The best advice I ever received about boating was from a salty old captain years ago. He said, "Safe boating is simple: keep the water out of the boat, keep the boat off the bottom, and everything else can be worked out." Truer words were never spoken, but despite their best efforts, boaters fail at one or both on a regular basis.For this reason, we are fortunate to have access to professional towing services, covering most recreational boating waters in this country. Whether boating in the ocean near shore, or in most large inland lakes and rivers, assistance on the water is just a VHF radio or phone call away.
Two national entities Sea Tow and TowBoatU.S., along with a few smaller regional companies make up a network of towing operators ready to help you on the water during a boating mishap. Towing service is not inexpensive, with the cost of a response averaging $1,000. That's why most boaters take advantage of the annual membership programs these companies offer, where the cost of service is covered by their membership plan.
I absolutely recommend membership in one or both national companies. While Sea Tow and TowBoatU.S. have boats in most popular boating destinations, neither covers all areas. Having a membership with both assures you can access help in most locations. In joining, it is important to know what you're getting in return for your membership fee, what the service covers, and maybe more importantly, what it doesn't cover.
Although commonly referred to as such, a membership with a towing service is not insurance. Towing services offer no coverage for loss of your boat or boating equipment, nor do they cover personal injury or any sort of liability. Within the terms of their membership agreement, both national companies provide similar services to their members. While each differs slightly in what they provide, the basics they both offer are towing, fuel, jump starts for dead batteries and delivery of easily accessed basic parts for a mechanical breakdown.
It is important to understand having a membership is not a promise of rescue and is restricted to the services that can be provided by the equipment available in the specific area at the time of need. Each individual towing operator is an independent business, which provide services under an agreement with or as a franchisee of the national company. Their equipment could vary from small single engine center-consoles to medium sized commercial RIBs, or in some areas large offshore vessels.
For offshore assistance, all towing companies have limits on how far they can go to offer assistance, but it varies. In Sea Tow's case, they state: We do not have specific offshore distance limits. How far offshore Sea Tow will go to get you is only limited by the sea conditions, fuel capacity of our boats and our ability to communicate with you. If, for any reason, Sea Tow cannot respond, we will assist in arranging for an alternate provider and provide reimbursement up to $5,000 per incident. In most cases, if we are unable to respond no other commercial assistance provider will be able to either, so we will defer to the U.S. Coast Guard.
If you frequently boat offshore, know how you will communicate with the towing providers. In practicality, the offshore range they are capable of reaching could be up to 30 or 40 nautical miles from the towing company's base. Keep in mind this could be out of mobile phone or VHF radio range. It will do you no good if they can help you, but you can't reach them. Ask if the towing provider in your area can communicate with a satellite texting device like a Garmin inReach or a satellite phone.Occasionally a dispute between towing operators and boaters arises over the thorny issue of whether you simply needed a tow or whether the assistance is considered salvage. Both national towing services attempt to describe the difference in their agreement; however, despite their best efforts, it can still be highly subjective. If it is considered salvage, the terms of the assistance changes dramatically.
Your towing provider will likely ask a lot of questions before dispatching a boat in order to arrive properly prepared to assist. However, they cannot know the exact degree of assistance needed until they actually arrive on the scene and assess the situation. When they arrive to offer help, always ask the towboat captain if this is a tow or salvage operation. The difference in the cost and who pays the bill could be substantial.
Given the potential for subjectivity between towing and salvage, it is imperative that you know the nature of the assistance you're receiving. Salvage is historically and more importantly legally defined as the rescue of a boat from a peril at sea.
The definition of peril may take many forms. Typically, a marine peril involves a dangerous situation at sea, wherein a vessel may incur damage if it is left to the forces of wind, waves, weather and tide without prompt assistance. Any number of simple boating mishaps can quickly descend into peril if left unaddressed. What may have been a soft grounding on a sand bar can quickly become a salvage operation, with an ebbing tide and slight shift of the wind.
Marine salvage laws have existed for centuries. They were derived to incentivize salvors to come to the assistance of vessels in distress, thereby saving the loss of property and possibly life. Marine salvage laws date back to a time when most vessels at sea were commercial and have changed little with the growth of recreational boating.
Many boaters believe salvage laws do not apply to them and think salvage only applies to big ships, not their 33-foot express cruiser. Marine salvage laws apply to every vessel upon navigable waters, from a kayak to a 600-foot container ship. They are not limited to only vessels engaged in commerce. This opens all recreational vessels to claims for salvage rewards.
When selecting a towing provider, read and understand the terms you are agreeing to for dispute resolution. Many towing providers will ask the boat owner to sign a contract before towing. In signing these contracts, you may be agreeing to some form of binding arbitration, which is intended to provide for a quick determination of the appropriate amount of the salvage reward. You may also be acknowledging that the services provided will form the basis of a salvage claim, where the salvor could be entitled to a lien upon your boat in the amount of the claim.
