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BoatUS: Five ways to call for help

Boaters today have multiple means of communication while on the water.

VHF radio, which is monitored by the Coast Guard and its life-saving Rescue 21 system, is the accepted method for getting emergency help. But what about calling for routine on-the-water towing assistance for things like a dead battery, dead engine or grounding?

BoatUS now gives boaters five ways to summon a towboat, from cellphones to satellite — and everything in between.

"Regardless of which way a boater chooses to contact us, they'll all get you back to the launch ramp, marina or dock — day or night," said BoatUS Vice President of Towing Services Adam Wheeler.

Hailing one of the 300 local TowBoatUS or Vessel Assist locations or 600 response towboats is simple on VHF channel 16. But, as smartphones have become a mainstay of modern life, the BoatUS 24-hour dispatch centers report that recreational boaters' number one preferred method of communication is their cell phone.

"Seventy percent choose to phone us from their boat instead of using the radio," Wheeler continued. "We're also seeing an increase in requests for assistance from boaters using our BoatUS Towing App. The app speeds response times because once you press the button on your smartphone to request assistance, we instantly map your location, have a description of your boat and your emergency contacts — all before our dispatcher connects to ask if everyone is safe on board. It's been downloaded over 120,000 times."

Unique to the BoatUS Towing Program are its personal satellite messaging service offerings through partnerships with SPOT satellite messenger and the DeLorme inReach two-way satellite messenger, a 2012 National Marine Manufacturers Association Innovation Award winner in the Consumer Electronics Category. In the case of SPOT, you can summon towboats with the touch of a button, or with DeLorme inReach by chatting directly using its two-way satellite text messaging feature.

In 2012, the BoatUS 24-hour dispatch centers and towing fleet received 70,000 requests for on water (non-emergency) assistance. For information on BoatUS Towing Services including the TowBoatUS and Vessel Assist fleets, go to, or call (800) 888-4869.