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Old 09-26-2016, 10:06 AM   #1
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Assisting a ship in distress

This past Sunday has been a new adventure and experience for the Admiral and myself. To put everything in context, we are ending our first boating season up there. It is our first boat, and we are still learning every day, and this Sunday was not different on that subject.
With the coming up of fresh days of autumn up here in Canada, we are seeing less and less boat in inland waterways. This weekend very few boat were in sight. On Sunday morning during our way back to our slip after a nice weekend at the anchor, we cross the path of a ship in distress for the first time in our recent experience. The ship was a 20 footer cruiser and people told us there was an engine failure. The ship was drifting in the river and my fist surprise was to see that they did not drop their anchor (I may be wrong but it would be the first thing I would have done instead of risking to go aground somewhere). Then apparently they got no communication system at all, no VHF, no Cellular phone nothing. We took the ship in charge, setup a towing line and tow the ship up to the nearest marina that was 40 minutes from us. We then contacted the marina to advise them we were coming with a ship in distress to let them there. Everything went fine, we were a bit stressed as it was the first time we needed to tie to a boat on the water, it was the first time that we needed to tow a ship and it was also the first time we needed to dock with a ship in towing behind us. And the cherry on the ice cream, the marina entrance was very narrow and the dock was on port which makes it more difficult for us (we are a single screw vessel with no stern thruster).
Now thinking about it, I think I missed some things and made some mistakes:
1. I did not ask if everybody was fine onboard or if there was any injuried people (I think they would have tell it but just in case)
2. I did not ask them if they made a distress call (I would have heard it on the VHF but just in case).

Now I am asking for your input.
What did I do right?
What did I do wrong?
What should I have done?

Thank you!

L.
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Old 09-26-2016, 10:57 AM   #2
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Actually all of us thank you for coming to the assistance of another boater.

We can always second guess what could have been done, but you got them to safety.
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Old 09-26-2016, 11:12 AM   #3
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I think that how you respond to a boat in distress depends entirely on the situation.


If TowBoatUS or similar towing service operates in the area, then I would ask the distressed boat if he wanted me to call, then call and wait for a response. Then help to secure the boat (drop the anchor) and depending on the time for the tow boat to arrive, hang around and make sure all was ok.


If the distressed boat doesn't want you to call a tow boat, then you have a decision to make. The boat may not have the inclination or funds to pay a tow boat. I was faced with this situation in Galveston Bay a few years ago. The weather was fine, the boat was aground near the Houston Ship Channel and being pounded by passing wakes and he was in contact with a towing service, but he didn't want to pay. I let him go as he was in 3-4' of water and even if it sunk he would have been ok, and I drew 5'. An hour or so later a tow boat arrived and towed him ashore. Since his boat was starting to take on water due to the rudder pounding the oyster shell bottom and probably breaking the rudder attachments, I am sure it ended up as a salvage claim and the boat was impounded until the owner paid.


If there is no towing service in the area, then I would do what you did- tow him to a marina. You might have called the marina on the radio and see if they had a small outboard that could have maneuvered him inside easier than you could have towed him.


Finally, we all have an obligation to offer APPROPRIATE assistance to a boat in distress- morally and legally.


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Old 09-26-2016, 11:20 AM   #4
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Bonjour,
M. Lt.
" What did I do right?
What did I do wrong?
What should I have done?"

Pretty well everything.
Not anything you mentioned
Exactly what you did. Formidable!!!

Well done sir. You seem to have had the matter well in hand. You're learning...

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Old 09-26-2016, 11:24 AM   #5
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I was disabled and adrift this summer in Jervis Inlet after catching an abandoned fishing net in my props. It was too deep to anchor. The current was very slow at the time. I hailed a couple passing boats and they stood by while I contacted Victoria Coast Guard. Having someone stand by was very reassuring while we tried to free the nets. The CG contacted SeaTow for me, but I eventually worked the props free of the nets and returned to Pender Harbor on my own. Had I not had a radio, I would have hoped any passersby would radio for help on my behalf, rather than attempt a tow. You described several risks encountered during the tow. In my situation, there were also strong currents and rough water on the way back that could have caused more damage. I'm glad your situation worked out well for all involved.
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Old 09-26-2016, 11:26 AM   #6
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Thank you all.
I don;t think I did anything special as I hope if someday I am in distress I will receive the same help.
Actually they were pretty lucky we saw them as considering the few boats I saw on the water yesterday they could have spent the night there!
Anyway I welcome all advises from you guys to become a better mariner
Thanks a lot.
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Old 09-26-2016, 11:40 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lou_tribal View Post
What did I do right?
What did I do wrong?
What should I have done?
You did right by coming to the aid of another boater. You did right by not getting anybody hurt or damaging either boat.

Nothing wrong with that! You did exactly what you should have done.

