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Boaters, Be Sure Your Tow Or Salvage...

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Boaters, Be Sure Your Tow Or Salvage Is Legitimate!
Here’s a heads-up to any boaters on Lake Champlain unlucky enough to require towing or salvage services. Captain Randy LaValley and myself are two of the few Coast Guard sanctioned Captains that provide assistance towing on Lake Champlain. We can be reached at (518) 578-9273, 24 hours a day. In fairness I mention John Mott, a fellow Captain and one of our competitors, who is also endorsed and provides Tow Boat US services out of Rouses Point. There is also another Captain at Essex Marina who is approved by the Coast Guard. There may be others that I am not aware of. Last year there was a Sea-Tow business on the Vermont side but I’m told that Captain went out of business. I wonder why? Surely there is enough of a need to sustain a few Captains offering these types of services, even in spite of the high gas prices, luke-warm economy and rainy weather. The Coast Guard claims on its website that they respond to between 200 and 300 rescue and salvage calls on Lake Champlain per boating season!

When it comes to towing and salvage, only Coast Guard approved Captains are playing by the rules! The Code Of Federal Regulations mandates that towers and salvors on Federal waters like Lake Champlain be Coast Guard approved Merchant Marine Officers with at least an Assistance Towing Endorsement. When the season began we met with the Coast Guard, the New York State Police Marine Patrol and the Clinton County Marine Patrol to assure them that we were fully trained, sanctioned and equipped to provide rescue and salvage on a 24 hour, 7 day per week schedule. We have the utmost faith in these and other law enforcement agencies to assure that the Captains they refer distressed boaters to be Coast Guard licensed and assistance towing endorsed.

There are however reports getting back to us that some towing services are laughing in the face of the law and operating without Coast Guard credentials. We have no way of knowing for sure how these spurious tow operators were referred to distressed boaters. Perhaps the boaters in need were simply customers who called for assistance from their home marina port. It is legal to tow another vessel for free as a “Good Samaritan”. The truth is there are only a few marinas on Lake Champlain with Coast Guard Captains towing for them. The marinas are actually doing it illegally, especially if they are charging distressed boaters for the tow or salvage. In fact we have been shown photos of illegal tows (one was a tandem tow) and have heard from some boaters who claim that marinas providing tow services did not have the necessary qualifications. A few marinas are even towing without proper day shapes or towing lights, much less a license or towing endorsement. They may not even know that these lights and navigation aids are requirements! If an accident occurs while these unlicensed operators are towing or salvaging vessels there will surely be some interesting consequences.
We are trying to work in cooperation with all rescue and law enforcement agencies on Lake Champlain. Ultimately, it is not in our interest to name names or be whistle-blowers. It is certainly an awkward position to be in. We have jumped through the hoops and over the hurdles to be Coast Guard trained, approved and endorsed. We also pay for costly insurance to do these rescues. It’s really up to the distressed boater to specifically request a Coast Guard approved Captain with an Assistance Towing Endorsement; otherwise, they need not pay for the service. If they suspect fraud they should report the incident to the Coast Guard. I wish you all safe boating and may you never need our services. But if you do, you can be confident that you are in the hands of Coast Guard trained and sanctioned Captains who will do everything in their power to treat you fairly and protect your investment.

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