Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The End of Recreational Boating?

Here is a little item that was almost lost in a large, boring summary of oil industry news last week:

Oil to Hit $225 a Barrel?
If you think oil and gasoline prices are high now, they may seem cheap before long, according to CIBC World Markets Chief Economist Jeff Rubin. Rubin, who predicted three years ago that oil would reach $100 a barrel, thinks it will climb to $225 a barrel in four years. Gasoline could be around $10 a gallon by that time, he says.

It's that time of year again, and I'm making my long maritime commute from my winter digs in Myrtle Beach to Rhode Island. Here are my observations along the ICW about this season's boating activity so far.

If the boaters in North Carolina are any indication, then the small boaters will be out in force this summer. Lots of outboard boats, small I/Os and runabouts have practically slowed my progress on weekend days. The fuel prices haven't seem to affected that activity.

On the other hand, there is a startling lack of large powerboats passing me each day, which would be typical in past years, as big SeaRays, Hatterases and Vikings from FLA are delivered to New England so the owners can enjoy a few cocktails and sunsets out at Martha's Vineyard or Fire Island.

Yesterday, passing the FREE docks at Elizabeth City, NC, there was only one boat tied up. These docks are usually filled during the spring and fall cruising seasons. I had the Dismal Swamp Canal lock all to myself.

Back to the oil prediction; I read somewhere that in Europe, the boating industry saw a dramatic change when fuel prices hit the dollar equivalent of the $6/gal range.

At $10/gal, burning 15 gal/hr, a two hours spent water skiing with your kids will cost $300 just in fuel. A 30' Carver with twin gas inboards will burn about 25 gph, meaning a six hour round trip to Block Island will cost about $1500 in fuel. These activities will be competing with mortgage payments and rising cable TV bills.

If gas goes to $10/gal in four years, it will cost $220/hr just to run a twin screw towboat (like SafeSea has) in 2012. Suddenly, $250/hr for non-member towing is a money loosing formula.

All the more reason to start looking into branching out into other profitable tasks for your equipment, like derelict disposal contracts with local governments, and privatized security duties with DHS.

Here is my way off the wall prediction: in 10 years, there will be more money to be made with a small boat equipped with a FLIR camera than a towline and salvage pump.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

No TWIC for homeless guy

Does this kind of stuff make you crazy too? I gotta have a TWIC card, even though I never have to enter a secure area, meanwhile, some homeless bum takes a nap inside a Unitied Parcel Service cargo plane that is parked in a secure area of an airport, and they just write him a ticket. The Sacramento Bee reports it this way:

Security personnel at Mather Airport made a surprise discovery Monday night -- a homeless man sound asleep inside a cargo plane. A sheriff's summary released today does not indicate how long the 44-year-old man had been sleeping or how he gained entry into the area off Truemper Way. Deputies were called about 11:40 p.m. after United Parcel Service security guards found him. The security guards then checked the plane and "found it to be clear of suspicious items," the summary states. The man was issued a citation and deputies gave him a ride to a nearby light-rail station, where he was released from custody.

A friend who is a pilot for UPS sent me this email today about the same story:
The IPA and its Security Committee are awaiting additional information from UPS Security on the discovery Monday night of a homeless man asleep inside of a UPS A300 at Mather Airport in Sacramento. Media reports suggest the 44-year-old man followed a fuel truck through the gate and onto the ramp. He then boarded a parked A300 where he apparently stayed for one or two days. However, a sheriff’s summary does not indicate exactly how the man gained entry into the area. It's unclear if maintenance crews or UPS security actually found the man. However, Sheriff deputies were called to the scene and “found it to be clear of suspicious items.”

They just let him GO?? There are dive boat operators in Key West trying to figure out where to install a TWIC card reader on the bridge of their 45' dive boats, because god forbid some terrorist highjacks a Hatteras and trys to blow up Sloppy Joe's Bar; meanwhile, some bum sets up housekeeping inside an empty Airbus at a major airport, and the authorities just write him a citation?

Go figure...

Changes in CPR techniques

The American Heart Association has made some changes in how CPR is done, and its probably different than when you last took a CPR class.

