BoatUS has a national network of expert captains who are always on call and trained to assist boaters in need in both minor breakdowns and major emergencies. Boating has some inherent possibility for needing assistance and BoatUS memberscan take comfort in knowing that someone is fully capable of assisting them should the need arise. The other big plus is the fact that this “boater’s safety net” is incredibly affordable and there is really no reason not to take advantage of it.
We caught up with Capt. Paul Amaral, the president of TowBoatUS Ventura in California and asked him his perspective on BoatUS services and advice for boaters in general.
Capt. Paul operates on the entire Santa Barbara Channel including the offshore islands with boats based in Ventura and the Chanel Islands Harbor. “Our area is challenging due to the size of the area we cover and the weather we experience, especially towards the west end of the channel and the islands of Santa Rosa and San Miguel. Our territory also includes the area around Point Conception, referred to as the Cape Horn of the Pacific, which at times can be extremely challenging”, said Capt. Paul.
I was wondering how a person ends up as a towboat captain and Paul’s story was like many. They started out to do one career only to have it evolve into several different ones. Paul recalled his personal story, “I went to school in the hopes of becoming a marine biologist but a family medical situation put my college days on hold and I gained employment in the automotive industry managing parts departments for dealerships. I have always loved the ocean and have been actively sailing, fishing, and diving for my entire life. When it came time to change careers, doing something on the water seemed like the right way to go. I happened to run across an ad in one of the trade magazines for this territory, checked it out, did all the homework including getting my captain’s license, and here I am.
I didn’t have a clue about towing and salvage, but how hard could it be? ? After all, I had been boating for a long time and, like many of our customers, I thought I could handle anything. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. When working with Mother Nature in an unpredictable environment, every day is a learning experience. Even a simple tow job can be challenging when you have to do it in rough weather, at night, in dense fog, or at times from over 100-miles away.
Salvage adds a whole different set of complexities and challenges. When someone gets into trouble and lives and property are at risk, that’s when the adrenaline starts to flow and your boating skills are put to the test. The offshore islands are an extremely sensitive National Marine Sanctuary and National Park with rough weather and rugged coastlines.
When a boat goes on the rocks out there, time is of the essence.
You have to get there quickly and do everything possible to save the boat and minimize any environmental impact. We do our best to recover the boats intact and prevent any fuels or other environmental hazards from spilling into the sensitive environment, which can be extremely challenging at times.” Keep in mind that salvage services are not provided for under a BoatUS towing membership. The cost of salvage is normally and properly covered under your marine insurance policy.
Capt. Paul purchased his current territory in 2003 and has been growing ever since. He currently has three workboats in service, a 34’ twin diesel, a 28’ single diesel, and a twin outboard, foam collared 26’ aluminum boat. “The diesel boats are great workhorses with ample horsepower for towing and pulling boats off the beach or rocks. They are also great platforms for performing the many salvage jobs we do. The foam-collared boat is a great emergency response boat in that it can do 50-knots and handle rough weather. Its ability to go fast and get the job done when it gets there has saved many vessels and several lives,” said Capt. Paul.
To keep up with the local demand for help, Capt. Paul employs two other full time captains and a part-time captain in addition to himself. He described his crew: “My full time captains, Captain Randy Davisand Captain Brian Cunningham have been with the company for many years and bring a wealth of experience to the job. We have all been recognized for life saving efforts and as a result of our team’s great work and dedication to customer service we were awarded “Tower of the Year” by BoatUS in 2015. An honor we are extremely proud of and hope our customers reap the rewards of our hard work and dedication.
Paul and his crew head out to help no matter what the weather is doing or what they are doing in their personal life. I asked Capt. Paul what its like to be on call like that and what things has he had to drop and leave. He pondered it and replied, “I love being on the ocean and helping people and can’t imagine doing anything else, but after 14 years of doing this, I have worked every holiday on the calendar, missed birthdays, anniversaries (not good for a marriage), and many other special events. We are on call 24 hours per day; 365 days per year and you never know when someone is going to need help. You have to love this job and think of it as a lifestyle, otherwise it would drive you nuts. Fortunately I have the best crew around and together we get the job done. We cover for each other as much as possible so we can enjoy family time and still be available when needed.”