Too frequently boaters discover the difference between towing and salvage when presented with a bill for something they believed was covered under a membership plan. Boaters also must be careful when accepting assistance from a passing boater. It is not necessary for a salvor to be a professional towing company. If you accept assistance from a passing boater, they may have the right to claim a salvage reward; legally these are referred to as chance salvors.
Assistance to boaters is offered regularly without any extraordinary needs or costs, but exceptions occur often enough. Read and understand the terms of service offered by your towing provider. The national companies offer excellent service within the terms of their agreements and individual towboat captains do their best to assist boaters for the least cost; however, sometimes assistance truly deserves to be salvage. Always protect yourself by knowing which you are receiving before you connect a towing company's line to your boat.
Nighttime on a boat can be magical. Everything, even familiar territory, takes on a new feel which can be strange but far from scary. In fact, boating at night not only lets you potentially venture farther in one outing, it can also become your favorite way to spend time aboard.
Boating overnight can include either navigating and maneuvering in the dark, or spending a safe night at anchor or in a slip. Let’s break down these two concepts and highlight some tips for how to do each.
Whether you’re coming back from a waterfront dinner, taking a moonlight cruise, or heading to a distant anchorage, you’ll need to be ready for nighttime operations.
1. Prepare the boat and check the safety gear
Locate all personal flotation devices (PFDs), put fresh batteries into your headlamps and flashlights and place the binoculars near the helm. Check that the engine, radio and electronics are in good working order. Test the running lights and bilge pumps.
Gather your crew and lay out the rules of engagement including staying in the cockpit, wearing PFDs and safety harnesses, and following the protocol for an emergency be it crew overboard, collision, fire, etc.
Agree on communications with the captain and set a watch schedule. Know how to call for help in case of an emergency. It’s best to not single-hand at night due to fatigue. If you must make a passage at night alone, set an alarm for every 30 minutes in case you drift off while standing watch.
2. Boat defensively
Visibility is reduced and your senses may play tricks on you in the dark. Distances are harder to judge, and boats, markers, and obstacles are difficult to see. Slow down and be methodical in your navigation. Familiarize yourself with the charts for the area where you’ll be boating well ahead of time and learn the aids to navigation you’ll encounter along the way. Learn your light signals (on other boats and on shore) before departure.
Preserve your night vision by using only red lights inside the cabin or in your flashlights. Scan the horizon a full 360-dgrees every 15 minutes – more often if you’re in a busy traffic area. Turn off music and listen. You may hear fog horns, whistles, bell buoys, or other boats approaching.
3. Keep an eye on key data
Is the engine running smoothy with a steady temperature? Is the bilge pump running more often than it should be? Is all gear (and lines) secured? Trust your instruments but make sure your chartplotter is updated and your radar and instruments are working before you leave the slip. You should have checked the weather forecast before departure but keep an eye on changing conditions.
4. Dock and anchor with caution
When maneuvering at night, don’t use headlights or spotlights until you’re close to your destination whether that is a dock or an anchorage. Use light too soon and you’ll destroy your night vision. As the old saying goes, approach a dock only as fast as you’re willing to hit it. Advise crew to move slowly and deliberately when stepping onto a dock or tying lines to cleats. Double-check knots and hitches before leaving the boat unattended.
It may be difficult to judge a good anchorage in the dark including how far from shore or other boats you are when you drop the hook and whether there’s a current running. Slow down and take good bearings, making sure you have room to swing. Be extra careful when working with the windlass at night when fingers, clothes and hair can get caught before you notice. You may need to set an anchor watch with your crew or set an anchor alarm on your plotter.
The best experiences
Nighttime is the right time on a boat for so many reasons. You may see phosphorescence as fish swim by or a night sky like you don’t experience on land. You may hear dolphins exhaling as they amble by. You may be rocked gently to sleep in an idyllic anchorage.
Most importantly, running through the night will expand your horizons. Once you stretch your wings, you can explore distant marinas where you can get a slip to get that good night’s rest aboard. (Check out Snag a Slip for slip reservations as you travel.)
The key is preparation, vigilance and a methodical approach to everything from driving to tucking into a warm berth. Then, enjoy all that the wee hours on a boat can bring.
Boaters are a fun loving yet superstitious bunch. For as long as mankind has sailed the seas, there’s been ceremonies to mark the launch of a new vessel. It’s how boaters celebrate welcoming their boats into the world, and ensure safe passages for a lifetime of adventures on the water.
