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Old 11-07-2017, 06:28 PM   #1
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"Predatory boating-assistance practice"

This report on FloridaPolitics.com describes a proposed state law prohibiting exploitive boater-assistance firms, meaning towing and salvage services:

Dana Young, Shawn Harrison fight 'modern-day piracy' - Florida Politics

The bill's purpose reportedly is to "put a stop to the predatory practice of those salvage operators who provide relatively minor assistance to boaters and then charge outrageous fees by labeling the service a ‘salvage claim . . ."

Have to admit this is a new one on me - maybe b/c I have never subscribed to a towing service "club," nor ever called for a commercial towboat. Are these so-called predatory operators really a problem? Or is it possible that these two state legislators (one is a state senator, the other a representative) just had a bad experience on the water?
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Old 11-07-2017, 06:41 PM   #2
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I would be skeptical of their claims, since the only negative feedback I've ever seen regarding Sea Tow/Boat US has seemed like isolated incidents. They seem to be pretty solid businesses that have lots of franchisees all over the place. If this legalized piracy were that widespread, the businesses would not be that successful, and the forums would be pretty vocal about it. If I had to trust the integrity of the free market or a couple of politicians.... Adam Smith's "invisible hand" is pretty reliable.
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Old 11-07-2017, 06:48 PM   #3
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Usually arises when thete is minor flooding or fire.

Neither is covered, so even if a person pumps out their own boat, technically the tow isnt covered and can cost a lot....pisses oeople off that the tow isnt coveted for that instance.
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Old 11-07-2017, 06:48 PM   #4
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I think it is a bit of both. I wouldn't necessarily call the two big tow companies: Seatow and TowBoatUS predatory, but they will take advantage of a situation.

I once returned to my boat in Oriental harbor to find it had dragged almost up to the breakwater. It wasn't a do or die situation, but I did need to get the boat off of the rocks. TowBoat showed up and I threw them a line so they could get me off of the rocks before I started the engines and pulled away. I didn't want to clip the props. I could have pulled in the anchor and gotten a few feet away before powering off, but it was a lot easier to let TowBoat pull me off. There total assistance was one minute worth, much less than a normal soft grounding.

As soon as we got to a secured location, they wouldn't accept my BoatUS insurance and said they would file a salvage claim with my insurance company for a salvage claim. I gave them the policy number and told them good luck.

A few days later I got a call from an adjuster for my insurance company. He wanted to come down from Wilmington and look at the damage. I said what damage, there was none. I told him that TowBoat deserved something for being there, but not the normal 10% of the boat's value- about $10,000. I never heard how that one played out.

So, I don't know what that Florida law is supposed to accomplish. Salvage rights are based on maritime law and the states can't change it.

David
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Old 11-07-2017, 06:55 PM   #5
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How a franchisee conducts him/her self could depend on the individual. I seem to recall a prior thread where a franchisee was kicked into line by the franchisor for misconduct.
My state has struggled to regulate tow truck operators, some of whom seem to have "interesting' connections. I suspect the on water equivalent would be much harder to regulate.
Subscribing to a known tow assistance operator seems the answer. We had SeaTow but it lost its franchise, as did a sub franchisee who was very unhappy and contacted me as there was TF discussion at the time on which I posted. Later some employees of the closed SeaTow franchise started "Assist24", which I subscribed to while on Sydney Harbour, their limited area. Where we are now we rely on Marine Rescue(aka "Dad`s Army" after the British TV series), volunteers partly Govt funded for equipment, prone to seeking "contributions" but they would never try to shake you down for "salvage".
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Old 11-07-2017, 09:48 PM   #6
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I always hate to get into these discussions but I can offer an example of what can lead to the idea that response companies are pirates. Disclosure: I owned the TowBoatUS operation in question below.

One Sunday in January, a few years ago, the office received a call from the main TowBoatUS dispatcher telling us that they had received a call from a guy who was aground in the Indian River (part of the AICW). He claimed to be a member but the dispatcher reported that the number was long expired. Dispatcher reported that response was at our sole discretion meaning we could refuse the job but if accepted we would have to be reimbursed by the client. We were provided with his cell number. My boat driver on duty took the job an called the distressed boater. He said he had just bought this 26' twin inboard cruiser and had his wife and two kids on board. He said he 'was aground on the left side of the Indian River (?) a couple of miles south of the hwy 520 bridge'. My guy said he would be there within the hour.

