Crum frequently crosses the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel from his home in Virginia Beach to launch his johnboat on the seaside of the Eastern Shore. From there, he traverses a shallow stretch of water to reach a remote barrier island where he successfully catches jumbo-size red drum in the surf.
I have taken the trip with him, so I know it is not the kind of venture that an average guy would tackle. The good part is, with the risk comes the reward of pretty much having the big copper-hued fish and the remote setting to yourself.
The bad part is, if something goes wrong; well, something went wrong on one of Crum's trips. When he got ready to head home, his outboard engine wouldn't start. It was getting dark. No other boats were in sight, nor likely would be. Crum had his young son with him.
There was a time if you needed a tow you'd get on your VHF radio and call the nearest Coast Guard station, like the one in Cape Charles a few miles north of Crum's position. But since 1983, the Coast Guard no longer will reach out to you unless it is an absolute emergency. Being stuck alongside a barrier island in the dark isn't considered an emergency, except to the guy who happens to be trapped there.
Thank God for cell phones and tow packages. Crum had both.
He got on his cell and called Sea Tow in Virginia Beach. About 1 ½ hours later a husky looking, yellow craft bathed in bright lights was hooking up to Crum's boat and towing him back to the dock. I happened to be arriving at the dock from a different direction in time to see Crum plant his feet on dry land.
Crum estimates that the tow would have cost him nearly $700, except he is a member of a boat towing plan that operates much like an auto club, the kind that will send somebody out to jumpstart your car. His membership fee is less than $200 a year, he said. It doesn't take but one instance--a dead battery, disabled engine, empty fuel tank or grounding--to make that a super bargain.
If you boat in out-of-the-way places, a tow package can give you peace of mind and save you money in the long run.
Some insurance companies that write boating policies offer towing services, as does mine. You might want to check your policy to determine what you have.
There also are towing packages that include roadside assistance for disabled boat trailers, which may be more important for many boaters that the boat-towing package. Most auto clubs don't include your trailer, but some boat policies do for a reasonable additional charge.
I can think of three times I have had trailer problems, while I have never needed a tow on the water.
These services may sound like something new, but Sea Tow has been around 30 years and has 100 franchise locations with more than 300 ports covered. BoatUS claims 300 locations, 600 vessels nationwide and 500,000 members.
Cell phones have passed VHF radios as the preferred way to call for assistance. Last year, BoatUS reported that it received 70,000 requests for on the water assistance. Seventy percent were cell phones contacts. A smartphone towing App allows the boater to program his phone so that at the press of a button it relays to the tow company his location, description of his boat and contract information.
If you boat on a freshwater lake where there is considerable traffic, chances are a fellow boater will be available to assist you, but if you boat in remote areas the cost of a towing package is a bargain compared to what you have to pay if you don't have one.
My thinking is you will get better service from companies that specialize in towing, but I haven't had to put that to a test. I was impressed with the service Crum received.
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