Wednesday, March 26, 2008

SeaTow Press Release

By now, most of you have seen the latest press release from SeaTow , announcing SeaTow's "evolution into a full-service organization dedicated to the savings, services and security of the recreational boating public". Because SeaTow is one of the two largest assistance membership networks, Red Right Returning is obligated to weigh in.

First of all, Joe Frohnhoefer has every right to claim bragging rights as the brainchild of what is perhaps the very best possible choice for a brand name for an assistance towing company. Brand name 101: keep it simple. SeaTow - two distinct syllables, almost impossible to garble on VHF radios, easy to remember when you actually need the service.

But, as the saying goes, be careful what you ask for. SeaTow is now facing an age old problem in marketing: how do you expand beyond your own trademark image? Can SeaTow convince the recreational boating market to think beyond the syllable tow, and understand that the company offers more than towing? From the press release:

Our brand and our reputation have been based on providing the most professional marine assistance to recreational boaters in need...Now it’s time for us to start taking credit with the boating population for all this organization has to offer its members....[like] Trailer Care™, Sea Smart™ VHF, Sea Insure®, Sea Loans™ and the Boating Safety & Education Foundation, while also expanding its member-exclusive Advantage Network™ savings program

The concept of a full service boating membership organization isn't new. Yacht insurance, boat financing, group discounts and foundations to promote boater safety & education have been available to members of BOAT/US for many years.

Indeed, BOAT/US began as an insurance and education organization, and was actually a late comer to the branded towboat idea. Their towing brand, TowBOAT/US, just doesn't roll off the tongue though, now does it? When your brand name rhymes with tuberculosis....

Anyway, SeaTow's press release basically announces their hope that a new slogan - Where Boaters Belong™ - will help them break the stigma of their own brand name success.

I have to admit, Joe Fro has done it again. I think Where Boaters Belong™ is a fabulous slogan. Whether it will achieve the goal remains to be seen.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Reduced TWIC fees for Recent License Renewals

Did you know that if your current USCG license was issued after Jan 13, 2006, you're eligable for a reduced "security threat assessment"?
From the TSA TWIC page FAQs:

A reduced fee of $105.25 will be made available for applicants who will not require the security threat assessment. The reduced fee is available for the following:
>applicants who hold a Merchant Marine License (MML) issued after January 13, 2006.

For those applicants seeking to pay the reduced fee, they must present their HME, FAST card, MMD, or MML (meeting the requirements outlined above) at the time of enrollment.

Now, aren't you glad you subscribed to Red Right Returning? This might save you $27.25!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Multi Tow Contest, current leader

Well, the piddly little triple tow picture I posted the other day has been put into perspective.
What a fool I was to even post such a meager accomplishment as that. Capt. Lee over at Poseidon Towing and Salvage has done a bunch of muliple tows. My favorite was this one: Thats 5 sail boats (one going backwards!) all behind one towboat.
Evidently, these were all derelicts from hurricane Wilma, all headed for the demo yard. How do you hip up to this mess?

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Very TWICilicious Page

Maybe I'm spending too much time surfing the net, but I can't believe how much BS and just plain bad information is running around concerning the requirement for a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC). I put together all my links and research onto a single webpage: Doug's TWICilicious Page. Most of my readers are up to speed on this, but feel free to spread this link around to anyone who might make use of it.

Don't Try This at Home

Here is one that I bet most of you haven't tried. The story on this picture is that I was on my way up to Malibu (about 10 miles from MDR) to pick up a boat for a customer at the end of the season. He anchors his boat off the beach in front of his house. He couldn't be there, but I figured I could handle a 23' I/O by myself. This was a flat rate, scheduled tow. On my way up there, VA dispatch called and said they had a member disabled up near Malibu in a 16' SeaDoo Jetboat - could I tow that back to MDR? Sure, why not. I figure a tandem tow with two little boats is no big deal, and I can make tandem profits.