He actually was on site in about 40 minutes and the boat is nowhere in sight. He calls up the boater and he insists he is right there. He can't see the tow boat. Lots of confusion follows. Long story short we found him a couple of hours later on the Banana River about two miles south of the highway 524 bridge. The boat is a 'vintage' (read old piece of c--p) boat hard aground on caliche rock bottom. A winter front had come through and blown the water out. The wife and kids were cold and complaining. The closest we could get to him in our 2'6" draft boat was 500'. He was in less than 18" of water. My guy jumped in to the water and waded to the boat. Wife and kids wanted off so he carried each of them in turn to the tow boat. They didn't want to get their feet wet or walk on the rocks.
Talking with the owner our driver found out that that he had no compass, no gps and was using a 15 year old Shell road map for navigation. He also admitted that he didn't have insurance.

Our driver told the owner that we could not pull his boat 500' over a limestone bottom during the low wind driven tide and the best thing to do would be to drop his anchor and come ashore and wait a couple of days for the wind to back to the south and let the tide re-float the boat. Then we could tow it back to the boat ramp. However he insisted that we pull it off immediately. My operator should have left at that time but took it on his own to make an attempt. He put two lines together end to end, and walked it out to the boat. He then spent two hours tugging on the grounded vessel without success.

At this point our manager got involved. The boater insisted we did not have enough power and asked for bigger or better boats to make an attempt. Our manager explained the financial realities of how much he had spent already and how much it would cost to continue. He gave the manager his credit card number and asked us to bring in three more boats!!!! (Including the two Shamrock discussed in another thread).
So now we had four boats, with four captains on payroll. Our two big twin diesel boats and the two Shamrocks. At this point he is burning cash at a published rate of $1,000 per hour. His boat moved 20'.

In the end he run up a bill of just under $10k without moving his boat.
That was more than the value of his boat, I am sure.

At this point our manager calls me. And I go to the site the following day. His boat is sitting there leaned over, looking very forlorn in ankle deep water. I discussed it with the manager and we decided that by Wednesday the water would be back to about 4' depth and we would go get it with one boat and bring it in. I told our manager to discount the bill by 50% and charge the card the client had authorized. The manager called the client and told him what we planned to do. He called us pirates and told us not to touch his boat again. I tried multiple times to call him but he would not take my calls.

Sure enough, on Wednesday we went to the site and the boat was gone. And Visa told us the owner was disputing the charge and the payment was withheld.

We found out where the owner had taken the boat. It was in a marina. We went to look at it and found huge scrapes along the bottom, his propellers twisted to nothingness and the rudder stocks bent back. He must have hit that limestone reef at full speed to skid in for 500' and damage the boat like that. I despaired of ever seeing a penny for our work. Nevertheless I put a workmanship lien on the boat for the value of the invoice.

A couple of weeks later I received a call from the 'action reporter' of the Local Fox News station. In a very aggressive manner he accused me and the company of 'modern day piracy' and went on to accuse me of damaging this boat beyond repair citing $20,000 repair cost. He insisted that I pay the owner the $20k 'repair cost' to reimburse his 'damage incurred by our incompetence ' Instead of ducking the reporter, I was friendly and invited the reporter to come to our office where I would be glad to do an on-air interview. He showed up at our office next day with his camera man. Before the on air portion, I laid out the facts as I knew them, showed him our boats, warehouse and equipment and took him to the site of the grounding. I told him of my opinion of the irresponsible owner who could have injured his wife and kids, had zero safety equipment on the boat, was completely lost, did not have any current nav equipment, carried zero insurance and didn't even sign up for the very low cost tow assist program. I then got Adam Wheeler on the phone who gave a boatload of statistics on boats and lives saved by the TowBoatUS programs and how we were a large network able to respond to calls around the country. I also invited the reporter to come with me to visit the local USCG station where he met with the commander of the small boat unit who gave some more statistics and shoved some praise our way. He explained how the USCG does not carry out small boat towing and that although they are prepared to save lives, saving property is most often a very low priority and that we performed that very necessary service.

The reporter told us he would not go forward with his story and thanked us for our time. No story on the subject ever aired.

Now I can only imagine if this boater ever brought his story to his local politician. I doubt that they would make the time to check the veracity of the boaters allegations. Next thing is a public condemnation of assistance towers as pirates and various levels of scumbaggery.

I sold my franchise a while back. Please do not ask for more details as I have never named names in the past and don't intend to now. Except for TowBoatUS media representative Adam Wheeler. If you know him, he can recite many, many stories of this type. For me, I can tell you that assistance towing is not a get rich quick scheme. The guys who do it usually have a secondary source of income, except of course in the very big markets like Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa Bay. I had a nice tax right off for 9 of the 10 years I had the franchise. I had planned to be an owner operator after I retired from my major lines of work and that could have provided a nice supplemental income but I decided to go trawlering instead.
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Old 11-07-2017, 10:39 PM   #7
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I'd say the major problems as follows:

First, boat owners don't understand what coverage they have for towing and what they don't have, don't understand the membership. Then they're shocked at what was in the agreement. They also often don't have salvage coverage on their insurance policy so really stuck. Then add to that, they don't ask. They just say "do it." Any tow operator can give them some amount of rate information, such as hourly rate. If the word salvage is mentioned then it's time to get in touch with the insurer and let them make all deals.

