Caution Anglers-Freshwater Pirates
ATTENTION BASS ANGLERS AND BOATERS
I have been a Police Officer for 17 years my job basically consist of protecting life and property. My recent experience at the last BASS Northern Open on Lake Erie I fell victim to the very thing I thought should never happen to me. The goal of this story is to make sure any bass angler and boater never finds themselves in the position which I faced during this last event.
My dilemma started on day one of the event when I arrived at my location on the east side of Peele Island and my motor malfunctioned. At that point I knew I would need assistance with a tow in, but first let me clarify some things to keep me from answering a flood of questions when this article is finished. I grew up fishing the St. Lawrence River, Lake Champlain and Lake Ontario so traversing the big bodies of water is something I have plenty of practice with. Next I have a 2014 Nitro Z9 with a Mercury Pro XS motor. The boat is rock solid and a great rough water ride and with any bass boat it is only as good as the person who is operating it. At the beginning of my season I purchased a TOW BOAT US package. This package was said to cover unlimited towing, fuel assist and I also added on the trailer assist. Like many anglers I also have the biggest insurance package through Progressive in order to make sure I keep out of pocket expenses at a minimum and can have peace of mind while fishing. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what these packages offer lets clarify some definitions.
Towing- is typically one boat, one line with no damage to the vessel, the crew or the environment.
Soft Ungrounding- is typically you become stuck on a sand bar and cannot remove your boat without the assistance of another vessel. There is no danger to the environment or its crew.
Salvage- taking on water, stuck high and dry on rocks posing a danger to the environment, leaking fuel or the integrity of the vessel is at risk. This service often includes multiple rescue vessels and high capacity pumps.
The above definitions are general and can vary from one service to the next.
Now let’s get back to my situation:
On Sept.25 2015 while fishing near Peele Island on Lake Erie my motor quit running in approx. 3 foot waves. At that time I still had a trolling motor so being on the East Side of the island I used the trolling motor to beach my boat so not to drift and wait for a tow. I beached my boat which at the time was sitting fairly high on the sand. At approx. 1 pm I called Tow Boat US and requested a tow back to the Sandusky boat launch.
I was then contacted by Lake Erie Towing service and asked of my situation. I advised them I was sitting on the sand and at that time my boat had approx. 5 inches of water around the batteries and was not swamped or being overtaken by waves. I also advised the person on the line that I had Tow Boat US and my wife could call in with the information. Due to the area my cell service was not working well. I was informed by the subject on the line that TOW BOAT US would not cover the removal and it would cost me $6,000! By definition of the service it appears I was only a soft grounding as I sat on the sand and the rest of my boat was high and dry. I then told the subject that I also had insurance and it would cover it if the Tow Boat US would not. The response I got was you are from New York and we do not know how your insurance works so we will not accept it. The subject then advised me I would need to make payment upfront before they would even respond and come to get me. As an angler I travel in my boat with proper on the water documents and a small amount of cash, all other important documents are kept in my wallet in my truck. So how is one to make payment while sitting on an island without access to debit or credit cards. This was not a concern to them and said I would need to figure it out. I then found a shorter tow distance instead of 20 miles I requested to be towed around the corner of Peele Island to a marina that is on the island. This would shorten my trip up to less than five miles. The response I got was “do you have a passport?” Not sure why that is a concern of the operator. My next response I got was well I am not even sure if we can legally take you there because it’s Canada. I then told the person pull me around the island and unhook me and I will use my trolling motor to make it into the marina. The response was it does not matter we are going to charge you $6,000 anyway so you might as well go back to Sandusky. At that point it was obvious that Lake Erie Towing had no interest in lending proper assistance and they were going to make $6,000 before they left port without even seeing the condition of where my boat sat. I contacted a family member by phone and was able to pay the bill by credit card. As a result of Lake Erie towing refusing to pick me up without full payment in had first, my boat continued to be hit with waves until approx. 7pm when they arrived.
(The condition of my boat when Lake Erie Towing arrived after refusing to pick me up until payment was made.)
