TowBoatU.S. vs. Sea Tow

Since BoatU.S. and Sea Tow are the two national membership services companies, it makes sense to look at what they offer to get a good idea of what you can expect should you decide to purchase low risk services from any company.

TowBoatU.S. (BoatU.S.)

BoatU.S. has been in operation since 1966 and offers a boat insurance program and TowBoatU.S. It has a network of towing companies in 300+ ports across the country and more than 600 boats ready to provide services.

There are several TowBoatUS membership plans, depending on what you want to pay and the level of services desired. You pay an amount per year, and of course, the more you pay, the more services you get. For example, the most basic membership covers the first $50 for on-the-water towing, jump starts, fuel delivery, and soft ungroundings. The unlimited Gold Towing Membership covers dock-to-dock tows for repairs and reimburses up to $3,000 for tows outside the company’s service area.

Depending on the plan chosen, you get:

  • Percentage of cost for dock-to-dock tows for repairs
  • Reimbursement up to a stated amount for tows outside the TowBoatUS service area
  • Percentage paid (up to 100% depending on the plan chosen) for on-the-water boat towing, jump-starts, fuel delivery, disentanglements and soft ungroundings
  • Service for inland lakes, rivers and waterways excluding Florida, or all waterways, coastal and inland, including Florida
  • Memberships for freshwater and saltwater boaters
  • Unlimited Service Area of 25 miles from the responding TowBoatUS port (no out of pocket expense for towing in this area and pays for the cost per foot fee billed by the towing company for soft ungroundings in the area)
  • Can download a mobile app that connects you to TowBoatUS and gives your location
  • Will reimburse up to a designated amount if must arrange a tow with a non-TowBoatUS franchise company (you pay upfront and claim reimbursement)
  • Can key your VHF mic for hailing TowBoatUS
  • 24-hour dispatch center
  • Authorized by the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard to assign a Maritime - Mobile Service Identity number for a Digital Selective Calling radio or an AIS unit
  • Assists any boat owned, borrowed, leased or rented
  • Can download a mobile app that connects you to TowBoatUS
  • Can add Unlimited Trailer Assist® service, if you trailer your boat; includes towing to nearest repair facility, flat tire repair, fuel delivery and battery jumps

Sea Tow

Sea Tow boats are easily recognized by the bright cheerful yellow color on their boats. It has a network of 100 locations across the United States. The company has been providing on-water assistance since 1983. This is a franchise-based company also that was started after the US Coast Guard stopped responding to boater calls except for distress calls. It offers two plans called the Gold Card and the Lake Card. The Gold Card offers a full suite of on-water assistance for any boat owned, rented, chartered, leased or borrowed. The Lake Card applies to boating on fresh, non-tidal, inland waterways (except for Florida). There is also a Commercial Card and a Professional Mariner Card.

The company offers the following:

  • Assists with towing, jump starts, disentanglements, fuel drops, and covered ungroundings
  • Dock-to-dock tows
  • Nationwide coverage
  • Memberships for freshwater and saltwater boaters
  • Membership for boaters who cruise on fresh, non-tidal, inland waterways (excluding Florida)
  • Access to expert Sea Tow captains for navigational assistance and local knowledge
  • $5,000 universal towing coverage
  • 24/7 priority service
  • No boat towing distance or dollar limits in the home area (home area determined at time of membership initiation based on assigned Sea Tow franchise)
  • Can download a mobile app that connects you to Sea Tow
  • Assists any boat owned, borrowed, leased or rented
  • Will reimburse up to a designated amount if you must arrange a tow with a non-franchise company (you pay upfront and claim reimbursement)
  • Offers navigational assistance, i.e. radio checks, tidal information, float plans, weather information, etc.
  • Can add roadside assistance when trailering
  • Ability to respond to fuel and oil spills through a nationwide network of OSHA-trained and certified personnel
  • Offers a savings club which makes members eligible for discounts and special offers at fuel docks, marinas, repair facilities and hotels
  • Has salvage and recovery services for an additional fee

Evaluate Needs

These two companies give you a good idea of what you get when joining a membership service company. Factors that go into your decision include:

  • Location of your home port because you will do most business with a local franchise
  • Where and how far you plan to cruise
  • Price of membership
  • On the water services included
  • Additional products and services of interest, i.e. boat insurance, boat loans, discount or savings plans, etc.
  • Type of waters where you recreationally boat – saltwater, fresh water, coastal, inland waters (tidal or non-tidal)
  • How far offshore you boat
  • Number of boats in the operator’s fleet (contributes to response time)

The age of the boat is not listed as a consideration because new and older boats can get unexpectedly stranded. As mentioned, the “kinks” in a new boat come free. The general recommendation is to purchase the plan that covers all types of waters because the prices make each plan a true bargain.

You also need to keep in mind that commercial boat towers charge by the hour from the time they leave their home port until the time they return. They don’t charge based on the distance from your home port. If a commercial company is called to help in a soft ungrounding, for example, it will charge by the hour plus a fee per foot of vessel length. One hour of service is very likely to exceed the entire year’s towing membership for a year in terms of cost.

Peace of Boating Mind

It simply makes sense to purchase a membership with a boat towing service, whether you go with one of the two national companies or a local boat towing service. It makes sense to buy the best plan for recreational boaters too. For under $200 per year you can get the peace of mind that comes with knowing you may get stranded but only for a short while. Help can always be on the way!

Need boat towing services near you? Mariner Exchange can help! We can direct you to hundreds of boat towing services from coast to coast. Just do a search for Towing by location on our website and choose the company that best fits your needs.