Here is a PDF document that explains what was changed and why. Highlights of the 2005 American Heart Association Guidelines for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care.

The major changes for Lay Rescuers (i.e. not medical professionals) are highlighted on page 4. Two changes that caught my attention are: they do not teach us to feel for a pulse any more, just begin chest compressions. And, they no longer teach rescue breathing without chest compressions. If you do one, you do both.

These are some major changes from the way I've been taught. This year might be a good one for you and your staff to get re-certified in FirstAid/CPR.

Ethanol Lawsuit in California

LOS ANGELES - The law firm of Kabateck Brown Kellner LLP reported it filed a class action lawsuit on April 7 against the major oil companies that sell ethanol-blended fuel, charging that the fuel causes serious damage to marine engines and fuel tanks.
Read the entire article here: The News

Gosh, how great is it to have these nice lawyers fighting for us boaters? According to the article, "Kabateck Brown Kellner LLP reported it has previously won more than $750 million in cases involving Google, Farmers Insurance, Eli Lilly and other major corporations." You know what? I use Google all the time, but I haven't received a dime from that case.

I was a party to a class action suit involving a credit card company: I got a check last month for $3.48. My guess is the lawyers got more than that. You know what happens in the class action suits? The corporations that get sued raise their price points to make up the lost dollars; i.e. they just pass the costs onto the consumer. The end result of this class action suit will be higher marine fuel prices for all Californians, and about 10 lawyers will get nice new yachts...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cape May: Where Boaters BeGone

Ok, sorry for the very bad play on words on SeaTow's new slogan, Where Boaters Belong. When some boaters in Cape May, NJ just abandoned their boats, Phil Risko of SeaTow Cape May decided to step up to the plate, or in this case, dive down into the mud.

Salvage company cleans up abandoned boats in Cape May Harbor

At first you might think "he's nuts! All that work for free?". But step back and really examine this for a minute. Say his actual hard costs to pull a couple of boats up and to the dock is about $1000 for a diver and fuel (maybe less if he does his own diving). You couldn't buy this kind of good will and publicity for $1000. Also, its good practice and training.

I'm with Phil on this one; sometimes you just gotta do something 'cause its the right thing to do.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Does My Boat Need a Secure Area?

Someone asked me to research the new TWIC rules to find out if our assistance towboats would need to comply with the new security rules. Its not actually the TWIC rules that govern vessel security, it was all set forth by the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, which is the Act that imposed the TWIC. The CFR for Vessel Security is in 33 CFR104.105, which I cut & pasted here:
Title 33: Navigation and Navigable Waters
Subpart A—General

§ 104.105 Applicability.

This part applies to the owner or operator of any:

(1) Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU), cargo, or passenger vessel subject to the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea, 1974, (SOLAS), Chapter XI–1 or Chapter XI–2;
(2) Foreign cargo vessel greater than 100 gross register tons;
(3) Self-propelled U.S. cargo vessel greater than 100 gross register tons subject to 46 CFR subchapter I, except commercial fishing vessels inspected under 46 CFR part 105;
(4) Vessel subject to 46 CFR chapter I, subchapter L; [Cargo & Offshore Supply vessels]
(5) Passenger vessel subject to 46 CFR chapter I, subchapter H; [cargo & inspected pass. vessels]
(6) Passenger vessel certificated to carry more than 150 passengers;
(7) Other passenger vessel carrying more than 12 passengers, including at least one passenger-for-hire, that is engaged on an international voyage;
(8) Barge subject to 46 CFR chapter I, subchapters D or O; [Cargo, Tank & Bulk Cargo]
(9) Barge carrying certain dangerous cargo in bulk or barge that is subject to 46 CFR Chapter I, subchapter I, that is engaged on an international voyage.
(10) Tankship subject to 46 CFR chapter I, subchapters D or O; and
(11) Towing vessel greater than eight meters in registered length that is engaged in towing a barge or barges subject to this part, except a towing vessel that—
(i) Temporarily assists another vessel engaged in towing a barge or barges subject to this part;
(ii) Shifts a barge or barges subject to this part at a facility or within a fleeting facility;
(iii) Assists sections of a tow through a lock; or
(iv) Provides emergency assistance.
So, you guys that tow barges or run a crew boats will need to check into the rules more carefully, but the Marine Assistance & Towing industry boats are generally exempt, based on #11 above. If your towboat is 8 meters or less, you are exempt. If you are greater than 8 meters and providing emergency assistance, you are still exempt. Towing a disabled vessel in a NON-emergency situation isn't specifically mentioned, but I think that "provides emergency assistance" was meant to exempt a class of vessels, rather than an act. The way I read this is "Vessels that are routinely employed for providing emergency assistance to other vessels are exempt from the rule," assuming they don't fall under one of the other 10 criteria. I will try and get a clarification from USCG to confirm that.

