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Old 04-10-2013, 04:23 PM   #1
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What would you do?

Yesterday afternoon as we in the Apalachicola River were nearing Apalachicola Fl we came on a sailboat maybe 32' long motoring along very slowly. We gave him a "slow pass" as we were passing he hailed me on th VHF an said he had engine trouble (the oil pressure light was on and he didn't want to rev it up) and could I tow him to the anchorage. I thought about it and said I didn't feel comfortable towing him as I carry my hard dinghy on davits and was afraid we would wind up stuck on his bow or worse. He answered that it was no problem they would proceed slowly. as I passed them my concience got the best of me and I turned and came along side and told him we would give it a try, he said, good naturely, no bother that they were moving along ok, not far to go. We were only 2 miles max from their anchorage when we first met up with them. So I continued to Scipio Creek Marina. I was much relieved when I saw them arrive at the anchorage across the river later and that they were gone this morning, I imagine contuing their trip.
They were in no danger at any time, not far from the anchorage, there was a good breeze, in the worst case they could have sailed, with lots of close tacking, to make it. Tow boat or Sea tow are just a hail away in fact there was a Sea Tow boat in Scipio Creek Marina when we arrived.
I have often read don't try to tow another boat with your trawler unless it is a life or death situation. I have often towed boats in my outboard fishing boat with no problem.
So, What would you have done?
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Old 04-10-2013, 04:27 PM   #2
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If I could not have towed I would have stayed with them just in case, especially since it was not far to go.
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Old 04-10-2013, 04:28 PM   #3
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Our boat is set up as yours is with a dinghy on the transom, which is not conducive to towing anything. So we'd do exactly what you did minus the return to give it a try.

Given where they were I presume communications with assistance services would have been easy plus I assume they had an anchor so they could wait for the assistance they called for if they fried the engine.

We have a no-tow policy. Our boat is not set up to do it and we have never had any experience doing it. We will stand by if conditions warrant it, we will relay assistance or emergency communications, but that's it. I've read or been told about too many "helped someone and then they sued us" instances to subject ourselves to that kind of risk.
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Old 04-10-2013, 04:35 PM   #4
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The first thing I would have asked was "is there oil in the engine?".

If yes...then I would let him proceed or call assistance towing for him/stand by till it arrived.

If he said no..then I would have dropped my dingy into a short tow and taken him in long tow till assistance arrived or it would be so quick to the anchorage as to not bother calling.

If he had said ...."how am I supposed to know?"...I would have just left....people like that are trouble no matter what...better left on their own so they can't hurt anyone else....especially a sailboat in a good breeze. And after 35 years of assisting people on the water...99% of the time, what happened justifies my response. They made it anyway.
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Old 04-10-2013, 05:00 PM   #5
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I've read or been told about too many "helped someone and then they sued us" instances to subject ourselves to that kind of risk.
Under the Good Sam provision of maritime law, a skipper/master rendering aid is not liable for damages:

c) An individual complying with subsection (a) of this section or gratuitously and in good faith rendering assistance at the scene of a marine casualty without objection by an individual assisted, is not liable for damages as a result of rendering assistance or for an act or omission in providing or arranging salvage, towage, medical treatment, or other assistance when the individual acts as an ordinary, reasonable, and prudent individual would have acted under the circumstances.

46 USC 2303 - Duties related to marine casualty assistance and information - Shipping - US Code


We have and will continue to tow when requested, either as a stern tow or (preferred) via side tie, as long as renderig such assitance doesn't put my vessel or crew in harm's way. I'm not going to debate the merits of why the person is in distress- I'll just render aid.
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Old 04-10-2013, 05:05 PM   #6
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Under the Good Sam provision of maritime law, a skipper/master rendering aid is not liable for damages:

We have and will continue to tow when requested, either as a stern tow or (preferred) via side tie, as long as renderig such assitance doesn't put my vessel or crew in harm's way. I'm not going to debate the merits of why the person is in distress- I'll just render aid.
Well played PH. Good for boating Karma, if such things resonate with you.
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Old 04-10-2013, 05:06 PM   #7
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We have and will continue to tow when requested, either as a stern tow or (preferred) via side tie, as long as renderig such assitance doesn't put my vessel or crew in harm's way. I'm not going to debate the merits of why the person is in distress- I'll just render aid.
I'm with Pau Hana on this. However, my boat is definitely set up for towing, so that makes it easier. We had guests aboard, it gave them something extra to remember :-)

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Old 04-10-2013, 05:20 PM   #8
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I think you did good, Steve. You were there, courteous, cautious, mindful, polite. After you offered the 2nd time and they chose to move on as they were, it wasn't necessarily because they didn't want to bother you..... it was their choice. Give yourself a break, already.
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Old 04-10-2013, 05:22 PM   #9
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If conditions were very calm I'd consider a side tie. But it also appears that there was no urgency, so your approach was fine.
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Old 04-10-2013, 05:24 PM   #10
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If I felt safe towing I would. If I had reservations just stand by and offer whatever assistance I could. If they refused then move along just as you did.
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Old 04-10-2013, 05:25 PM   #11
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Under the Good Sam provision of maritime law, a skipper/master rendering aid is not liable for damages:

c) An individual complying with subsection (a) of this section or gratuitously and in good faith rendering assistance at the scene of a marine casualty without objection by an individual assisted, is not liable for damages as a result of rendering assistance or for an act or omission in providing or arranging salvage, towage, medical treatment, or other assistance when the individual acts as an ordinary, reasonable, and prudent individual would have acted under the circumstances.

