Open Water Without a Paddle?

Published in the June 2008 Issue June 2008

Boaters, for the most part, are planners. We pay attention to weather conditions, listen to news of water levels, consider fuel prices and look forward to the boating weekend with enthusiasm and anticipation. It's usually the small, unplanned details that throw a wrench in our strategy to optimize the boating season. Breaking down on the water can be one of the biggest wrenches of all.

Towing services are most likely not at the top of the your mental checklist but consider for a moment how big a pain it can be if you find yourself stranded "without a paddle," not that a paddle would offer a whole lot of comfort. When you're sitting idle in a 24-foot pontoon boat out in the middle of the lake-that's a whole lot of paddling.

What's worse, the cost of having your boat towed can promote sticker shock of the worst kind when you're looking at pumping even more cash into repairing your vessel once you've actually gotten it off the water and on the trailer.

Take a look at this example of cost breakdown for a boater without towing coverage* compared the rates of BoatU.S. members.

Example Non-Member Rates:

Time (Portal to portal)

1.5 hours to scene

10 minute ungrounding

1.5 hours return time

BoatU.S. Member Rates:

Unlimited Gold: $143

Free Tows At Sea within Gold Service Area, 50 miles offshore in Pacific Northwest and Northern California and 100 miles offshore in Southern California.

Unlimited Freshwater Towing: $34

Unlimited Saltwaterwater Towing: $116

BoatU.S. pays the bill within a Towing Service Area.

$150 per incident Freshwater: $12, BoatU.S. pays up to $150

$150 per incident Freshwater: $18, BoatU.S. pays up to $150

Prices are in addition to the $19 for Basic Membership. With a Basic Membership, BoatU.S. pays up to $50.


*Towing services are provided by TowBoatUS except in Calif., Ore., Wash., Ariz., Nev., and British Columbia where services are provided by Vessel Assist.


Membership to BoatU.S. has big advantages both on and off-shore, but knowing you're covered if towing becomes essential is a major security blanket that many boaters have been in the position of wishing they'd considered before it was necessary. Towing costs can vary depending on the proximity of services and the state that you boat in but when it comes to the peace of mind you'll having knowing that you won't have to starve your children for two weeks to cover that towing expense, it's well worth it. Not to mention that your one membership applies to all recreational boats you own, borrow or charter anywhere in the world.

What's even more reassuring, access to BoatU.S. towing service is available 24-hours a day through a variety of contact options:

Hail "Vessel Assist" on VHF Channel 16

For Towing Assistance, key your VHF mike and say "Vessel Assist, Vessel Assist, this is vessel (your boat's name here) hailing Vessel Assist." Wait two minutes, if there is no response, try again.

Contact Vessel Assist directly by cell phone

Use your cell phone to call the closest Vessel Assist Company listed in the online Towing Guide.

Call the BoatU.S. 24-Hour National Dispatch Center:

800-391-4869 via wireless phone or Coast Guard VHF relay

Be sure to have your cell phone number with you so BoatU.S. can contact you. Its dispatch crew will conference call you to the closest resource within the United States and make sure you are taken care of.

All BoatU.S. towing service providers have signed contracts with BoatU.S to provide a standard of service to its members second to none. All USCG Towing Endorsements complete insurance coverage, licenses and standards and practices are reviewed on an annual basis. Last year alone, BoatU.S. contractors provided service to over 45,000 boaters. With over 500 boats in over 280 ports, service is just a call away and BoatU.S. will provide payment up to your selected service coverage. Service levels range from unlimited towing coverage which provides towing services within any TowBoatUS Service Area Nationwide. A TowBoatUS Service Area is defined as a minimum of a 25-mile radius of the towers homeport. Plus, many TowBoatUS Service Providers have extended service areas of up to and beyond 50 and even 75 miles offshore-most commercial towing companies charge based on "Portal-to-Portal." In simplest terms, they charge from the time they leave their port until the time they return. These charges average between $150 and $200 per hour.


The distance you breakdown from your home port is of no matter. It is the distance you breakdown from the tower's homeport. So, even if you only boat close to your port, if the tower's port is 10 miles away, unlimited coverage is still the way to go.


Soft Ungroundings

In addition to "Portal-to-Portal" and hourly towing charges, if you find yourself bumped onto a sandbar, non-members may also be charged up to $20 per foot of your vessel's length to be pulled free. The ungrounding fee is not based on the time it takes to pull you free, but rather the length of your boat.

Not looking for that much service? You can also choose from $150 per incident service for only $18. This plan will provide for all the same services, but will only provide payment up to the first $150 of the invoice.


For more information on BoatU.S. towing and other services, visit

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