Monday, February 26, 2007

Shameless Self Promotion

Just to remind the towers in the world that I am now a member of the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS), and I am fully qualified to conduct a survey on your towboats for insurance purposes. If you are on the east coast, I could probably work out a really good deal for you.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Ambulance chasers

I've been thinking about the hourly towing rates for non-emergency service, and its hard to come up with a real comparison from another industry, because what we do is so unique. But why not look at the Ambulance industry for some guidance at least? There are some similarities: a crew that operates very specialized, motorized equipment that is expensive to buy and maintain. The drivers need to have a license or certificate to do the job. The crews respond to differing levels of emergencies; from transporting stable patients with little medical needs all the way to Code 3, life saving response. Here is an image of an interesting document. Just click anywhere on it and it will come up in a bigger window. When you're done looking, just hit your back button to come back here. These are the maximum rates that a private ambulance company that is licensed by the county can charge the public.

You can see the entire thing for yourself by clicking here:

Wow, you're thinking....$868 bucks an hour! No wonder my Blue Cross is so high. Ah, but you didn't look carefully. That's $868 per call response, not per hour. Go to the link and read the entire 3 pages. In essence, this is the minimum charge to get underway on a code 3. There is a waiting time fee of $40/hr, and a standby time of $38/hr, (whoops!, thats $40 every fifteen minutes, which is an additional $160/hr. see comments below) plus an additional $65.75 per call for night rate, plus $14 per mile. Oh, did you want bandages with that ambulance? Add $21. Oxygen tanks? $50. per tank. The list goes on. Basic lifesupport is only $610 per call response, plus the extras. Think that an ambulance is more expensive than your towboat?

Have a look at this ad for the used ambulance pictured here. This rig has 38,000 miles on it, and is asking $57,500, "negotiable." This is a turbo diesel 2001 model. Described as in mint condition and fully loaded, I would expect that it still has years of life left in it. To see many more examples like this, go to AmbulanceTrader.
You're wondering what is the point of all this? The point is, if you are investing money in a specialized asset like an ambulance, or a custom towboat, what is your return? You can invest fifty grand in a used towboat, and earn about $200/hr, or you could buy a used ambulance and earn about $1000/hr. Ok, so maybe you only do 2 calls per day with the ambulance. But how many hours of marine towing would you have to do to make up the difference?

Now, before you go accusing me of comparing apples to lifejackets, look at this snip of a job listing I found just today on a popular job search engine:

This is for a qualified Emergency Med. Technician (EMT) for an ambulance crew in Los Angeles, where the above rate sheet is in effect. The applicant needs less than 1 year experience, and a High School diploma or GED, plus the EMT certification. I believe that getting an EMT is easier than getting a 100t Master's License. I know that an EMT doesn't have to prove 720 days to get certified. Wouldn't the salary range mentioned here be about the same as the average towboat captain? This EMT job inclues BlueCross, Dental and a uniform. Do you offer your captains full medical benefits? Why not?

I'm not suggesting that towboats start to charge $868/hour (plus $14/mile). But I think everyone should evaluate their hourly rate based on some kind of return on investment. When businessmen do that, they make comparisons to discover if the investment is a good one. From that perspective, a towboat is a terrible investment.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

CO and the towboat driver

Posted at the BoatUS. com Consumer Protection Bureau:

"According to U.S. Coast Guard accident statistics, nearly 200 fatal CO poisonings are known to have occurred on or near recreational boats over the years. Since the symptoms from exposure to low levels are similar to seasickness, the actual number of boaters who have been affected by CO may be considerably higher than statistics indicate. "

It occurs to me that we spend hours towing downwind, usually under a 3 sided wheelhouse. Cabon Monoxide is deadly stuff, so this is just something to keep in mind.

Coast Guard Chief Announces Plans to Overhaul the Service - New York Times

Read the entire story here.

The overhaul is intended to address mounting criticism of a $24 Billion equipment program known as Deepwater, which is replacing or rebuilding most of the service’s large ships, planes and helicopters.

Don't think this effects us much, other than the article mentions that this overhaul is expected to sink the coast guard deeper into Homeland Security.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

USCG Scuttles Fishing Vessel Off Cape Cod

A story in today's South Coast reports that the USCG Cutter Cambell used her .50 cal to sink a boat that they tried and failed to tow a few days ago.

