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If a boater is in need of a tow – that should be easy. Toss them a line, let them fix it to their vessel, attach it to your boat and head in, right? Some “good samaritans” have been injured or have found themselves in court because the vessel in tow was damaged or the passengers were injured.

Towing can be dangerous. If a fitting breaks loose, it may become a projectile and could cause serious injury. Take notice of Coast Guard and commercial towboats – they have screens at the sterns of their vessels to protect the crew.

The Coast Guard allows private companies to perform assistance towing and will usually help to contact them. They are companies who qualify with an operator who has a captain’s license with a special towing endorsement. If the disabled vessel is not in immediate danger, they usually request you to stand by until help arrives.

If you find yourself in a position where conditions are deteriorating and you feel you must tow a vessel in distress, here are some tips:

  • Make sure all persons are wearing PFDs.
  • When preparing for the tow, do not fasten the line to one side of your stern. Take a smaller, sturdy line and create a bridle with the tow line attached. Make sure the towline is positioned so it can slide on the bridle line Failing to do this will put all the strain on one side and cause the tow to be very difficult.
  • Have the vessel you are assisting fasten your towline to their bow. If you cannot, have them place a bridle on their bow cleats and tow using the bridle.
  • Have all persons on board the vessel seated low with their weight evenly distributed.
  • Have the operator remove the key from the ignition and set the motor to straight ahead.
  • As your tow progresses, you may have to adjust the towline length so your vessel and the one your towing are in step with the waves.
  • Stay in contact with the Coast Guard or other emergency resource so they are aware of your progress.
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9 Responses to Boater In Need of a Tow

  1. Richard says:

    You missed a biggy!!

    DO NOT USE YOUR ROPE!

    MAKE THE DISABLED WATERCRAFT USE THEIR ROPE.

  2. Wayne Shropshire says:

    I am not a USCG Master nor do I have a license to tow but I’ve been boating on the Chesapeake Bay for over 50 years and my question is; why would you leave anyone on board the distressed vessel rather than bringing them on board your vessel?

    • capt. Fred says:

      Liability is the answer.
      What if they are injured on your boat and what if their boat sinks while you have them aboard.

  3. capt. Fred says:

    I TOO HELD A 100 GROSS TON LICENSE WITH TOW ENDORSEMENT. YOU ARE RIGHT TO ADVISE IF YOU FIND A VESSEL IN NEED OF ASSISTANCE IN AN EMERGENCY SITUATION YOU CANNOT WATCH THEM SINK BUT IF YOU DO OFFER TO ASSIST. NOTIFY LAW ENFORCEMENT AND THEY WILL HELP IF POSSIBLE OR AT
    LEAST MONITER YOUR PROGRESS. I AGREE IT IS ALLWAYS BEST TO WAIT FOR A PROFESSIONAL

  4. Cpt. Bill says:

    I am a 100 ton captain with a towing endorsement. I work part time for a national towing company. Bear in mind that when you agree to tow, you are accepting responsibility for whatever happens to the vessel you are towing, as well as all persons on board. Also, it is illegal to accept compensation for towing without a valid USCG Master Captain’s license with towing endorsement. Unless the vessel and/or it’s occupants are in real, immediate danger it is best to leave the towing to a professional. You can call the Coast Guard or local law enforcement. They will put the vessel captain in touch with a professional towing service.

    Cpt B

  5. Mike reyes says:

    I live on a lake ,it supprise me how many people want to be towed to the other end of the lake ,(15) miles and do not want to pay for your fuel,I quit towing ,

  6. Lynn Mankin says:

    Really sound advice Randy. Towing is fun.
    I’m retired 100ton capt with towing endorsement. I follow you to stay current
    Thanks
    Lynn

  7. Kevin Haddock says:

    Dennis Turner, you may be correct as far as if you are in the business of towing, but if the distressed boat picks up your line, under the ancient rules of admiralty, you are entitled to a fair compensation for the tow regardless. However, if you pick up their line, you are entitled to nothing

  8. Dennis Turner says:

    You need a USCG tow endorsement on your Master Mariner Credential to charge $.

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