46 USC 2303 - Duties related to marine casualty assistance and information - Shipping - US Code

We have and will continue to tow when requested, either as a stern tow or (preferred) via side tie, as long as renderig such assitance doesn't put my vessel or crew in harm's way. I'm not going to debate the merits of why the person is in distress- I'll just render aid.
Highly subject to interpretation and I'm pretty sure you could still be sued in "local/state" civil courts.

Who the heck is going to chance it these days when it could be reasonably argued in court that professional towing help was nearby.
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Old 04-10-2013, 06:12 PM   #12
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Who the heck is going to chance it these days when it could be reasonably argued in court that professional towing help was nearby.
Good point. These are the times we live in, but I hope that the dangers of the waterways still inspire the humane rather than the human.
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Old 04-10-2013, 06:17 PM   #13
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^^^ I don't agree that there is any massive grey area about the Good Sam protection. Ordinary, reasonable, and prudent are not the acts of a superhero- it's regular folks being themselves. Reading the context of paragraph (c), the protections are very evident for a master/skipper that renders aid.


By the way, the rest of the law- note the wording that at vessel master shall do the following. This means the master is legally compelled to comply with the law.


Sec. 2303. Duties related to marine casualty assistance and information

(a) The master or individual in charge of a vessel involved in a marine casualty shalló
(1) render necessary assistance to each individual affected to save that affected individual from danger caused by the marine casualty, so far as the master or individual in charge can do so without serious danger to the masterís or individualís vessel or to individuals on board; and
(2) give the masterís or individualís name and address and identification of the vessel to the master or individual in charge of any other vessel involved in the casualty, to any individual injured, and to the owner of any property damaged.
(b) An individual violating this section or a regulation prescribed under this section shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned for not more than 2 years. The vessel also is liable in rem to the United States Government for the fine.
(c) An individual complying with subsection (a) of this section or gratuitously and in good faith rendering assistance at the scene of a marine casualty without objection by an individual assisted, is not liable for damages as a result of rendering assistance or for an act or omission in providing or arranging salvage, towage, medical treatment, or other assistance when the individual acts as an ordinary, reasonable, and prudent individual would have acted under the circumstances.


Perhaps one might get sued in a state or local court- but there is Case law that makes that premise of a successful argument against the Good Sam Clause very unlikely:

KORPI v. U.S.*-*February 26, 1997.
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Old 04-10-2013, 06:21 PM   #14
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I would chance it, and for what it is worth, I am a civil litigator here in Washington.
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Old 04-10-2013, 06:23 PM   #15
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not really...in the assistance towing industry we see it all the time...the only action required is to save people from drowning.

Good Samaritan only protects to the level of training/experience...hence many doctors no longer stop for roadside accidents....too much can go wrong...too easy to sue...and even if you are protected...who needs the hassle. My suggestions help weed out 90 percent of those that could burn you.

Don't get me wrong...plenty of times and reasons to stop and help as I pointed out above. You have obviously never dealt with such total knuckleheads that no matter how often and what you tell them...they still ignore you and get hurt or damage their boat.
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Old 04-10-2013, 06:30 PM   #16
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You have obviously never dealt with such total knuckleheads that no matter how often and what you tell them...they still ignore you and get hurt or damage their boat.
I have lived all over this fine country, and my opinion might be different if I was boating on the other coast. Sad, but true. Here in the PNW, I truly would not think twice.

Just my opinion based upon experience, not an east v. west thing.
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Old 04-10-2013, 06:43 PM   #17
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If you think this case has ANYTHING to bear upon a good Samaritan tow in benign conditions...well....good luck...

KORPI v. U.S.*-*February 26, 1997.
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Old 04-10-2013, 06:45 PM   #18
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I have lived all over this fine country, and my opinion might be different if I was boating on the other coast. Sad, but true. Here in the PNW, I truly would not think twice.

Just my opinion based upon experience, not an east v. west thing.
And I don't disagree...two coasts, worlds apart.
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Old 04-10-2013, 06:46 PM   #19
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Not having a towing bridle.... I would probably stay close by to help if they broke down. A side tie of a sailboat with our freeboard would be rough...and without a lot of fenders would damage us probably....

I'd certainly stay close by to help if I could...
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Old 04-10-2013, 07:02 PM   #20
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For those that would have contemplated it...

They were going to an anchorage...a side tow would have been overkill and chancing damage.

For a 32 foot sailboat...a bridle isn't even remotely necessary for any trawler of similar or larger size, especially if the sailboat can steer behind you.

Sailboats tow with a breath of wind/or power....so it is really no big deal if you or the other person knows what they are doing...in fact a 5 gallon bucket rigged as a drogue with extra strong attachment points is often necessary to slow the sailboat down from over-running you when you slow.

The beauty of this op was just dropping the tow in a generic location within an anchorage...side towing or bringing that boat into a marina unless you have lot's of experience, the sailor has lot's of experience or the marina has a dock WAYYYYY out in the open is a recipe for disaster as I see it all the time.
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