Part 2: “Whiner Stories”
By Ben Ellison — April 2003
While these sorts of stories go on and on, some readers certainly had good things to say about the towing services. One allows how he’s already had reasons—grounding, running out of fuel, engine failures—to call his tower four times and has always been treated very well and at no charge. He plans to be a member for life. Even the ALL CAPS writer quoted above, who does an East Coast roundtrip in his sportfisherman every winter, notes that his two bad experiences were in stark contrast to the exceptional service he received when mired in some North Carolina waterway mud:
That operator came to us with a clean boat, took depth soundings with a painted pole, mapped our escape, checked to make sure my coverage was up to date (it wasn’t), updated my coverage, and guided us through that part of the I.C.W.
One correspondent objects to the entire article and suggests that we shouldn’t be publishing such “whiner stories”:
Ellison’s slanted article did a disservice to the emerging towing industry. Companies like this have brought legitimacy to a great service for the boating community... If generous awards weren’t there, no one is going to come to the rescue.
Yet others acknowledge that some problem exists, whoever’s at fault, and suggest practical solutions:
Ellison’s article was amazingly unbiased... where the boat owner is nervous, the price of assistance should be given to him in writing. This could be done very easily if the tow operator used plastic capsules passed with the tow line. One capsule might say, “This is a covered service,” while another stated, “This is a salvage operation and the cost will be based on the value of the saved boat.”
Read altogether, the mail seems to confirm the ambivalent conclusions of my first article, but further suggests that the issues are so rampant and so strongly felt that all parties should be trying hard to improve the situation. Boaters need to realize that marine salvage law has a 3,000-year history with few parallels ashore, while the phenomenon of mixing salvage with recreational service towing is only a little more than a decade old. We have not fully adapted yet.
For instance, one reader took me to task for not stating “what degree of damage the (Hillsboro) hull suffered to confirm degree of ‘peril.’” He wanted details of engine and bilge condition to better “understand what steps to take with a towing service to determine when a rescue can be viewed as salvage operation.” But it doesn’t work that way. Salvage law recognizes that a vessel in peril might suffer no damage whatsoever because the salvor worked so quickly and successfully.
Similarly, many readers felt that the $30,000 Hillsboro settlement must be due to insurance company laziness or poorly crafted regulations or something—it could not be “right.” But, in fact, judges have repeatedly affirmed these sorts of claims. Salvage law, which will not be changed easily, treats claims not as pay but as reward, and the salvor’s own time and expense are fairly low on the prioritized criteria for determining that reward.
This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.