Part 3: We can do better.
By Ben Ellison — April 2003
Education is key, starting with the basic knowledge that most every towing provider is also a salvor, and will probably act like one whenever your circumstances are beyond the “non-emergency” situations covered in your towing contract. Of all the skippers I’ve spoken to who’ve suffered salvage surprises, not a single one was well aware of the salvage/service distinction at the time of the problem. The Great Lakes gentleman added that no one at his yacht club seemed to know about it either and that he’d taken the Power Squadron boating course three times (once for himself, and once with each of his children), during which it was never mentioned.
We can do better. If you teach boating, please include towing and salvage in your curriculum. If you’re just a regular boater with a thirst for detail, go to the salvage section at www.safesea.com, where you’ll find a lengthy treatise on recreational salvage by maritime attorney Andrew Anderson, then share the knowledge with your mates. Consider also sharing copies of the U.S. Open Form Salvage Agreement that you can download from The Society of Maritime Arbitrators at www.smany.org. The contract clearly spells out the criteria for “no cure, no pay” awards and can also be used to specify useful alternate methods like fixed and hourly payment.
The towing and insurance companies can also do better. How about a flyer enclosed with every annual bill clearly explaining salvage claims, perhaps along with some of these real-life examples we find so disturbing? How about self-regulation to mandate disclosure of salvage intention? There’s also no question that at least a few individual towers fudge the gray line that sometimes separates salvage from service. Their parent organizations and related professionals should be doing whatever’s possible to get rid of them.
One reader suggests that pirate towers are driving boaters out of the sport, a gross exaggeration, I think, that quite ignores the invaluable assistance rendered by many of those brightly colored vessels. In the course of researching this article I came across the photo on page 92 of a towing captain receiving a U.S. Coast Guard commendation. Kevin Collins was underway at 2:30 a.m. when he heard a lone boater who had severely cut himself shout out a desperate “Mayday” on VHF 16. The Coast Guard happened to have a helicopter in the area, but without a rescue diver, and the disoriented caller was unable to give his position. Collins dropped his tow, used his radio direction finder to locate the victim’s 23-foot boat, and had him in the rescue basket within a half-hour of his call—very likely saving his life.
I find myself ending this sequel much as I did the original article.
We must all get educated on the sometimes shocking differences between
non-emergency towing and salvage. And we should probably trust that
at least some of the stories of misinformation and malpractice are true.
But shouldn’t we also keep in mind the true tales of service and
heroism like Capt. Collins?
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This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.