CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla., January 19, 2015 – When you spend every day on the water helping recreational boaters with unexpected breakdowns get back to the marina or launch ramp, eventually you’re bound to run into trouble. That’s when the routine turns into a life-saving emergency, and like any Good Samaritans, the crews of the TowBoatUS and Vessel Assist towing fleets must act. The on water boat towing service recently honored towing captains from Buffalo, NY and San Diego, CA, for their heroic efforts at a ceremony held at the annual BoatUS Towing Services conference in Clearwater Beach, FL.
All were honored with “Woody Pollack” awards, named after a well-respected towboat captain in the fleet who died at an early age. Said BoatUS Vice President and Director of Towing Services Adam Wheeler, “We are not the rescue business, but our Captain’s actions save others. We’re pretty proud of them.” Here are the details:
TowBoatUS Buffalo, NY: Capt. Bob Macko
June is a great month for boating, but on New York’s Lake Erie last spring, the water was still cold due to the late thaw. Heading out of Sturgeon Point Marina, TowBoatUS Buffalo Capt. Bob Macko was at the helm of his red towboat when a nearby fishing boat reported a capsized boat over the VHF radio. Capt. Dick Spoth, Macko’s boss and owner of TowBoatUS Buffalo says proudly of his local on water towing company, “We always run on emergencies or if someone’s in trouble. We stand a good chance of getting there first.”
As the Coast Guard began its response, Capt. Macko looked out over the waters and spotted the capsized vessel behind him, turned the helm hard over and put the throttle down. While well intentioned, the fishing vessel misidentified Captain Macko’s approaching red towboat a Coast Guard vessel, causing communications confusion with responding Coast Guard Sector Buffalo.
Arriving on scene in just a few minutes, Macko picked up his radio’s mic and began to advise the Coast Guard, but was ordered to “hold his traffic.” Recognizing the confusion, Macko spoke up anyway giving precise location coordinates to watchstanders, then began to retrieve the three aboard – none of whom were in a life jacket in the 55-degree water.
The owner of the vessel had been thrown hard forward into the cuddy, barely escaping, while another was briefly caught under the rolling boat. While floating in the water, the owner said he recognized Macko as the captain who had provided routine towing assistance the year prior.
While clambering aboard the red towboat, describing the sinking, the boat’s owner said one second it was smooth seas, then it had felt like someone had thrown an anchor off the port side of their moving vessel which submersed and rolled. As he sat down safely on the towboat with his two uninjured friends, he dug into his pocket, retrieved his soaked wallet, and slowly pulled out his BoatUS membership card. He was very proud to be a member – even though the subsequent boat salvage wasn’t provided under a towing plan. It’s simply being a case of being a Good Samaritan.
After dropping off the three safely ashore, Capt. Mackie with the help of Capt. James Spoth went back out, righted the vessel, dewatered it and towed it back to port.
Vessel Assist San Diego: Capt. Brett Thompson
Dotting the tops of the coastal California mountain range are a series of VHF radio towers, or “high sites,” connected to the 24-hour Costa Mesa dispatch center of Vessel Assist, an on water recreational boat towing company able to provide tows back to port, drop fuel or give a battery jump. With their high elevation, the high sites provide VHF radio communications far out to sea, beyond normal VHF radio range – a unique aspect not found with any other on water boat towing company.
At noon on one Friday last November, one of these high sites in San Diego picked up a distress call. The vessel Heather Anne was hailing “Mayday Coast Guard,” multiple times with no response. At the Costa Mesa dispatch center, Assistant Vice President of Towing Heather Sheward heard the calls and silence that followed. Sheward picked up communications and learned that the Heather Anne was a commercial vessel whose captain had suffered a stroke.
Vessel Assist Shelter Island, a towboat in the Vessel Assist San Diego fleet, was in the vicinity running dive operations on a salvage job. As Costa Mesa dispatch continued communications with the vessel, Vessel Assist Shelter Island, with Capt. Brett Thompson at the helm, immediately headed in the Heather Anne’s direction at 35 knots. Upon arrival, half a mile from Point Loma, Thompson along with the help of Capt. Shane Thompson and Mate Tom Butler, brought the stricken captain aboard and raced for shore.
Just barely 21 minutes after it started, the patient was being safely transferred off Vessel Assist Shelter Island to awaiting EMTs. The stricken Captain survived.
About BoatUS Towing Services:
Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) is the nation's leading advocate for recreational boaters providing over half a million members with a wide array of consumer services, including on water towing assistance provided by TowBoatUS and Vessel Assist. Combined, these two towing fleets offer boaters, anglers and sailors the world’s largest network of towing ports with over 300 locations and over 600 towing assistance vessels — three times larger than the closest competitor.