We all can always do better. For towing, the US Coast Guard will:

- Make sure everyone on board has life jackets on
- Make sure no-one has any injury or medical conditions to worry about
- Make sure the towed boat has no unseen damage or debris around it that could affect the towing boat, or cause the tow to sink or catch fire
- Establish some sort of communication with the towed boat
- Have the right towing gear available, and the training to use it
- Have any towing cleats or bitts properly backed
- Have the training to properly tow astern, or alongside, and know when to switch from one to the other.
- Know when NOT to tow, but to get the people off the other boat, and/or stand by and wait for the right assets to arrive.

This is all good to know, and practice. But if you can't do it without putting your boat or crew at risk, sometimes the best thing to do is stand by and help coordinate a proper rescue. The Canadian Coast Guard, and their Auxiliary, can and will come out and do the tow if necessary.
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Old 09-26-2016, 12:13 PM   #8
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Thanks Lou, for being another caring captain and helping out another boater. Can't believe people would go out on a boat on coastal waters or even inland rivers leading to coastal water without a vhf. Hope they learned something here.
You did a fine job and based on the info you provided effected a proper rescue. To go 40 miles is probably more than I would have offered. Again thank you!
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Old 09-26-2016, 12:30 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CaptTom View Post
You did right by coming to the aid of another boater. You did right by not getting anybody hurt or damaging either boat.

Nothing wrong with that! You did exactly what you should have done.

We all can always do better. For towing, the US Coast Guard will:

- Make sure everyone on board has life jackets on
- Make sure no-one has any injury or medical conditions to worry about
- Make sure the towed boat has no unseen damage or debris around it that could affect the towing boat, or cause the tow to sink or catch fire
- Establish some sort of communication with the towed boat
- Have the right towing gear available, and the training to use it
- Have any towing cleats or bitts properly backed
- Have the training to properly tow astern, or alongside, and know when to switch from one to the other.
- Know when NOT to tow, but to get the people off the other boat, and/or stand by and wait for the right assets to arrive.

This is all good to know, and practice. But if you can't do it without putting your boat or crew at risk, sometimes the best thing to do is stand by and help coordinate a proper rescue. The Canadian Coast Guard, and their Auxiliary, can and will come out and do the tow if necessary.

The same procedures go for the Canadian equivalent, both the Full timers of the Coast Guard and the volunteers of the RCM-SAR follow the same protocol as noted above.
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Old 09-26-2016, 12:35 PM   #10
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I think it's great you helped a boater in trouble, no matter how unprepared they were. Maybe they'll be better prepared in the future and help someone else in the future. Probably good to keep the Coast Guard informed.
I ran single screw tugs in my youth. Often, depending on sea conditions, going along side a quarter, with fendering, is the easiest way to control a dead boat. Much easier putting them alongside a dock than towing. Leave about a third of your boat behind their stern. This makes steering better. Then you just have a drag to one side, but your boat will operate almost normally. Depending on your stern design, when you do tow, your line should be to a cleat in front of the rudder. It makes steering better in narrow channels. If you look at tugs, the towing bitts are about 1/3 of the length from the stern.
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Old 09-26-2016, 12:47 PM   #11
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Believe me I was the first surprised to see how they were just left to themselves without being able to contact anybody to help them. Even as a beginner I am surprise about the odd things I can see every time I am cruising but anyway this is not the subject of this thread

After having thought about this, I am questioning myself about the need to call the coast guard to warn them I am towing a ship in distress.
Should I let the coast guard know that I am helping them and towing them if they didn't call the coast guard for help in the first place? May be I should have called them but I was not sure as I was a virgin in the domain of sea side saving

Input on that will be helpful in case this occur again, which I hope won't.

Best regards.
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Old 09-26-2016, 12:53 PM   #12
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Since we're talking towing--a question: I think I remember reading that from a legal liability point of view, there is a difference between accepting the tow rope (or line) from the disabled vessel as opposed to offering them yours. Anyone familiar with the law on this--assuming each boat has appropriate line, is one option better?
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Old 09-26-2016, 12:59 PM   #13
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Well done.

For your further education read up on the Good Samaritan law as it pertains to helping others at sea. Not sure how it works north of the border, but down this ways:

https://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg534/Ma...laskaGuide.pdf
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Old 09-26-2016, 01:06 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lou_tribal View Post
Believe me I was the first surprised to see how they were just left to themselves without being able to contact anybody to help them. Even as a beginner I am surprise about the odd things I can see every time I am cruising but anyway this is not the subject of this thread

After having thought about this, I am questioning myself about the need to call the coast guard to warn them I am towing a ship in distress.
Should I let the coast guard know that I am helping them and towing them if they didn't call the coast guard for help in the first place? May be I should have called them but I was not sure as I was a virgin in the domain of sea side saving

Input on that will be helpful in case this occur again, which I hope won't.

Best regards.
You did great. I also think that reviewing the event afterwards to figure out what could have been improved upon is fantastic.

