Sea Tow: More Tales of the Value of Membership
By Mike Aldridge
Owning a boat is just like anything else. There are things to learn, new systems to understand. There’s maintenance and cleaning. There are those “rules of the road,” as it were. And on and on. The good times outweigh all that, right?
But like the Scouts, you have to “Be Prepared.” Because, just like in every other part of life, unexpected things happen. What follows are a couple of short stories that illustrate the point. If you’re anything like our subjects, Jack and Dave, you’ll come to appreciate the value of a Sea Tow membership, if you don’t already.
Being grounded has some really positive connotations. Unless you’re a boater …
There’s an old saw that goes: “Only two sailors never ran aground. One never left port & the other was an atrocious liar.” Running aground is one of the most frequent calls-for-service Sea Tow operators receive. It’s easy to do, especially so if the captain is new to boating, or in unfamiliar waters. Or maybe isn’t paying attention.
The larger lakes in our area, for instance, are controlled by electric utilities whose primary concern is the generation of power. The water, of course, is a public resource, but the power companies are trustees, and regulate much of what goes on on the lakes. As trustees, these companies also manage, or attempt to manage, water flow from one lake to another in an effort to control flooding. As a result of the ensuing machinations, water levels can rise and fall for reasons sometimes beyond the understanding of the average boater.
When levels fall, hazards to navigation can appear and cause all sorts of problems, ranging from surprise appearances of normally submerged sandbars or, worse, hard structures long covered and forgotten once the dam downstream was completed and the lake filled.
But I’m wading into the hydrilla here …
Let’s check in on Jack. Jack’s a great guy. He’s the kind of person you want to have as a friend. He might borrow your ladder, but he’s pretty good at returning it. But Jack isn’t otherwise a detail kind of guy, though.
Like so many people during the upheavals that occurred during 2020, Jack and his wife decided to buy a boat. The kids will love it, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. And they were right.
In the process of buying the boat, the dealer had encouraged both Jack and his wife to take some boating safety courses. During the boat demonstration run, the dealer pointed out some local hazards and issued some tips on safety, along with all the other detail one must absorb when buying a boat … and driving a boat … for the first time.
There was also some cursory discussion of water-level fluctuations like in the spring, when levels might drop in anticipation of heavy rain, especially upstream.
But remember? Jack’s not a detail kind of guy. He is a guy, however, and insisted he’d be captain of the new vessel and assume responsibility for all those new boat-owner details. How hard could it be? Let’s just drop the boat in the water and take it for a spin! Everyone’s excited!
Getting to the wildlife access ramp was uneventful. Backing the boat into the water … well, that was something else. A kindly soul who had just pulled his boat out stepped in to help hapless Jack. But no worries. Jack figured he’d be a seasoned pro after a few more visits to the ramp. But today. Today the sun is in the sky and there’s nothing but open water and big fun ahead.
And it was big fun. The boat performed flawlessly. Fortunately, there wasn’t much other boat traffic, so Jack begins to relax. That’s when it happened. That’s when it always happens.
Jack and the love of his life are having a great conversation about the wisdom of their new purchase, the kids are excited and happy to be on the water. They’re looking forward to actually getting IN the water. And soon.
Let’s see. The sandbar Neighbor Bob told Jack about has to be around here somewhere. And … oops. Found it!
It’s a good thing Jack has slowed his speed. The brand new boat was now ON the sandbar. Jack’s sunglasses had gone flying. The kids were unhurt, but out of their seats and on the deck. Jack’s wife, none too amused, was fine, too, but her new sun hat was in the water. Now what?
That boating course Jack had planned to take seems like an even better idea now. But that’s water over the sandbar. Having no real clue how to extricate himself, the new boat, and his entire family from this embarrassing situation, Jack began remembering the advice from his boat dealer. What to do about this thing or that. And … what did he say? … “Buy the membership. It’s 24/7 help.” Right now Jack could use a big dose of help. Where’s that card?!
A short search later, Jack triumphantly pulled the Sea Tow membership card from its safe location in the console and dials the toll-free number. Help is on the way. Simple.
Of course, now there’s the wait. It’s the time Jack and his unamused family have to wait for help to arrive. It’s a good thing, though. And not long, really. It’s time to reflect on somewhat rash behavior. Time to think about how to avoid this situation in the future. Time to be thankful for the good advice of his boat dealer … and that Sea Tow captain who really is on the way.
Dave kept his boat at the marina, up on one of those racks. He learned pretty quickly that backing his boat on a trailer into the water at the public access only served to amuse the bystanders. At the marina, some guy with a huge forklift would fetch Dave’s boat and put it in the water just as pretty as you please. No fuss, no bother. Well, it may have bothered the forklift guy, but that’s his job.
So Dave’s boat is in the water, tied up at the gas dock. One of the dockhands is fueling Dave’s boat. Dave’s friends are loading the coolers and all that other important gear for a Saturday on the water. The weather is perfect and they’ll soon be off on another adventure.
The idea was to beach the boat on one of the islands and to set up the cornhole boards. Or maybe pitch the football around. Dave doesn’t care.
The fueling done, Dave takes the boat and boatload of friends out of the marina and out into the main channel, looking for fun. It didn’t seem important that the motor was a little sluggish, that it didn’t turn over instantly. Maybe it was his imagination. If the battery was weak, though, the alternator would charge it while they cruised along. All that mattered was that the boat was running now, and the wind was blowing his cares away.
It wasn’t long before they spotted a great place to beach, and it looked like they’d have the little island to themselves. So far things were working as planned. Well, there was no plan, but things were going well. Boat beached. Gear out. Dave turned up the audio system aboard the boat, but not too loud. Also, Dave’s boat came equipped with a blender, so there was some drink-making activity. And Dave had recently invested in one of those coolers that plugs into the electrical system so they wouldn’t have to carry so much ice. Well, really it kept the ice around longer. But whatever.
Being the careful navigator, Dave had been running the GPS system and the depth finder during the trip out. Probably they were still on. Even though Dave had two batteries aboard, one for starting the motor, one for the growing number of electronics hungry for power, the electrical system aboard was simply over-taxed. Also, in the frenzy of installation, things just weren’t carefully or correctly connected.
In any event, the end of their day on the water was approaching. Some of Dave’s friends had evening plans in town. Dave had a date with the wash-down at the marina. So the gear is stowed, and it was time to go. Two of Dave’s friends pushed the boat off the beach and clambered in over the gunnels. Dave turned the key and … nothing.
Good thing Dave had the foresight to buy one of those Weego jump starters. Those things hold a charge for a long, long time and have the power to get Dave’s motor running again. Except Dave left the Weego in the trunk of his car. Back at the public access. Where it’s still holding its charge.
Then Dave remembered that he got a discount on a Sea Tow membership when he bought that Weego. So who looks like a rocket scientist now?
Thankfully, Dave’s phone still had some power and a signal. The call was made and a nearby Sea Tow captain was now en route. (Yes, that’s spelled correctly. Look it up.) The Sea Tow captain towed Dave’s boat back to the marina where Dave was able to arrange for an inspection of his electrical system and have the batteries checked. Probably time for replacements anyway.
There’s nothing unusual about Jack or Dave. They’re regular guys with regular jobs and regular families. And they’re sunshine boaters. You know them. They probably live next door or down the street. And they do regular things, like run aground or overload their batteries.
Both Jack and Dave, however, had the good fortune or good foresight to have invested in a Sea Tow membership. Sea Tow’s captains are a resource you’ll need one day when you least expect it, and they’ll be on the way.
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Other Tales of the Normal.
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Even More Tales of the Value