Once there we were met by a boat hand that gave us two options to get on board. Mind you the gentleman that was with me was in his 60s and luckily in good shape. Option one was to walk the island around to the marina and they would drive around and pick us up there. Interesting point because I had just been told that they could not take us there and drop us off but they could pick us up?? The second option was to swim 150 yards off shore to the boat which we did. Once at the boat there was not ladder to access the boat and we had to use a rope to pull ourselves up and into the boat. As far as my boat by then had taken water in up and over the seats of the boat because of the price negotiation that took place. The boat was easily pulled off the sand and up on plane the first attempt. We continued to drive for approx 5 miles and the boat drained with no issues or trouble towing. We then stopped around Fish Point in order to pull the boat closer and tow faster. As my boat was pulled alongside I was able to see there was no water left and it had drained and was floating normal. The deckhand then got in my boat to inspect the rear area where the batteries were. I could not see in there but did hear him say when asked by the Captain that there was about 6 inches of water around the batteries. They then used a small portable bilge and pumped a small amount of water out. I am familiar with why this is done regarding salvage laws; once a pump goes in it helps prove this was salvage. It was quite obvious to me and my passenger that it was not necessary and just another step taken by Lake Erie Towing to ensure they would call this a salvage and collect $6,000 while taking advantage of people who were at the mercy of how they wanted to handle the situation. I had a similar experience with TOW BOAT US last year and was soaked for $6,000 by another company. The response I got from Tow Boat US was that I did not have the right package to render the services needed to save myself from out of pocket expense. So this season I purchased the recommended package and I sit in the same exact situation. It appears to be a situation where contractors can take advantage of boaters in distress and not even consider using the Tow boat US card. By information on the form it appears if they use that package they will be paid significantly less $170-200 per hour. Where if they do not use TOW BOAT US service they raise the price to $300 per foot of your boat. It’s obvious that contractors can take full advantage of boaters in these situations by just pulling up and saying your boat is wet this is going to be salvage and charge you outrageous rates. It appears TOW BOAT US is willing collect annual fees from boaters and if something goes wrong and the service is not used they have no concern over it, at least that is my experience as I am 0-2 trying to use the service.
Fortunately Progressive insurance issued me a check quickly upon my return home from the event. So my point is why use this service if you have a better chance at being struck by lightning than using the service from TOW BOAT US that is supposedly built to protect you. I am sure there are plenty of stories of happy customers who used the service but I have also found as of now there are just as many boaters who have been taken advantage of by this company and their service.
So the question is how are boaters going to protect themselves from being put in this situation?
At this point in time I don’t think I can correctly answer that question but I may be able to give some insight on things I have learned during my last two negative experiences with TOW BOAT US.
1) I will never purchase a TOW BOAT US Package again. Instead those yearly fees will be saved and applied for one of the situations you might encounter. The key to this if you can bare the financial expense is to put away enough money for a circumstance like this that you may encounter. Once this is done be sure to speak with your insurance provider and make sure you have proper coverage where you will be reimbursed. This may seem like an expensive prospect but why spend the money on a TOW BOAT US package if it is not going to work.
2) Remember most bass boats in this day are built with positive buoyancy, which means it will take a scud missile to drop from the sky on it in order to make it fully sink. My experience shows that a boat will partially submerge and at the time it might be quite terrifying but it’s likely not going to the bottom of the lake. Boats are also designed to self bilge, which means if you hook a line to that boat and start to tow it will drain on its own. This means two things, they may not need to put a pump in it, they will want to because once they drop a pump in it, you have salvage and this will cost you. Second although it looks bad a buddy can likely provide you with a tow and save you a pile of cash.
3) Purchase the largest bilge pump you can find that will run off a 12 volt system; attach battery clips and a large drain hose. Store this pump in a place where it will be easily accessible. When an emergency takes place you are already equipped with an alternate pump that will just clip on your batteries and can be dropped in the area where you need to pump water out.
4) Large bodies of water like Lake Erie it’s important to also use the buddy system. Make some friends during practice and the event. Talk about the area you might be headed to and discuss a certain time to check your phone. This will ensure if one of you has an emergency you may be able to respond in a timely manner and render assistance. Remember we all want to win but it’s more important that we all return home safe to our love ones at the end of the day. I can tell you from past experience when something goes wrong on the big water things can go downhill really fast so it’s important to remain calm and think.
5) Last the most important thing is to know the details of your insurance policy and if you do purchase a TOW BOAT US package I would call the company and make them answer all the what ifs? Specifically on how to deal with the contractors like: Do you have to make payment before service is provided? Do you have to let them put a pump in your boat? I have also read that if you don’t agree with the price and service they offer you and turn it down this could also create insurance issues. Some insurance policies will void your coverage if you refuse their service at the time and your boat incurs damage.
Since this incident I have attempted to resolve some of these issue with Tow Boat US and get some answers with no results. On October 1, 2015 I spoke with Chip Fardwell from Tow Boat US who advised me he would look into my claim and stated he would get back to me by October 5 or 6. I also filed a formal written complaint which is on the Tow Boat US website. I recived a response stating that they would look into my claim and also get back to me by Oct. 5 or 6th. I have not been contacted by anyone since this date and now its November 4, 2015. It appears that customer service is not priority with Tow Boat US.
I hope that at least my story will help educate boater in order to help them make an educated decision on make a purchase from TOW BOAT US along with making sure your insurance policy is proper so while you enjoy your boating season you do not face huge financial burdens. I am also following up on some other issues and if any of my fellow boaters have had a negative experience with the TOW BOAT US service feel free to send me a facebook message of your story or email me. Be safe and happy boating!
On a final note my Progressive Insurance has been more than accommodating to help resolve my situation. I am not sponsored by them or do I receive any benefits from mentioning them. What I can tell you is my boat obtained over $19,000 in damage and they have worked quickly to make sure my boat will be repaired properly. As of now it is in the shop and everything in and outside the boat is being replaced with new parts.
Facebook: Chris Flint