UPDATE: Please don't confuse the vessel security rules with the requirements for all licensed mariners to get a TWIC card. Even if your boat doesn't have a security plan or secure areas, you MUST TWIC!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Wreck Removal Coverage

I was snooping around on the Progressive Insurance website, when I came across this item about boat insurance:

Wreckage Removal coverage is automatically included with Comprehensive and Collision coverage. If you use Comprehensive or Collision coverage, Wreckage Removal pays for reasonable costs you incur for any attempted raising, removal or destruction of the wreckage of your insured boat or PWC. Wreckage Removal limits vary based on whether or not you are legally required to raise, remove or destroy a boat or PWC.

Comprehensive & Collision is what we would call hull insurance. I guess its hard for them to break out of the auto insurance vocabulary. The part I find so interesting is their statement that the "removal limits vary based on whether or not you are legally required to raise...."
Last summer, I had a case where a boat settled on top of a mooring anchor's shank. Thats right - a 500# mushroom anchor shank came right up through the bilge between the engines. Pictured here is the top of the shank in his bilge, surrounded by our Rule 8000 pumps and hoses. The hole was about 4" in diameter. The job was an adventure in its own right, but back to the wreck removal issue.
The boat owner was insured with Liability only insurance through Progressive (not Comp & Collision). The local Harbor Master wrote a letter (after the job) that said that the owner was liable to remove his vessel from the town mooring field. We charged a six figure fee to get this boat safely on to a trailer, and Progressive re-imbursed him the entire amount. Now that's a happy ending for everyone.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

NBOA and SeaRay

Press release today:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn., March 31, 2008 – Sea Ray Boats, the world's largest manufacturer of superior quality pleasure boats in business since 1959, has announced their “Platinum Partnership” with the National Boat Owners Association, also known as NBOA. It is only natural that Sea Ray partner with NBOA, an organization with a history of being one of the largest U.S. agencies to specialize in marine insurance. NBOA takes great pride in providing their customers with unparalleled rates. [click here for complete release]
Please note that I pulled the press release from the Brunswick corportate website. Here is a screenshot of all their marine brands:

Now, if NBOA can leverage the SeaRay deal deeper into the Brunswick line-up, could it have an effect on Boat/US and SeaTow's memberships? I doubt it, because if you tow an NBOA member, you will charge them up front, and they have to seek re-imbursment. Boaters have fully embraced the no hassle, no hourly charges, "just tow me I'm a member" concept offered by SeaTow and BOAT/US.

NBOA doesn't have any towboats, so what service are they trying to market?

The “Platinum” insurance package including exclusive rates, free towing
coverage, discounts on boating safety products and more. The customary towing
program, for example, is a favorable feature of the new partnership, offering
members $1,000 in additional on-water coverage, as well as $150 on-road towing
assistance, guaranteeing members complete coverage

How does $1000 of on-water coverage guarantee complete coverage? How far is $1000 going to tow the average 40' SeaRay?

Well, the deal is more about hull insurance than towing coverage, I guess. We've seen these deals before. I remember in 2001 when Vessel Assist Asso. announced their participation in MercuryCare; every Mercury (a Brunswick brand, by the way) product came with a free membership. Didn't SeaTow announce a partnership with Genmar a few years ago?

So, all in all, this press release is just a big yawn.