Call For a Tow


By Tom Neale, 7/27/2006


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The guy was coming back for a second swipe. He’d just finished running past the marina with his stern squatted down into a hole so he’d throw the biggest wake that his boat possibly could. Then he turned around and came back to do it again. But he didn’t get far this time. I guess he figured that if he took that red day marker on his right side coming in, he ought to take it on his right side going out. Makes sense doesn’t it?

Not only did he not have a clue about how to run his boat, he didn’t have a clue about sea gulls’ knees. When you can see those knees while the birds are wading, you know they’re walking in shallow water. As was bozo, a moment later, barely up to his ankles--walking all around his nice new boat, wondering how he was going to get home. He was also probably thinking that maybe he should have turned off his motor rather than leaving it idling high and dry. And then it died for good. And—surprise surprise-- nobody was volunteering to help from the marina across the channel.

I’m sitting here typing this, holding on to the monitor screen with one hand. No, I’m not out in the ocean today, not even in a bay or sound. I’m at a dock and yet another fellow boater just went by dragging a mountain. And, yep, he was going slow, but he was going at precisely the right “slow” for his boat to dig a big hole in the water and throw the maximum wake of which it was capable. He probably figured he wasn’t throwing a wake because he was going “slow.” Never mind that he didn’t look around astern to see the damage. He probably just “figured” he was doing OK. Or maybe he didn’t give a darn.

I thought a second or two about going out on deck, rushing to my stern, yelling obscenities and waving my fist. It might be fun and it would give me a chance to vent for a few minutes. But life is short and I really don’t have fun acting like a jerk every time somebody else acts like a jerk. (I do well enough all by myself.) So I just watched him out my porthole as he plowed on down the channel, leaving sailboat masts violently whipping back and forth and power boats ping ponging off pilings.

People who do this fall into several categories. Probably the largest category is called “Clueless.” They really don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t know that there’s “slow” and “slow” for boats and that if you slow down so that your stern’s digging in you’re probably going to throw a huge wake which can damage property and hurt people. Unfortunately, these folks are usually also “clueless” about a lot of other things on a boat, like how to tie a line, how to set an anchor, how to use the VHF and the beat goes on.

Some of these are just getting into boating and need a little friendly help from their friends, (not to mention a good training course). It isn’t unusual to see these folks go by throwing huge wakes, oblivious in their joy of being “captain of their own command,” while people on the dock and other boats are yelling curses, flipping the bird and worse. The people in the boat are often so clueless that they think it’s all a friendly “how de doo” and smile and wave back. “Look Martha, that nice man standing there on that sinking boat is waving at us.” Usually these people, when they finally do understand, become better boaters, good friends and good neighbors on the water.

Then there are those who do have a clue but who just don’t care. These types show up wherever you go and in whatever you do. They’re selfish, they’re not nice, and they’re a lot of other things I could say but won’t. These are much in the minority, but all it takes is one to ruin your day.

Then there are those who do care, but care to be malicious and “rock that rag boat” or “rock that little dippy motor boat.” These usually qualify for the appellation of “bad guys.” Interestingly, when you get a chance to talk with them, they also frequently qualify for being really far down there on the lower level of the IQ pool.


1. Always assume that wakes are going to happen and be as prepared as you can.

2. Don’t expect larger boats to always slow down when they pass you in wide open waters. Their skippers may feel that if you’ve got plenty of room to turn into a wake you should.

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We see the “clueless,” the “don’t cares” and the “malicious” every year as we head north and south on the ICW. Sometimes they cause severe damage to boats and property ashore, and sometimes they hurt people really badly. We’ve seen people ashore and in boats do things to take care of the problem. We’ve heard them call the authorities. This usually involves the inconvenience of following through, but it can be effective. We’ve heard marinas call bridges down the way and ask the bridges to hold the offending boats there until the marine police or local sheriff arrived. We’ve also heard of various forms of “self help,” which often is not the way to go.

Some say, “Hey, you are on a boat and you choose to be on a boat. You don’t choose to be in an RV and certainly not a house. If you wanted to be totally stable, maybe you should be sitting in one of those. Rocking and rolling comes with being on a boat, just like high altitude comes with going to the mountains.” There’s a little truth to this and I’ve learned to live with wakes over the years.

But a big wake at the wrong time is very different from normal seas. A bad wake thrown by a boat has very different characteristics than a swell in the ocean or a wind wave anywhere. And also, you can’t be rigged for open water or for storms all the time. On any boat, there are times when you stand down and are entitled to expect to not be thrown on your beam end. These times include when you’re in marinas, in anchorage areas and in confined waters such as parts of the ICW or narrow creeks or channels. And a bad wake at the wrong time can do damage in a much different manner than waves at sea for which you’ve prepared. So there is a point when it’s OK to get upset.

But I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon time and time again. People who operate boats like this generally get theirs just from the way the world works. I can’t even remember the number of boats driven by these folks that we’ve seen high and dry on a sandbar or high and dry in a haulout facility with missing running gear, or being towed minus a radar arch, or sitting at a dock with a fuel tank that they’ve just topped up with fresh water, or suffering from various other forms of natural retribution that occurs just because what goes around comes around—especially on the water. Driving a boat on the water involves a lot more natural risks and problems than many realize. I’ve seen this so much over the years that I sometimes smile when I see them in action. I know they’ll soon wise up, or they’ll probably soon wish they were doing something for which they’re more suited—like maybe riding tricycles around in circles in an empty parking lot, looking for seagull knees in the mud puddles.

Copyright 2004-2006 Tom Neale