The practice of christening boats actually started thousands of years ago in ancient Greek and Phoenician civilizations as religious ceremonies performed to ensure safety for sea-going vessels. These ceremonies date back thousands of years and varied around the world, some even involving human or animal sacrifice. Our current, less savage, practice of christening a boat with champagne arrived in 1891. It was Britain’s Queen Victoria who first smashed a bottle of champagne against a hull, launching the Navy cruiser HMS Royal Arthur.
Hosting a proper christening ceremony not only connects you to a nautical tradition rooted in ancient times, but is a reason to celebrate with friends and family. Here’s what you’ll need, and what you’ll need to do, to launch your boat in style!
-Your boat (It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway)
-Friends and Family to Join in the celebration ceremony
-Lots of champagne, wine or sparkling cider (To drink)
-A branch of green leaves (We’ll explain)
-A pre-scored ceremonial christening bottle in a fine-mesh containment bag (This ensures the broken pieces of glass don’t end up in the water.)
There are actually days on which you should NEVER christen your boat, or you chance bad luck and misfortune. As you’ll see, most of the days to avoid are based on religious events, and sailors and seafarers have followed these traditions for centuries. For that reason, you’d be wise not to break with tradition. Here are the days to avoid:
All Fridays – Yes, any Friday is considered bad luck. This is likely for religious reasons, as Jesus was crucified on a Friday. This may seem like an unusual reason. Even so, the US Coast Guard waits for the weekend to christen their new boats. It’s simply part of a long tradition, and boaters won’t break it.
All Thursdays– You may be aware of Norse mythology, and “Thor” the god of storms and thunder. It’s believed that holding a boat christening ceremony on a Thursday provokes Thor and turbulent seas. So, to avoid the rath of Thor, just pick another day.
First Monday in April– This day has another religious connection. It’s marked as the day when Caine slew Abel, condemning Caine to a life of wandering.
Second Monday in August– This day is denoted as the day God destroyed the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone.
December 31– It was on this day that Judas felt so much sorrow and regret, seeing Jesus condemned to death, that he committed suicide by hanging.
Once you’ve decided on a fitting day, go ahead and get out the invitations to gather at the location you choose to christen your boat. The most common places to hold a boat christening ceremony are marina slips, anchorages and moorings. And, you’ll want to make a quick maiden voyage if you’re christening at a location, being sure to rig the vessel before the ceremony, avoiding any possible delays or glitches.
Once everyone arrives at the boat, gather them together and prepare for a toast. If you’re deciding what to serve, boat captains traditionally served red wine when christening a boat. Today, a wide range of spirits are enjoyed, with champagne being the most popular. But some prefer other liquors such as rum or brandy.
With the guests gathered and their glasses full, it’s time for the toast. Begin by welcoming guests, thanking them for coming, and reveal the boat’s name. You can then say a few words about the boat. It’s common to talk about the merits of the boat, and where you plan to sail it. You can even include a poem.
Once the toast is done, you should lay the branch of green leaves on the deck. The branch symbolizes safe returns from your journeys, and serves as a good luck symbol. You don’t need to be concerned about what type of branch you choose – any branch with green leaves will do. The branch will need to stay on the boat through the christening ceremony and the maiden voyage. After that, you can toss it overboard.
After the toast and the laying on of the branch, it’s time for the most exhilarating part of the boat christening ceremony – breaking the bottle! First, move everyone to the bow (front) of the boat. Once there, the captain traditionally breaks the bottle somewhere over the bow – a cleat, anchor roller, or anywhere else. However, don’t break the bottle directly on the bow itself, as it can chip paint and damage woodwork.
If you’re not keen on breaking a bottle, you can also pour a bit of champagne, or your preferred drink, over the bow.
The fact is, no christening is complete until you take a maiden voyage of some sort. It doesn’t have to be a long one, even drifting out to your anchorage or mooring qualifies. Once you’ve done this, there’s nothing more to do but enjoy the congratulations!
If you bought a used boat that already has a name, and you want to change it, there are rules to follow as well. Again, boaters are a superstitious lot, and we don’t want bad luck and misfortune to befall your boat.
Before you plan a christening ceremony, you’ll need to thoroughly remove all instances of the boat’s old name and identity. You even need to completely remove the old name BEFORE you say the new name out loud, or bring onto the boat anything with the new name.
To remove the old name on the exterior, you’ll need to remove the exterior paint or lettering. To do this right, you’ll also need to check whether the boat has ever been repainted. If it has, you’ll need to get down to all the previous layers and literally scrape off the old name. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to simply paint over the old name. The same goes for the interior of the boat. Make sure there are no fixtures, badges, clothing, coffee mugs, engravings, upholstery, or decorations remaining with the old name. You get the drift! Now if you have paperwork like maintenance logs, receipts or cruising journals, you’ll also need to cover the old name with whiteout.
