Prepare For A Tow
Things To Know Before You Need A Tow

Prudent skippers can prepare for breakdowns, groundings or accidentally running out of fuel long before the need for on-water-towing assistance arises. BoatU.S. Towing Services, the nation's largest fleet of towing assistance vessels including the TowBoatU.S. fleet - located in ports in the Atlantic, Gulf, Inland Waterways and Great Lakes - and Vessel Assist on the Pacific Coast, offer these tips:

Carry the correct size and type of anchor with enough line to keep you safely in one spot while you try to correct the problem or wait until help arrives. The last thing you need is to drift into shallower water or hazardous areas such as shipping lanes.

A VHF marine radio is the best way to call for help. While a cellular phone is a good back-up - especially if your towing assistance program has a 24-hour dispatch service - other vessels won't hear your call for help and you may be out of range. Hail your towing service over VHF channel 16 or ask the U.S. Coast Guard to help you contact them.

Give the tower your position by chart or GPS coordinates, nearby navigation aids or local landmarks. Describe your situation clearly, giving the nature of the problem, your boat name, size, distinguishing features, number of people on board and other useful information. If it is an emergency, always contact the Coast Guard immediately.

When the towing vessel gets underway, the captain will contact you.

Once you request assistance, you're committed to a verbal contract. If you get going again on your own, advise the tow captain immediately or you may have to pay for the cancelled tow.

Most towers charge by the hour - $150 per hour is the national average for those without towing plan coverage - and the meter usually runs from the time the tow boat leaves its dock until it returns.

"Last year, the average towing bill was $450, and due to increasing fuel costs, it could go higher this season," said Jerry Cardarelli, vice president BoatU.S. Towing Services. "Just like roadside assistance clubs, boaters pay one annual fee for our on-the-water TowBoatU.S. and Vessel Assist towing plans. You don't have to worry about writing a big check," he said.

Most towing services offer several levels of service to fit the type of boating you do and the area where you boat. TowBoatU.S. and Vessel Assist plans start at around $30 a year. For more information about BoatU.S. Towing Services, visit or call 800-888-4869.