Second, some of the tow captains and even franchise owners do not have practices outlined and clearly followed to avoid confusion. Yes, the membership agreement outlines it but an operator should make it very clear when it's passing over to salvage.

Third, parties deal verbally and don't go to writing. I wouldn't let major work commence without something in writing saying how I'd be charged or something that I felt was safer than the operator just telling me verbally. If I was a tow operator and there was going to be any charge other than basic membership charges, then I would hand the owner the appropriate agreement outlining terms and the manner of charging as well as the establishment of the lien.

Then there is one I have to add based on the story just related to us. Some people, on both sides, don't know when to stop, when to say no.

While I wouldn't call tow companies pirates as the vast majority are good honest business people, and I wouldn't require a firm contracted price knowing that the time required can vary widely, I think requiring some written communication would benefit everyone.

There are ways to do it that can greatly reduce misunderstandings which lead to wild accusations.
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Old 11-07-2017, 10:49 PM   #8
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It used to be with us, if client was not a member they were handed our standard rate sheet which is carried on all of the boats. That was the case in the account reported above. Also our manager deliberately brought his attention to the rate sheet and how much he had expended before committing to the extra expense. He attempted to dissuade the owner and told him to wait until Wednesday. But he insisted on moving forward and provided his CC.
The client is always right, eh.
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Old 11-08-2017, 05:48 AM   #9
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If we determined it was salvage and not an hourly assistance rate we almost always got at least a MARSALV form signed and credit card up front....and emphasized the payment details to avoid sutuations where the boater may not understand.

The form starts like this..... (Sea Tow uses the same basic agreement too)

Boat Owners Association of The United States
STANDARD FORM YACHT SALVAGE CONTRACT
It is hereby agreed this _____ day of ____________________, 20___, at ______ hours at
__________________________ by and between: _______________________________
(location) (Owner or Captain)
for the Yacht named "__________________________________," which is described as a
("Vessel")
____________________________ and insured by: ______________________________
(yr - manufacturer - length) ("Underwriter")
and _________________________________________, to salvage the yacht under these
(Salvage Company/Salvor)
terms and conditions:
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Old 11-08-2017, 08:46 AM   #10
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I have to wonder if the proposed bill is aimed less at large and reputable companies like SeaTow and BoatUS, and more at some of the independent operators. There are a number of these around the Tampa Bay area, and some strike me much like lawyers who earn a reputation as "ambulance chasers."
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Old 11-08-2017, 09:18 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by denverd0n View Post
I have to wonder if the proposed bill is aimed less at large and reputable companies like SeaTow and BoatUS, and more at some of the independent operators. There are a number of these around the Tampa Bay area, and some strike me much like lawyers who earn a reputation as "ambulance chasers."
I think it's two things. First, aimed at any unscrupulous, but, second, it is initiated based on a misunderstanding of the industry and the agreements. I don't see it having a great impact on most tow operators. A couple of present or former industry persons have posted here their practices and they would either comply or require very little change.

The only part of this that really bothers me is the inflammatory headline and attention grabbing. However, here is the actual bill.

Salvage of Pleasure Vessels; Designating the “Florida Salvage of Pleasure Vessels Act"; requiring salvors of pleasure vessels to provide a specified written disclosure statement and salvage work estimate; requiring such salvors to obtain customer permission before exceeding the written estimate by more than a specified amount; requiring salvors to post specified signage on their vessels, etc.


Provide estimate, get permission to exceed. Very basic. Just like auto mechanics and like we get with our shipyard we use. A normal business practice for most industries. As to the signage, that's clearly targeting renegade tow boats. It's unusual, but I have heard of a situation where someone called for a tow, on the radio they told someone who asked if they needed help, they had done so. Suddenly, a tow boat showed and towed them, It was not who they'd called or had an agreement with. They were towed and charged and scared not to pay.
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Old 11-08-2017, 12:32 PM   #12
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Will be interesting to see how this bill and ancient maritime law collide.
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Old 11-08-2017, 12:53 PM   #13
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A few years ago, while on vacation, we had been anchored for several days. We went into town on our last night to have dinner at a local restaurant. While we were gone, our anchor chain fouled the anchor causing us to drag.