When I get up to the SeaDoo, the guy has put his boat on the lifeguard mooring, with another 10' SeaDoo jetboat tied behind the 16' Jetboat; and he has swum ashore to get his trailer. On the phone, he tells me the smaller boat got swamped while he tried to tow the larger one, and they both need to go to MDR. So, I gather up the 2 SeaDoo Jetboats, then head over to my original target, the 23' I/O.

With some careful maneuvering and favorable currents, I managed to get the entire mess all stretched out on two towlines. On the way home, I nervously looked back every few minutes to be sure all three little ducks were still following. About halfway to the harbor, I looked back and the smallest jetboat was gone! By now I was out of the lee and the chop was kicking up bigger than the photo. I turned around and found the AWOL boat about 1 mile back. Getting that hooked back up was a nightmere. Somehow, I got all 4 boats (3 casualites and 1 towboat) back to Marina Del Rey without futher ado.

So, a triple tow, all 3 unattended, and me with no deckhand.

California tower getting some press

Channel Watch Marine (aka Vessel Assist Ventura) launched a new web site called, which will carry video footage of marine rescues. Channal Watch Marine owner Paul Amaral hopes to host plenty of dramatic video from many sources around the industry, but for now I suppose most of the content comes from his own cameras.

Last week, a nice article appeared in the a Calif. regional marine newspaper [click here to read The Log article], and today I saw that article was picked up by the USCG email news feed. The nature of that kind of internet exposure will drive a lot of traffic to I sure hope Paul is set up to sell some ad space.

If you have some good footage, click here to email Paul about getting your 15 minutes of fame.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ship pilot charged in spill - San Jose Mercury News

In case you hadn't heard.

Ship pilot charged in spill - San Jose Mercury News

Prosecutors on Monday charged John Joseph Cota with misdemeanor violations of
the federal Clean Water Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, saying that his
negligence caused the Nov. 7, 2007, collision of the Cosco Busan, spoiled miles
of ocean waters and killed thousands of birds. The U.S. Department of Justice
previously filed a civil lawsuit against Cota and the ship's owner, but the
criminal charges signal an even more aggressive response to a near-disaster.....

Web site: PlanetData

I found this PlanetData last week while surfing around.

PlanetData "The Security News Network" is a security news and information website organized by important security industry markets including Global Security, Aviation Security, Corporate Security, Cyber Security, Homeland Security, Maritime Security, Law Enforcement and Intelligence.
Our goal is to be the trusted source for the timely, relevant and vital information our members need in order to stay abreast of the security threats and concerns that can affect their lives, businesses and communities at large.

They have an entire section dedicated to Maritime Security, and while the content would generally be focused on shipping, there is some news that is of interest to us, like this interesting read:

PlanetData / Maritime Security / Articles / The Small Boat Threat: No Easy Answers

There are two reasons that you should be watching the small boat threat topic: 1) regulations being contemplated for small boats will probably effect your business. 2) I think there will be profitable opportunities for those in our industry willing to branch out into security work.

More From the Strange & Weird Tow Archives

Well, the picture of me towing the ultra-light airplane generated some responses. So far, my favorite is this one. Not only did Richard Rodriguez from VAAA Friday Harbor tow an airplane, he was HIPPED UP to it!
Great picture Richard.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Little Cross Pollination

Capt. Richard J. Rodriguez works with Vessel Assist up in the San Juan Islands (that's in the Pacific Northwest for you geographically challenged types), and he also posts a nice blog about assistance towing and salvage and things generally of interest to readers of RRR. He gave RedRightReturning nice plug this week in his blog, and its my turn to return the favor.

Click on over to the Bitter End blog to see what he has to offer.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Can We Salvage Our Vocabulary?

Many years ago, the powers that be carefully laid out the distinction between salvage and towage. The U.S. Supreme Court may have been the very first to coin the term simple towage. Isn't it ironic that simple towage came into use precisely as a way to explain that most towing of disabled vessels is, in the eyes of the court, an act of salvage? In this case, the words were used to make the distinction clear. In more recent history, words have been used to muddy the waters and blur the distinction.

