Who We Are

By Tom Neale, 10/13/2011


Tom Neale's logs have a new name and home on BoatUS Magazine. We know Tom has a loyal and devoted readership, so we wanted to share his tips and insights with an even bigger audience! For the latest articles, click here for Onboard With Tom Neale.

We joined BoatUS in 1978. We'd been into boating since the early 1950s, and in 1978 had a 41 foot Gulfstar Ketch, along with an assortment of dinghies and other craft, some of which floated better than others. When we joined we were primarily interested in the "deals" we could get on boat stuff and in the fact that we wanted to support an organization that lobbied for issues of importance to boaters. It seemed to us, even way back then, that too many people saw boaters as fat cats who were easy targets when anyone needed a scapegoat. It also seemed to us that too many politicians and bureaucrats, who knew absolutely nothing about boating, were making laws and regulations that seriously affected boaters. So we also joined to have more of a voice.

Later we came to see the value to us of the BoatUS insurance program. As years passed we heard word of mouth reports from boaters who had suffered losses and who had been treated fairly and well by the BoatUS insurance people. We learned that many of the people who made the claims decisions were also boaters. And we became more and more impressed by the people on the "CAT Teams" (catastrophe) who went into harm's way after hurricanes to assess damage and get relief to insured. And I'm one of those freaks who actually reads policies rather than just looks at prices. There are a lot of weasel words in insurance policies which sometimes mean you don't have the exact coverage you think you have. (After all, they're written by lawyers aren't they?) I came to the opinion (and this and all here is only my opinion–you should form your own) that I liked what I read in all that ink better than other policies I had seen.

Tom Gets A Tow from TowBoatUS
Since 1978 we've seen changes in the organization. For example, it got out of the retail store side of its business. I'd like to assume this was not only a business decision but also because, among other reasons, that this didn't dovetail very squarely into its main mission. BoatUS plays an active boater's advocate role as to product complaints, product safety issues, recalls and many other related issues. It seeks to represent the user (you and me), not the manufacturer. We think that this has been invaluable over the years.

The TowboatUS service is, in my view, invaluable. Over all the years we've only had to use it once. That was when our old 160 HP Perkins suddenly dumped all its cooling water into the forward cylinder, leaving us stranded on the side of the ICW. But considering what we pay and what we can get if we need it, I wouldn't think of being out there in any of my boats without this service.

Another example, probably little understood by some boaters, is the BoatUS Trailer Club and its trailer towing service. As I understand it, if I'm pulling my Mako on my trailer and my car breaks down, or my trailer breaks down, probably neither my car insurance nor my towing service membership for my car will pay to haul off my trailer. So I could get my car towed to a garage, but my trailer and boat would be left sitting on the side of the road.

There are many other facets of BoatUS, but, despite how this may sound, I'm not trying to write a BoatUS advertisement. I do want to comment on a facet that most of us, as members, perhaps don't fully appreciate. It's the people who make it all happen. You've probably seen pictures of the headquarters at 880 South Picket Street in Alexandria, Virginia. The best description that I can come up with is that it looks kind of like a factory… or an industrial office space. And in a way it is. But once you walk inside you begin to sense what more there is in the building because of the people, so many of whom, like you and me, are boaters. Now, that's special. You get the feeling that it's not merely a business entity pretending to be something, but that it's a for–real type of organization, because of the people. I'm not an "employee." I don't work in the building. But I've been fortunate enough to meet some of these folks because you've been kind enough (and tolerant enough) to read my stuff here and in other places. Among those that I've met, here are but a few representative examples.

There're people like Terri Parrow Botsford who heads up the internet section. She spent much of her growing up on a boat with her family. There's Bob Adriance who heads up Seaworthy and handles a lot of other jobs. He sails regularly and would have me to believe that he still surfs, although I've opined to him that I think he's too old. (OK, I'm a little older than him and a little jealous.) There's Margaret Podlich, V.P., who heads up government affairs. She's passionate about sailing, including competitive sailing. There's Bernadette Bernon the Consulting Editor of the BoatUS Magazine. She used to be editor of Cruising World Magazine and then she and her husband took off on their sailboat, headed south from Rhode Island, and cruised around the Bahamas and Caribbean and parts of South America for several years. Mike Vatalaro, the executive editor of the BoatUS Magazine takes off with his family in his cabin cruiser every weekend he can, and Claire Wyngard, also of that section, is an avid sailor. Ann Dermody, Managing Editor, has cruised power and sail. Scott Croft has lived aboard, I think he still does. And there's Bill Oakerson, CEO, who works incredibly hard to help to make it all work. He gets on the water whenever he can and dreams about being there more. And of course, there's Richard Schwartz, Chairman, who started it all. I've only skimmed the surface.

Tom’s Tips About BoatUS

1. I have just one. Tell people you know, who aren't members, to join up. It'll not only benefit them, it'll benefit you and the rest of us.

Click here to see all of Tom's Tips

The point is that all these people, and so many more, are people that you'd like if you got to know them, and you'd probably find that you had much in common. And that's very unique for a business organization this big.

The headquarters building is honeycombed with offices and teeming with functions. There are different entities within the overall umbrella, as is the case with most large organizations, and I don't pretend to know about all the sections and divisions. I'm not an inner sanctum sort of person. I'm a member, like you. But I see that the business part of it doesn't diminish the fact that this organization is composed of a lot of good people who really do help to make my days and your days on the water better.

And we just lost (and "lost" isn't the right word for it–I don't believe that way) Nancy Michelman who was with BoatUS for years and most recently served as President. You will read about her in the notices sent out to the membership. So I won't repeat that here. But when there is a group of people (which group includes you and me) with so much in common and so dedicated to good days on the water, we share something that is very special. And we miss those who, even if we didn't know them personally, were very important to our lives.

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