We dragged into the boat behind us. That boat tossed out fenders, and caught us. A local tow company was anchored in the anchorage all summer ready to jump on such opportunities. He had a large trawler and had his tow boat rafted up to it.

The tow operator jumped in his tow boat and approached the boat that caught us. He told them he would 'take care of it'. He tied up to us, they then untied us and the tow boat towed us over to a mooring.

By rights, the boat behind had the salvage rights since they stopped the boat from continuing to float 'underway' through the anchorage. However, that didn't stop the tow company from sending me a bill for $5,000.

I have Boat US coverage through Vessel Assist. This tow company was a small mom-n-pop and not Boat US or SeaTow.

I've seen a lot of interest in the online forums by folks interested in getting into the 'salvage' business as a result of the hurricanes in Tx, the carribean and Florida. There is a general misunderstanding about how salvage works legally. There seem to be many who assume, "If I can tow it off of the beach, I own it".
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Old 11-08-2017, 12:53 PM   #14
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The new Florida law and "ancient maritime law" may be able to co-exist. The great majority of tows do not fall into the "marine salvage" catagory and should be able to follow the law's requirements for notification and permission.

It is the salvage tows that get tricky. In my limited understanding a salvage action is one that is necessary to protect from immediate loss of property or life, and is in difficult circumstances, like a storm many miles from any other help. It is designed to compensate salvage companies for taking the risk of coming to the stricken vessel's assistance in difficult circumstances.

I can understand that, and by its very nature a true salvage operation can't prepare an estimate and get the owner's acceptance- he has either abandoned the vessel or is in no position to solve his problem himself.

But it sure would put a stop to the BS I experienced in Oriental. So I am all for it.

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Old 11-08-2017, 05:26 PM   #15
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If the quantum of the salvage claim was limited to reasonable commercial rates for "work done and materials provided" for hourly labor and equipment use (albeit not always provided at the owners request but sometimes provided as a necessity) there should not be a problem. The difficulty seems to stem from opportunistic unscrupulous operators effectively trying to hold the boat and owner to ransom, rather than charging based on accepted. reasonable rates.
Shrew`s $5K bill is a perfect example. No way was that justified. Left alone the other boat would probably have sorted out the problem, charged zilch, but been rewarded nicely by Shrew.
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Old 11-08-2017, 05:41 PM   #16
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but been rewarded nicely by Shrew.
Absolutely!! Heck, in my local marina I hand out a round of beers just for catching/tossing lines when I come in. I also give out liquor as parting gifts at the end of the season if you regularly show-up to help me dock. (Or if I tend to hit your liquor cabinet when I'm visiting )

However, I charge 1 beer for all salvages. (mostly dinghy's, kayak's and random floats). However, I 'salvaged' a 44 Cruisers flybridge this summer (nobody on board), as it dragged through the anchorage. Then I helped the skipper re-anchor once he did show up.

I charged that guy 2 beers, but had a nice talk with a new friend while I enjoyed them.
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Old 11-08-2017, 05:42 PM   #17
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There is such a spectrum of stories, it is hard to relate.

I have anchored an assistance boat in a breaking surf inlet and swum a towline to a boat being pounded by breaking surf. Saving the boat and family. What was risking my life worth against a $100,000 dollar boat, a wife and 2 kids?

I can tell you, especially after a career of risking my life as a USCG helo pilot for peanuts...but most would kaugh as the check their portfolio success today.

I have also raised a sunk boat and towed it to a marina in an hour where the boater was probably charged $3500, probably 30 times. Both the boater and his insurance company thought it was a great deal, and I was happy to make a couple hundred bucks...but aghast at the rest of the bill the company charged.....even though well within the industry standard. Probably because of my USCG mentality.

Unlesx you are in the business,you really have little clue to the whole setup/business..I didnt get it before working in it even though previously a USCG officer that rode herd on assistance towing companoes when they were really just starting up in the 90s.
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Old 11-09-2017, 12:28 PM   #18
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I will add what I know about this , having been through 3 major hurricanes and experienced it first hand . It is not Sea tow or Boat US . There are some isolated towing instances but not the norm . Not naming names and the marina has new owners now . But after Charlie and big rack-a minium place had their stroage building blow into a ball . Immediately it was blocked off with deputies ? Everyone assumed it was for safety and security , it wasn't . We talked to the deputy and he informed us that every boat in the facility damaged or undamaged was now under the salvage claim out of the Miami salvage group , this was less than week after the storm . You could not go in to see if your boat was ok or not because now it was their property . The owner was in on it with the salvage company and actually contacted them . In the end you and the insurer had to negotiate a price to get your boat back from them . Now after Irma, I am told the same thing is happening in the keys . So it is meant more for these circumstances more than towing
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