The following review was written by John Martino and prepared by the marketing department of Chesapeake Bay Magazine. Mr. Martino is the founder and president of Annapolis Yacht Management and Annapolis School of Seamanship. He develops and teaches hands-on training courses for recreational boaters and professional mariners, and offers yacht delivery and onboard training services for powerboaters as well as sailors.
If you have spent much time cruising the Bay, you've doubtless seen one of the bright yellow SeaTow boats heading out to aid a distressed vessel, or towing someone back to shore. SeaTow operators do yeoman service for pleasure boaters on the Bay, stepping in where the U.S. Coast Guard had to step out 20 years ago when they announced they would no longer tow disabled recreational vessels unless they were in danger. Today there are six privately owned and managed SeaTow franchises operating on the Chesapeake, covering territories from the C&D Canal down to Virginia Beach.
Sea Tow is a membership-driven organization that offers to boaters services roughly parallel to those offered to car drivers by AAA. Boatowners can purchase a membership that gives them nearly unlimited towing benefits should they break down on the water. Sea Tow operators will also bring fuel to vessels that have run out or give them a jump if the batteries are dead. "If a member calls and catches me on shore, and they tell me they have a clogged fuel filter, I'll run to the store, pick one up and run it out to them. We will even swap the filter out if they need help with that," says SeaTow captain Dave DuVall, who covers the middle Bay area from his main office in Annapolis. "We do our best to take care of our members."
DuVall is a life-long mariner who literally grew up on the Chesapeake Bay. His father taught him how to run boats when he was just six years old, and he was crabbing and fishing the Bay by the age of twelve. After working marine construction and spending some time at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Dave spent 16 years as a commercial diver. In 1984 he decided to start his own business and became one of Sea Tow's pioneer franchise holders. With two boats in Annapolis, one in Cambridge and another on Kent Narrrows, DuVall or one of his captains can respond to disabled vessels in the mid-Bay region quickly and effectively.
With active franchises in Galena, Md.; Baltimore; Ridge, Md.; Seaford, Va.; and Virginia Beach, Chesapeake boaters are never beyond SeaTow's reach.
While there are a few different membership options, the bulk of Sea Tow members are recreational boaters who hold a "Gold Card" entitling them to free towing, jump starts, fuel drops, prop disentanglements and help getting off the bottom when they've accidentally run aground. The Gold Card plan also covers recreational boaters aboard any boat that they rent or charter.
The Gold Card membership is $149 per year. If you compare this to the daytime towing rates for non-members, you can see the value right away. A daytime tow in good weather conditions runs around $260 hour from the time the towboat leaves the dock until it returns to the dock. With the average summertime tow lasting approximately two and a half hours, that can be an expensive proposition. For commercial mariners, like delivery captains, yacht brokers or instructors who regularly operate other people's boats, Sea Tow offers a professional mariner card. SeaTow's corporate and commercial plans cover working boats and fleets.
When you think about how difficult it is to spend less than $150 on just about anything at the chandlery, you have to think that a Sea Tow Membership is a pretty good deal--especially if you need a tow this season.