The national membership networks have added to the confusion, in particular with business plans that include a relentless campaign to market towing of disabled boats as completely separate from salvage, when in fact, under Blackwall and SalCon89, it should be considered contract salvage. But, the profit is the same to the provider of the assistance, so... whatever, right?

Now, I don't know if Boat/US is responsible for inventing the phrase Soft Aground, but their membership program has certainly contributed to its broad acceptance. The phrase is now so prevalent that it is in common usage by the USCG.[click here to listen to a short audio clip of what I'm talking about] While Boat/US doesn't want to cover salvage, their membership will cover the contract fees for Soft Ungrounding. And again, this service is marketed as somehow outside the definition of salvage. Low degree of peril, one boat, one towline...."simple", right? As in simple towage.

Who, though, can really argue that the act of ungrounding a vessel isn't actually an act of salvage under the Blackwall factors? I can imagine Justice Clifford (perhaps the father of modern salvage laws) rolling over in his grave every time someone utters the phrase soft aground. But, the profit is about the same to the provider of the soft ungrounding, so... whatever, right?

The point of all this is not to uncover some sinister conspiracy on Boat/US's part to circumvent the salvage laws, because I don't believe such a conspiracy exists. But you have to admit that their marketing and membership literature goes out of its way to draw a clear distinction between towing and salvage. Salvage is always something to be wary of, to be avoided whenever possible. Towing, on the other hand, is portrayed as so simple and carefree that one might look forward to it as one might look forward to getting a birthday cake. Don't forget to renew!

In this world of vocabulary gymnastics, contract salvage has morphed into simple towing -salvage from running aground has become a soft ungrounding service covered under the towing membership. When does it all end? Will boat fires become "extraordinarily warm cabin surfaces requiring only one man and one extinguisher to unwarm"... ?

You're laughing and thinking that once again, Doug has slipped his hawser. Well, this week, I received my Boat/US "eLine" membership email newsletter, which contains the following quote and photo:

9. If your boat sinks, we pay the cost to "unsink" it in addition to covering your boat. In other words, the cost of the salvage is not deducted from your repair funds, which leaves more money toward fixing or replacing your boat.

UNSINK? First of all, the picture clearly depicts a wreck removal. That boat will be totalled, so there will be no post salvage value to base any salvage award on. This job will be done either per-foot or time and materials. Maybe wreck removal is the only kind of salvage work that Boat/US doesn't want their customers to fear? Oh sure, I see that they used the word salvage in the second sentence, but the photo sure doesn't fit with the legal definition of salvage. The result continues to blur the lines. More muddy water.

Now, to be totally fair, this was not presented as part of the towing membership program. The unsinking story is part of a hull insurance sales pitch, so maybe I'm guilty of some apples to oranges comparisons. But, its all under the same Boat/US brand name. They certainly don't make an effort to distinguish between their membership and insurance divisions, so why should I?

Back to the salvage vocabulary: what's up with this new word: unsink? Can covered unsinking service be far behind? You know, one man, one boat, one pump...its not a salvage, it was a covered unsinking! Call it simple dewatering.

If Boat/US marketing hasn't invented yet another way to confuse the concept of salvage, why did they put the quotes around the word unsink?

But, whatever...right?

Friday, March 14, 2008

USCG SAR Meetings

All the commercial salvors and assistance providers should be attending twice annual meetings with their local USCG units. The meetings are intended to provide a forum to discuss operational issues between the Coast Guard and private enterprise, and to foster cooperation between all those acting within the local SAR system, like local fire, police & sheriff departments, and any other agencies that regularly respond.

These meetings are generally scheduled for the spring and fall, so perhaps yours is coming up soon. One item that inevitably appears on the agenda is a review of the Coast Guard MARB proceedures. The Maritime SAR Assistance Policy (MSAP) is the actual document that articulates the MARB concept.

