Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What WOULD the Coast Guard charge?

Yesterday, we wondered aloud about the question of whether the USCG would ever actually charge for a non-emergency response to rescue foolish, or reckless boaters. I ended that post with "I wonder what the hourly costs for running a 47' MLB are?" The question somewhat rhetorical in nature, as I figured that the answer was buried someplace deep in a CG spreadsheet.

I forgot about the new, digital age where so much information is readily available. Even better is the participating in the new age of blogging, where sometimes information comes to you.

Charlie Meyer over at TowBOAT/US Lake Ozark sent me the link to this very interesting document. It seems that the USCG has published the hourly rates they would charge for all their assets like boats, ships, aircraft and personnel. Enclosure 1 (pasted here, click on it to see a bigger version) is titled "Hourly Standard Rates for Cutters, Boats & Aircraft" - how handy is that?

So, not only did my rehtorical question get anwered, but an even better number is presented here: how much would the USCG actually charge a non-government customer (like an insurance agency) for providing service. These are hourly rates, and they include the costs of paying the "normal" crew.

According to the chart, a 47' MLB is charged out at the non government rate of $4189/hour. The sailboat that was towed in from south of Block Island on Dec 19th was towed for 7 hours. Lets say 2 hours to get on scene, plus 2 hours to get back to base from Montauk (where they towed the boat); a total of 11 hours of service. That's $46,079! We are not even close to the total yet. The official report states that the CG also launched a helicopter from Sta Cape Cod. Figure another 4 hours for a HH65A at $9855/hr = $39,420 for the aircraft. So far, I'm up to $85,499 to find and tow a sailboat about 20 miles. That doesn't include any costs for the SAR center costs.

The sailboat from the story, the MOONSHINE, was a 45' Starratt sloop. Here is one for sale in FLA asking $39,000. Why is the USCG spending $85,000 to tow a $40,000 boat? Because they don't put a price on saving lives, and the act of towing this boat was their way to get these seasick sailors home. Okay, I get that.

Suppose, however, that the CG policy was to send a bill if it turns out that the rescue operation was necessary because the boater was reckless or negligent in his duty to conduct a safe voyage? Unforeseen circumstances are one thing, but leaving a safe harbor to begin an ocean crossing when a winter Nor'easter is bearing down on New England is acting with reckless disregard for the lives of everyone involved.

If the USCG started charging for services that were deemed 'non-emergency', what would that achieve? First, it would lower the burden on taxpayers (I admit, not much, but it's the principal of the thing) and shift the costs of non-emergency rescues to the boat owners and their insurance companies, where it belongs; 2) it would punish reckless behavior with a financial dis-incentive, and; 3) it would drive more boaters to use private sector solutions like our industry. The owner of the MOONSHINE could have hired an ocean tug out of Providence RI for $10,000/day

This marks the 100th blog post for 2008. 100 is a nice round number, so I'll make this my last post of this year. See you next year!