NEW BEDFORD — The Coast Guard sank the New Bedford fishing vessel Creole Belle after salvage efforts to save the 74-foot scalloper failed. Yesterday, the Creole Belle's captain — one of three crewmembers rescued from the crippled boat by the Coast Guard on Thursday — blamed the Coast Guard for the loss of his vessel. The Coast Guard said the Creole Belle posed a serious threat to other vessels after its main propulsion engine went out and it was adrift on the open seas and taking on water.

The captain of this boat is quoted in the article, and he isn't happy with the results of the Coast Guard's efforts to rescue the crew and boat:
Kevin J. Mello of New Bedford, the vessel's 40-year-old captain, said the sinking could have been avoided had the rescue been conducted differently. He was critical of the decision-making by the Campbell, which said the only way it could attach a tow line was if the Creole Belle detached from its anchor.

This same Coast Guard district continues to have run-ins with the fishing fleet out of New Bedford, Mass. It looks like the have stepped in **it again...

UPDATE: Further inquiry leads me to believe that the Creole Belle was in a questionable state of repair and maybe not even insured; not an unrealistic statement about a commercial fishing boat. Perhaps the Coast Guard did the best they could with the hand they were dealt. Remember that this link to a newspaper article is only one side of the story

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The Truth about Cell Phones And the National Do Not Call Registry

If you receive email telling you that your cell phone number is about to be on a telemarking list, forget about it. It will not happen, and the email, even if from a good friend, is wrong.


Also see:

Monday, February 5, 2007

Dead Men Tapping

Dead Men Tapping is the true story about a commercial fishing boat that gets run over by a tug & barge off of Cape Ann, Mass, and the subsequent lawsuit against the Coast Guard for negligence in botching the rescue. One of the main characters in the book is Mike Goodridge of TowBoat/US Newburyport. The author threads the story of attempts to rescue three men trapped in the upside down fishing boat with scenes from the testimony of the court case.

I think this book should be required reading for every single C-PORT member. You will find a link to on the right side of the page to order this book.

You will not be disappointed.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

The MARB policy in writing

The MARB policy is in fact a small part of the Search & Rescue policy, which is contained in a document called "U. S. COAST GUARD ADDENDUM TO THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL SEARCH AND RESCUE SUPPLEMENT (NSS)". Below is a link to a PDF of the entire document.

Chapter 4, section 1 contains the Maritime Search and Rescue Policy (MSAP). It is the MSAP that defines what a MARB is, and all the official guidelines for a MARB on contained in chapter 4.1. If you are in the marine assistance business, you should be very familiar with the MSAP. I've read it so many times I can recite parts of it. Being able to quote the MSAP can be very useful when communicating your intentions and needs to the Coast Guard in the middle of a SAR case.

While you are checking that out, be sure and have a look at sections 4.2 (Forced Evacuations) and 4.3 (General Salvage Policy). For more on forced evacuations, read "Dead Men Tapping" by Kate Yeomans.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Derelict boats create income opportunity

There has been a rash of stories like this in the press lately:
Macon Telegraph 01/29/2007 Derelict boats vexing coast and I think towers should be harvesting the contact information of names and agencies that are getting the funding. Why not send them a letter of introduction, along with some pictures of your equipment and a request that you be including in the bidding.

If you are not using the automatic Google search feature, you should check it out. Every day I get an email from Google with a summary of all the news that includes words like salvage, derelict boat, boating accident. You can create your own search criteria. Thats how I found this story.

Sea Tow Announces foray into Insurance

Sea\\Tow International made an interesting announcement today that they were partnering with AIG insurance to create an insurance program exclusively for SeaTow members.

According to the press release, one must be a SeaTow member to bind coverage, but anyone can get a quote. It looks like Sea\\Tow has designed a group discount program for all of its members:

"Now there’s marine insurance that rewards your safety-conscious boating lifestyle based on the members being more safety conscious"
Any conflict of interest for salvage situations? I doubt it. This probably isn't any different than the relationship between Boat/US insurance and the TowBoat/US towers. But the marine insurance industry seems so fickle these days that this kind of program can run into growing pains. I remember when Vessel Assist had a couple of exclusive deals to provide marine insurance, and when the underwriter bailed out, there was some chaos until a new underwriter took over. Lets hope that doesn't happen in this case.

Anyway, congrats to Joe Fro and all the tow bees! Quality insurance for all boaters is something that benefits everyone involved in boating.

And, more congrats for being the subject of my first blog post.