The opening sentence of the MSAP reads:

This section sets forth policy and procedures for handling requests for any type of Search and Rescue (SAR) assistance from the Coast Guard and defines Coast Guard relationships with other possible sources of assistance.
The text of the MSAP then opens with the very first section (4.1.1):

The MSAP is the result of an effort enacted by Congress in 1982. It directed the Commandant to “review Coast Guard policies and procedures for towing and salvage of disabled vessels in order to further minimize the possibility of Coast Guard competition or interference with...commercial enterprise.” The review was directed because of congressional concern that Coast Guard resources were being used unnecessarily to provide nonemergency assistance to disabled vessels that could be adequately performed by the private sector.

The MSAP represents more than a decade of development of relationships among the Coast Guard, Congress, the commercial towing industry, and the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Each iteration of the MSAP has received close scrutiny. It has been a give-and-take process that has culminated in a policy that is equitable to all stakeholders.

Those are perhaps the two most important paragraphs ever written about commercial marine assistance.

The first is a reminder that the U.S. Congress recognized that CG resources were being used unnecessarily (i.e. wasting tax payer dollars), and I think that fact sometimes eludes the local agencies who continue to spend tax dollars on tasks that "could be adequately performed by the private sector."

The second paragraph refers to an equitable relationship to all stakeholders. The equity, however, is directly dependant on all the parties striving to follow the MSAP as rigorously as possible. If the local Lifeguards, for instance, ignore or discount the spirit of the MSAP, or otherwise refuse to recognize the validity of the concepts the MSAP embodies, then a situation of inequity will probably exist.

So, back to the meetings. I think that you should ask that your CG meeting begin with a reading of the above quotes. Heck, its their policy, so they shouldn't balk at saying it outloud. Maybe the local agencies (hopefully in attendance) were not aware of this policy, or the reason for its existance. With the regular promotions and career changes inside the CG, its a good bet that many of the junior USCG staff attending the meeting have never heard those two paragraphs either. Furthermore, the "close scrutiny and give-and-take process" is the reason for the meeting in the first place, and I can think of no better words to explain what the meeting is for than those two paragraphs.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Lowering prices may cost you

Pricing for your hourly services is should be a hot topic for this industry, but resistance to the possibility of higher prices continues pervade throughtout, especially in some of the smaller markets. At C-PORT last month, I still heard the "our customers won't pay that much" mantra. You may remember that I blogged about this a year ago [read it here].

With the possibility of a recession on the horizon, Dave Delano sent me this link:

Five Pricing Strategies For Companies During A Recession

While this advice is more towards manufacturers and supply chains, the message to avoid simply lowering your prices is good advice. The link above is a short summary of some ideas, and deserves a quick read.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

License Creep

Are you aware of the concept of license creep? When you renew your USCG license, the new license will expire exactly 5 years from the date of issue of the renewed license. So, if you renew 5 months before your current license expires, you will loose 4 or 5 months of the fee you paid when you got the previous license. If you are on your 4th or 5th renewal, you may have lost over a year's worth of user fees.

Say you got your first license on January 1, 1980. You would have been required to renew in '85, '90, '95, 2000 and 2005 to be current today. So, you should be on the 6th issue of your license. But, if you always tried to be a good scout and renewed 6 months early each time, you would actually already be on your 7th issue rather than your 6th.

Here is the deal: you pay about $100 in fees to get a 5 year license, but you can only use all 60 months of that if you wait to the very last day to renew. Over the course of your career, you end up getting cheated, because you're paying fees based on a 60 month renewal cycle, but you are forced to "surrender" some of those months when you renew.

Well, the Coast Guard calls this license creep. They recognize that it happens, and they have put in place system to keep it at a minumum. Here is a link to the official Policy Letter that explains to the REC how to deal with the problem.

When I renewed in December, I asked about this issue, but I didn't have this Policy Letter in hand, and the license examiner didn't seem to know anything about this policy and just kinda shrugged his shoulders and said "too bad"...

If your renewal is coming up, print this out and request "delayed issuance" of your next license.

Monday, March 3, 2008

From the weird and strange tow archives

How many of you can claim you towed an airplane?
OK, this was a small ultralight, but still, it counts..Send me a photo of your weird tows, and I'll post them