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Note: I posted this earlier today on the "Sailing" heading of this website. Another reader suggested I re-post on a more general heading so that powerboaters, as well as sailors, would see it. Also note that when posting my Word Document to this website, it changes the edits, leaving out spaces, etc......SORRY! Hopefully you will be able to understand it.


Subject:
Be wary of the TowBoatUS contractor for Lake St. Clair& St. Clair River, "St. Clair Marine Salvage Services"
On the afternoon of 9/19/2012, I got my keel caught amongst some rocks on LakeSt. Clair in the shoal between the Gaukler buoys right off Jefferson BeachMarina. I was afloat and perfectly upright. It was a fairly nice day and was inno danger.
Rather than risk damage trying to power hard out of the rocks, I calledTowBoatUS.
Capt William Leslie, "TowBoatUS Lake St. Clair-St. Clair River",586-783-7700, arrived perhaps 20 minutes later. He already had a second boatresponding as well, which arrived perhaps 10 minutes after the first. Bothresponding boats were small, like under 20 feet. Each had one person aboard. Leslie kedged me over using my halyard while the second boat slowlypulled me to deeper water, perhaps 1/4 mile east. This kedging and towingpart lasted perhaps 10-15 minutes. The second boat then left the scene. Leslie remained perhaps 10 more minutes doing paperwork. Allowing theirtravel time to and from, and time on the scene, each boat probably only hadabout an hour or an hour and a quarter invested.
My insurance company (Fremont Yacht Insurance) got the bill a few dayslater: $9,500.

Theinvoice came from "St. Clair Marine Salvage Services", 26290Jefferson Ave., Harrison Twp. 48045. Apparentlythey are the local contractor for TowBoatUS on Lake St. Clair and on the St.Clair River. I understand they've only had the contract for the past year ortwo. The actual invoice was for $9500, and my insurance company negotiated themdown to $7600, and paid it over my objections
I encouraged my insurance adjuster, DenaBoyle, to fight it. They chose to pay it.
Don't be complacent and think that can't happen to you.....like I was.

Bythe way, that $58/year TowBoatUS insurance (which I don't have anyway) wouldnot cover my situation, per this Capt. William Leslie, because he classifiedmine as a "hard grounding". Read thefine print in your insurance.

I'mhearing anecdotal information about other cases like this involving St. ClairMarine Salvage, including a number of lawsuits where boatowners sued overincidents like mine. Some are available to read for yourself on the web. One,for example, in Macomb County CircuitCourt involved a $26,000 tow bill for a 48 foot SeaRay. I'dlike to hear specifics of any other, similar incidents.
My keel has some gouges in spots in about the bottom inch....butnothing serious…which proves, in my opinion, that I was just barely on a rock. It was so insignificant that I'm not going to need to repair it.
I would ask you to tell or forward this info to any of your boatingfriends so that they can be aware and not blindly trust that TowBoatUS will befair with them.

Pleaseemail me at [email protected] if you would like further info.

Iwould recommend you not let them even TOUCH your boat without getting a maximumcharge agreement IN WRITING. St. ClairMarine Salvage Services will not want to do that, they will want you to sign an"open" salvage agreement.

Icontacted the national TowBoatUS manager of tow customer service, a CHIPFARDWELL, begin_of_the_skype_hig800-283-2883 end_of_the_skype_highlightext. 3636, andhe looked into it but told me they will not intervene. I don't think thisincident reflects well on the national TowBoatUS organization.

There ARE alternatives to calling TowBoatUS. I'd like to learn more about all thealternatives available to us, but one, for example, is Michigan Marine Salvage,586-468-2430begin_of_the_skype_highlightingend_of_the_skype_highlighting, 32475 S.River Rd., Harrison Township 48045. They said their bill would have been MUCHless, maybe only $1,000 or $2,000. I've posted MI Marine Salvage's phone numberin my nav station, and thrown away TowBoatUS's number, in the event I ever needassistance again!

Ihad called TowBoat US on 9/19 because I hadhad a good experience with them 6 years ago (apparently that incident was handledby the previous TowBoatUS contractor who used to cover that area), but Iwill NEVER call them again!

Ifyou've had good, fair experiences with other marine tow/salvage services in theLake St. Clair area, I'd like to hear about it and get their phone number.



TedGlynn Sr.
 

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That's one of the "problems" with the maritime law... what exactly is "Hard aground" and when does it become a 'salvage'??
Maritime law is way more complicated than that. There's huge law firms that specialize in nothing other than "Maritime Law".

Every country has their own version too. I wonder what happens if you need assistance on the Canadian side of Lk St Clair, Huron, Erie, Det River or St Clair River, ect.
 

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I've talked to the guy that had the Searay, he was working at the troy West Marine. The amount posted above was also what he stated. He told me he grounded off the middel channel I belive. It was getting late and the tow boat captain said there wasn't anything they could do that night. So he put on his ancor light and threw out te ancor (even though is ovbiously wasn't going anywhere) as he should and went back to shore with the tow boat captain. The next day they pulled it off within an hour and hauled it back to Hidaway, not the owners marina where he wanted it. The only damage was bottom paint. They claimed salvage.

I have used Tow Boat though and was very happy with the service I recived, I don't know who came to me, I thought it was Michigan Marine since they came out of the Clinton river, I watched they come, I was only about 1/2 a mile from the river, but don't know for sure the operator. The invoice they sent tow boats was for $570 to tow me back to my slip at night.
 

