Bad Day at Hillsboro Page 3

Bad Day at Hillsboro - Sea Tow - Part 3
Bad Day at Hillsboro

Part 3: And what about $30,000 for about an hour’s work?

By Ben Ellison


Photo: SCS Associates/Tom Berryhill
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The towing industry is certainly aware of this confusion, and Sea Tow, TowBoatU.S., and Vessel Assist all have detailed information about the difference between service towing and salvage on their Web sites. The latter two organizations go a step further by requiring their contract captains to inform a member when the circumstances are perilous enough to warrant salvage. Morgan questions this policy, saying that this information is hard to impart and potentially counterproductive, especially in the noise and bustle of a boat just aground with waves and wakes threatening further damage. What if Manin--as he fervently wishes--had been informed of the salvage claim and had decided to go in on his own? Might he have incurred worse damage or perhaps had his insurance claim rejected for refusing help? Or did the salvage reward motivate Estey and Morgan to be deliberately vague?

And what about $30,000 for about an hour's work? The insurance professionals I interviewed confirmed the gray aspects of salvage, saying that pay-outs to legally astute salvors can be pretty "generous," but also note how many valuable hulls they've saved. They advise becoming informed about salvage contracts or calling before salvage commences, if possible.

Morgan took me for a spin in his robust twin-diesel jet towboat (specially built to work Hillsboro Inlet after he lost a prop boat in a desperate salvage attempt there), regaling me with the costs and hassles of operating a six-boat, 20-man towing and salvage operation. He also told me that some other operators, even ones in his own parent Sea Tow organization, are actually the "pirates" some boaters more skeptical than Manin presume them to be, an accusation I heard often during my research.

Looking back on that Sunday at Hillsboro, we shouldn't forget that two towboats were on scene in minutes. That's excellent service, regardless of their intentions. Now, to avoid the sort of painful surprises that Manin suffered, we should understand that these captains wear two hats and that sometimes those hats may not appear to be white.

Ben Ellison has been a delivery captain and navigation instructor for nearly 30 years and was recently editor of Reed's Nautical Almanacs.

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This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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