When you spend that much time on the water and dealing with boaters of all experience levels, you are bound to have some good stories. I asked Paul if any tales stood out in his memory. He recounted, “The funniest story I can recall happened a few years back and highlights some of the dangers of boating in the Santa Barbara Channel. We were listening to our VHF radio and heard a call for assistance from a 25-foot fishing boat experiencing rough weather and wanting Coast Guard help. Their engine was working fine and they were still motoring, so we stood by and let the Coast Guard handle the call. They were on the north side of Santa Cruz Island and got caught in strong winds and heavy seas. Our typical heavy weather comes from the west and that was the case this particular afternoon. They were motoring slowly to the west into the wind and seas and were afraid to turn the boat around and head back to Channel Islands or Ventura Harbors.
We continued to monitor their situation as the CG launched a 47-foot response boat out of CG Station Channel Islands in route to their position. As the CG boat was making way towards them, in heavy weather and unable to travel very fast, the poor fishing boat was continuing to travel west away from the CG boat. Despite the many efforts by the CG to convince the mariners to turn around or slow down so they could reach them, the fisherman, fearing getting sideways to the seas and turning around, continued traveling to west and into rougher weather.
After a considerable amount of time passed with the CG continuing to try and reach them, the fisherman on the radio asked the CG “if we continue heading in this direction, how long will it be before we reach land?” After a moment of silence, the CG person on the radio responded, “you won’t, if you continue in the direction you are going, you are heading straight out to sea”. After another moment of silence came the response, “oh”. It was at that point they decided to take the CG advice and turn their boat around. They eventually rendezvoused with the CG boat, which escorted them to an anchorage with a CG buoy where they tied up for the night until the weather subsided the following day.”
The many years spent seeing how boaters get in trouble is a valuable teacher and Capt. Paul has some advice that he is happy to share with other boaters who would be wise to heed his advice. “Every chance I get to talk to boaters, I stress the importance of being able to communicate and summon help when needed. Cell phones have limited coverage offshore and having a good VHF radio is critical. I recommend at least a handheld waterproof VHF radio.
It can take a while for help to get to you when you are at one of the islands. Having the necessary equipment to take care of yourself while waiting for help can save your life. Make sure you have all the required safety equipment, a good anchor with knowledge of how to use it, warm clothing, food, and water for longer than you plan on being out.
Even if you have a boat that is “unsinkable”, in most cases it will roll over with just a small part of it sticking out of the water. Always wearing a lifejacket and having a waterproof handheld VHF radio attached to it will ensure you can call for help when needed. Things can happen really quickly without giving you time to put out a call for help or finding and putting on your lifejacket before you’re in the water. PLBs, Personal Locating Beacons, are also a great piece of safety gear. The water temperatures in our area are cold enough that make getting help quickly a priority to prevent hypothermia.
Always check the weather before heading offshore. Even though the morning looks beautiful with sunny skies and calm seas, the wind can pick up and create short steep seas that can be problematic for your typical small fishing boat.
Keep in mind that the Coast Guard only responds to emergencies so make sure you have a good towing membership that covers the area you are going to be in for those times you break down, run out of gas, have a dead battery, or foul your prop. A $149 BoatUS towing membership can save you thousands of dollars if you need a tow from one of the offshore islands. You will pay a minimum of $250 for even a short tow within a harbor.” said Capt. Paul. “We are always available to answer questions, if you need to purchase a membership, need assistance, or just want to talk to someone with local knowledge.”
So check out the BoatUS services in your local boating area and protect yourself from an out of pocket expense by getting a BoatUS towing membership.