Here is what I think I would/should have done in that situation.
1. recheck to make sure that the boat is sound and that no one is injured.
2. call the coast guard and inform them of the situation, giving the name, vessel type, number of persons on board, and whether they are adults or children.
3. If there is a two service available, offer to call the tow service or to have the coast guard call.
4. If there is no tow service available and/or the vessel is at risk of running aground while waiting for a tow, I would then take the boat under tow and either hold them in a safe position while a tow service could arrive, or tow them into the nearest safe port. As to which I would do it would likely depend on a number of factors such as the boat type and size, do they have an appropriate line on board for towing, the condition of the folks on board, and my general feeling about the folks on board. For example, if they are a couple of guys out fishing and drinking, they can wait for a tow. If it a family with some cold, tired, and hungry kids, I will be more inclined to offer a tow myself if it will get them home faster and might be an opportunity to give some very basic suggestions for the next time they go out.

However, what I think I should do isn't necessarily what I would do in the situation. I generally default to helping where I can even if it isn't always the "best" choice.
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Old 09-26-2016, 01:13 PM   #15
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I would be very careful of any liability that you may incur by providing a towing service. Check you state's laws. I was told years ago that if I was to tow a boat to make sure they pass you their towing line and not provide the towing line yourself. That might not be true today or apply to your state. If your towing a boat and the boat capsizes and people are hurt you may be liable.
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Old 09-26-2016, 01:24 PM   #16
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Well done.

For your further education read up on the Good Samaritan law as it pertains to helping others at sea. Not sure how it works north of the border, but down this ways:

https://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg534/Ma...laskaGuide.pdf
Thank you very much for the information!
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Old 09-26-2016, 01:26 PM   #17
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Who passes the line is a myth....well...that's what I have always read in serious writings. And working in the tow and salvage business...I have never heard or was taught differently.


It may be who suggests the tow and how it is done.....


Once you decide to tow someone...sure the liability passes to you somewhat because you are in control...but who provides the tow rope only helps if it snaps and someone decides to sue....but nothing is even definite there.


usually the burden will fall on the tower to make sure all goes well....but for 2 pleasure boats, liability falls onto who is negligent...and that can easily be blamed on either party to some degree.
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Old 09-26-2016, 02:20 PM   #18
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We were in a small port in Scotland this past summer and we spent a few hours talking and buying stuff from the RNLI life boat store/station. We bought some stuff, well quite a bit of stuff that was pretty good quality, and since the money is used to run the boat, well spent money.

We got a private tour of the lifeboat which looks like a spaceship on the inside. Very impressive. I can't remember the exact numbers, but the boat had twin diesels that burned 300-400 GPH when running flat out. They guy we were talking too mention that liability was one of their concerns which really surprised us. Their policy is that if they get a call, they go...

We were docked across from the lifeboat and early in the morning we heard them power up and felt felt their wake as they left to answer a call. Heard and felt them return a few hours later.

When we walked off the dock later in the morning the RNLI guy we met was standing next to a wee itty bitty boat on a trailer. Two guys went from Scotland across the North Channel down to Northern Island in that very small power boat. On the return, they ran out of gas. The RNLI guy said he would not have taken the boat out of the loch and I think he was right. The boat was around 20 feet long.

The RNLI put a tow line on the boat but the cleat eventually pulled out of the fiberglass. Even with their liability concerns they did not seem to worry about that cleat pulling out. I was impressed that the boat managed to stay afloat at all.

Later,
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Old 09-26-2016, 02:24 PM   #19
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Two guys went from Scotland across the North Channel down to Northern Island in that very small power boat.
Do you mean that they crossed the Irish sea to Northern Ireland?
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Old 09-26-2016, 02:51 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lou_tribal View Post
Believe me I was the first surprised to see how they were just left to themselves without being able to contact anybody to help them. Even as a beginner I am surprise about the odd things I can see every time I am cruising but anyway this is not the subject of this thread

After having thought about this, I am questioning myself about the need to call the coast guard to warn them I am towing a ship in distress.
Should I let the coast guard know that I am helping them and towing them if they didn't call the coast guard for help in the first place? May be I should have called them but I was not sure as I was a virgin in the domain of sea side saving

Input on that will be helpful in case this occur again, which I hope won't.

Best regards.

The Coast Guard is definitely interested in knowing that there is a rescue taking place. You shpould always inform them of the situation, your identity, the identity of the vessel being rescued, its occupants, whether they are wearing lifejackets or PFDs, the location, your plan as the rescue is progressing, and regular updates.

Having the Coast Guard ( actually the JRCC (Joint rescue coordintion centre)) assist you by going through their check list of things you ought to be checking will ensure that you don't miss anything through excitement or lack of experience. This will also go a long way towards eliminating any concerns that you may have regarding liability, should something go wrong.

In other situations, like when you have an emergency occur on your own boat, but have handled it yourself, you should call the Coast Guard and inform them as the situation unfolds. Thier assistance promotes clear thinking and helps with the resolution of almost any situation.
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