The rules of this tradition are so steadfast that if you get through the whole process, christen your boat and then find a trace of the old name, you must christen it again!
We know this is a lot to do, but for the love of your boat and maritime tradition, it’s worth it. So, let us be the first to say “congratulations” on your new boat!
Few items carried aboard your boat, embody the freedom of the cruising lifestyle more than your dinghy, or “tender” if you prefer. These often abused and rarely waxed little boats are a valuable part of cruising adventures. They allow you to moor or anchor out, enjoying the peace and quiet of a secluded anchorage, yet still take advantage of amenities on shore.
They take you on excursions through back water, narrow channels, and man- grove forests, too small or shallow for your primary vessel. And if you have a four- legged friend on board, you know not only the importance of getting them to shore, but oh how they love a dinghy ride.
They can even make stays at a marina more enjoyable. For instance, Dolphin Marina in Harpswell, ME, provides guests aboard boats in the marina with charts showing a half a dozen dinghy trips you can take around the islands of Casco Bay to scenic coves and remote islands that would be impossible to get the big boat into. And if you plan to cruise to the Bahamas, Caribbean or remote destinations, you need dependable transportation to shore.
The most important feature of a dinghy is that it must be easy to use. If it requires too much effort to launch and operate, you will be reluctant to anchor out as often as you might like. Ease of use is determined by several factors, such as whether you must inflate the dinghy, mount the engine, or need three people and a crane to lower it into the water. Many of these choices are determined by the size and configuration of your boat, but regardless of your boat’s size or your budget, you can create a setup that’s easy to use.
The choices for how and where to carry a dinghy fall into a few basic categories. If you do not have the option of a crane- style lifting device, you may be limited by the size and weight of your dinghy, but that does not mean you are relegated to the equivalent of a rubber toy boat. Efficient davit systems can be mounted on medium size swim platforms. These accommodate a variety of dinghy styles, both rigid and inflatable, and allow you to keep the engine mounted to the dinghy.
Also, hydraulic lift systems can carry a tender off your stern, but your transom must be capable of carrying the device, and your boat should be heavy enough to stay balanced with that much weight aft of center. If your boat meets those require- ments, the hydraulic lifts are about as easy to use as it gets.
Another option some cruisers choose is to tow a dinghy. While I’ll admit to having done this in protected waters, it’s generally not a safe practice. There are too many documented cases of towing components fouling up props and leaving boaters stranded. If you travel to the islands, you will see many cruisers towing dinghies, but please use extreme caution if you choose to do this. Learn where and how to safely attach the dinghy to your boat, and if there is any threat of rough seas, retrieve the dinghy immediately and secure it to the mother ship.
Dinghies come in a variety of hull styles and materials, including plank- reinforced fabric bottoms, high-pressure inflatable bottoms, and rigid hulls of fiberglass or aluminum. In general, soft-bottom styles are limited to what they can do and endure, even with a high-pressure floor with a keel.
If you intend to transport serious loads of supplies and people, a rigid hull is a must. Its durability is also important if you are cruising in the tropics, where you are as likely to land on a beach as tie up at a dock. Rigid bottoms can be part of a fully rigid boat, but more often they are connected to an inflatable top tube and called “rigid inflatable boats,” or RIBs. These have become the ubiquitous tender of choice for most cruisers. You get durability and stability from the rigid hull, and buoyancy and lightweight from the inflatable top tubes. The top tubes are much gentler on the sides and finish of your boat when tied to it.
RIB’s hull bottoms have been primarily fiberglass, but aluminum hulls are gaining market share with even lighter weight then fiberglass and more durable for beach landings. The inflatable tubes come in a range of materials, including PVC, coated neoprene and Hypalon, which are widely considered the best material for the inflatable parts of a dinghy.
A well-built dinghy will provide many years of service, but it won’t last forever. A sign of a good-quality RIB dinghy is the ease with which it can be serviced and even re-tubed when necessary.
An example of a feature that could affect serviceability is the fuel tank’s type and location. Separate fuel tanks carried in dedicated compartments are easier to inspect or replace but have limited carrying capacity; built-in fuel tanks may carry more fuel and be better balanced, but may also be difficult or impossible to repair without completely un-assembling the dinghy.
It used to be your only choice of power for a dinghy was a gasoline powered outboard engine, however innovative companies have been actively introducing clean burning propane powered internal combustion engines, and most recently electric motors with impressive power and range.
When shopping, it’s best to purchase from a dealer that in addition to sales, performs complete service on the dinghy and engine. A high-quality dealer will be willing to visit your boat to determine if a particular model can be carried, launched and retrieved safely.
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