Peace of Mind


The inside scoop on vessel assistance memberships

Most of us have encountered boat blunders.  From the minor uh-oh moments to those full-on serious boating emergencies, trouble can happen in the blink of an eye, especially when you least expect it.  

That’s why the first order of business before splashing our trawler Rogue One was to investigate the benefits and costs of vessel assist memberships. What other services are included with a membership beside a tow? Is it worth the expense?

The information presented in this article is my research in collaboration with two of the nation’s largest boat-towing networks; Sea Tow and TowBoatUS. 

Even though these organizations are competing for the same customers, they both have the same overarching goal: to help boaters have a safe and fun-filled day on the water. Below is information from both companies regarding crucial questions to help decide whether a vessel assist membership fit our boating needs.

Q:  Does my traditional boat insurance cover on the water vessel assistance and towing?

A:  Maybe.  Most boat insurances are designed for catastrophic accidents such as fire, collision or sinking but may include emergency towing services as an additional rider. Vessel assist memberships specialize in helping recreational boaters in non emergency situations that obviously include towing but also answer the call for many of the on-the-water mishaps we may encounter.

Q:  Doesn’t the U.S. Coast Guard provide towing if my boat is disabled?  

A:  The Coast Guard will assist if the emergency is a case of “distress,” which is said to exist when grave or imminent danger, requiring immediate response, threatens a craft or person.  For non-emergency boating incidents, the Coast Guard will refer you to a local vessel tow company for assistance.  

Q:  To help me understand in what situations I can use my tow boat membership, I inquired about their most common calls for services.

A: The towing experts replied:

  • Towing request due to boat system or mechanical failure 
  • Boat grounded and request assistance refloating
  • Battery jump starts
  • Fuel delivery

Surprisingly many service calls are resolved over the phone by troubleshooting with the captain first and towing only if necessary.

Q:  What is a typical cost of a vessel tow without a membership versus a tow with a membership?

A:  Towing a boat without a vessel assist membership can get very pricy.  The average tow for a non-member is $850 to $1,000, not including additional surcharges for going to work in rough conditions or in the dark.

Towing a boat with a vessel assist membership means the boater pays zero.  There are no deductibles or copays.  The fee of the yearly membership can be a fraction of the average price of a single tow.

Q:  With a variety of membership options offered by vessel assist companies, how do I choose which service is right for me?

A:  Geography and boating style may play a role.  Different regional packages are available for freshwater lakes and rivers, saltwater coastal and blue water, and even trailering boats. 

Q:  How do I make contact from the water if I need a tow?

A:  You can put out a call for assistance on VHF radio channel 16 and either the Coast Guard or another vessel will respond to help you get in touch with a tow company.

For direct assistance, both Sea Tow and TowboatUS have mobile apps and 800 phone numbers listed on their membership cards.

Q:  Why should I buy a tow membership?

A:  Peace of mind.  Being prepared with a vessel assist membership gives me one less thing to worry about so I can safely enjoy my time on the water.  I know in advance whom to call and what to expect should I need assistance.

So, who’s coming to help you?

For more info, contact Christine Plummber at TowBoatUS,,or Cindy McCaffery at SeaTow,

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