As a teenager, Tom Kehlenbach III loved to tow boats. While working with his father, Tom Kehlenbach Jr., at Brewer Yacht Yard in the mid-1980s, the younger Kehlenbach got a taste of everything in the marine industry.
“I worked on sailboats, drove the lift, worked on the docks,” Capt. Tom Kehlenbach III said. “But my favorite thing to do was use a little workboat and tow boats around. I just loved it and it turned out to be a precursor to what I do today.”
This year, Kehlenbach, 47, is celebrating his 25th anniversary as a Sea Tow franchise owner. When Sea Tow Central Connecticut went into service in 1990, Kehlenbach was 22, unmarried and working as the yard manager at Branford Landing Marina.
“Before I could get my first [Sea Tow] customer, I had to be a licensed captain,” said Kehlenbach, who today lives with his wife, Dawn, and daughter, Allyson, 13, in Old Saybrook, Conn. “I went to Sea School, earned my license and signed up my first customer two days later. That first year, I had 25 customers. Now I have between 3,000 and 3,500 each year.”
One thing Kehlenbach is adamant about is life jacket use. He attends his local middle school’s annual Safety & Wellness Day and talks to the sixth-graders about boating safety. Sea Tow Central Connecticut also maintains several Sea Tow Foundation life jacket loaner stations in its territory, offering free life jackets for boaters to borrow when they need them.
“I always wear a life jacket when I’m on a boat,” he said. “Even old pictures show me wearing a life jacket, and I do that as an example. People look at Sea Tow captains as an example.”