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Tow captain to the rescue after boat explosion

The owner of a 34-foot, late-1990s model powerboat that exploded into flames and sank near the mouth of Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Rockaway Inlet on Friday evening has a local tow boat captain to thank.

At approximately 6:04 p.m. on Friday, Sea Tow captain Salvatore “Cody” Catapano heard an urgent distress call on Channel 16 emergency requesting help after a boat caught fire. The caller provided a geographical location.

“It was literally in our backyard,” Catapano said in a company press release.

The burning boat was near the campus of Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, N.Y. Catapano’s crew arrived on scene within five to six minutes, he says, and saw that the boat was completely engulfed in flames.

“We called in for [a Coast Guard] air-sea rescue,” he said. “We knew we had at least one person in the water and immediately began a search of the area.”

Catapano spotted a light flashing in the water about a half-mile from the burning boat and maneuvered his boat over to find the boater, who had abandoned his vessel, clinging to an un-inflated raft in the chilly waters.

“The water temperature was about 48 degrees, so he had seven to 10 minutes from the time he jumped into the water before hypothermia would set in,” Catapano said. “We pulled him out of the water, got him out of his wet clothes and into warm, dry clothes just in time.”

Catapano quizzed the boater to make sure that no one else was on board. By this point, responders from Coast Guard Sector New York, FDNY Marine 6 and NYPD Harbor George were arriving on scene. Meanwhile, the boater was showing signs of smoke inhalation and exhaustion, so Catapano’s crew took him ashore to a waiting ambulance.

It was later learned the boat’s alcohol-based stove was the source of the fire after the owner ignited it to make some soup.

This was Catapano’s 46th save in the 14 years he has operated Sea Tow Lower New York.

“We at Sea Tow applaud Capt. Catapano and crew for his quick thinking, exemplary actions and expert boat handling skills,” said Sea Tow Founder & CEO Capt. Joe Frohnhoefer.