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Bill Leslie used to run Michigan Marine Salvage. He was the 2nd person Don Schmidt sold it to after foreclosing on the first. Both these buyers saw huge dollar signs in their eyes and started buying ridiculously priced personal pick-up trucks, going on fancy trips and frequenting the priciest establishments, all, I assume, on the company expense account. A lot of the new personal toys were financed via the longstanding good name and stellar reputation of Michigan Marine Salvage. Financial problems always arise with newcomers like these during the winter months when there's virtually NO business, but the bills keep coming in.

Leslie moved down the street to start St Clair Marine Salvage when he too got booted off South River Rd.

The 3rd attempted sale was to the son of one of Don Schmidt's long time Coast Guard buddies. He acquired the TowBoat US Franchise while running Michigan Marine Salvage. When he left the Clinton River he took the TowBoat US Franchise he'd acquired down the street to collaborate with his buddy, Bill Leslie and his newly formed company: St Clair Marine Salvage.

That's 3 times in 10 years Don's had to take back the business he's been trying to retire from.

I often hear complaints about high fees charged by Marine Towing companies. I've also personally helped boaters in distress. But, I won't risk safety for the sake of someone offering a $20 dollar bill for a tow into the gas dock.

Until Leslie started his company, Michigan Marine Salvage was the only legitimate salver from Port Huron, down to Lake Erie. After each of the foreclosures, Don Schmidt had to deal with unhappy customers & leftover lawsuits filed as a result of previous operators.

When the TowBoat US Franchise moved down the lake to SCM, that name recognition alone gave Mr Leslie a huge, un-deserved market advantage. This all happened right around the time West Marine bought out BOAT US, so now, their $68 towing insurance started being marketed throughout West Marine's 600+ retail store network, as well as on their internet websites.

A good friend of mine was aboard a 30ft sailboat last weekend with it's brand new 1st time boat owner. They were delivering the boat from Lk Erie to it's new home on the Clinton River. It had been a long cold windy full day on the water, and they cut too soon across the Huron Pointe sandbar. After getting stuck real bad, they called TowBoat US, simply due to it's name recognition. The new owner didn't have any insurance at all, so the tow boat captain called in his credit card info from the scene before he'd render assistance. A 10 minute job got a bill for $1000.

Had their been other insurance available, I'm sure a bill similar to Sailor Ted's above would have been sent.

Don't get me wrong, professionals get paid & deserve their fee based on many factors. Tow boats are not cheap to purchase, operate or maintain. Towing captains have to work 24 hour shifts much like firemen, or at least be on call for immediate dispatch to emergencies. I personally wouldn't mind helping out a distressed boater, if all he needed was gas, but how many of us carry an extra 5 gallon can filled, for just such an event. Towing companies carry huge amounts of expensive liability insurance, and they'll respond in the worst of conditions, day or night. Most are also equipped with on-board high volume fire fighting pumps, that are often first on the scene. They usually also carry Radio Direction Finding equipment to track a vessel's location, simply via VHF radio transmission. (this alone is a good reason all boaters should be equipped with VHF radios)

Law enforcement uses Michigan Marine Salvage for secure storage of impounded vessels, especially those suspected of being involved in a crime. Since Leslie operates out of someone else's facility, I don't think there's any secure area he could handle this type of need.

The point is, Michigan Marine Salvage has about 30 years experience with well over a $ Million dollars invested in their own waterfront marina property, equipment, and secure storage facility. They just added 3 new tow boats to their existing fleet which already included construction barges & cranes for specialized salvage operations. From ice operations to underwater dive recovery as well as hazardous material handling, Michigan Marine Salvage has you covered, at fair rates.
 

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So, as a BoatUS insurance customer should I specify that I want Michigan Marine Salvage if I ever need assistance instead of St Clair Marine, or is it simply not an option?

I have a brand new boat, so I doubt I'll have mechanical issues, but I am a new boater and wouldnt be surprised if I found the bottom at some point.
 

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I do not understand what the problem is.
This may be a "sailor" thing, but if a claim is filed, what do your "objections" have to do with the matter between your insurance and the service provider? If you so strongly object, I would think, as a matter of principle you would withdraw the claim to your insurance carrier and work it out with the tow company.

If I go to the doctor and he bills my insurance 9K, but I feel it is only worth 2K because some other Doctor said that is what they would charge, do I expect Blue Cross not to pay because I "object".

I am missing something here after spending 5 minutes of my life reading this thread.

Just for the record, I also enjoy "buying ridiculously priced personal pick-up trucks, going on fancy trips and frequenting the priciest establishments". I would also kindly add that I have spent most my money on women and boats, the rest I just wasted.

So lets all study a few salvage terms, and debate on how to how to run a business saving sailors in the little puddle called Lake St Clair.

A Captain runs his boat aground, he calls a tow company that comes out and saves his can, then he wants to tell the insurance company and all their Admiralty counsel how to run their business. Do I have the correct picture?

Cheers
 

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I would be happy that Dena and Fremont paid the claim. That in itself shocks and amazes me!!!
 

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So, as a BoatUS insurance customer should I specify that I want Michigan Marine Salvage if I ever need assistance instead of St Clair Marine, or is it simply not an option?

I have a brand new boat, so I doubt I'll have mechanical issues, but I am a new boater and wouldnt be surprised if I found the bottom at some point.
That depends. Do you have Boat US insurance on your boat itself, or do you just pay the $68 for their towing service and pay State Farm for the boat coverage?

If you just have the towing service, and only need a can of gas, or tow back because you lost your keys overboard, give them a call. However, as Sailor Ted pointed out above, the fine print in the towing service agreement says they "don't cover for a HARD GROUNDING". This is where your primary boat insurance would come in, provided of course, that, it includes towing and salvage coverage for things like "Hard Groundings". In that case, I really don't think your insurance company could argue with your personal choice of towing companies, whomever that may be.

I think the issue is where someone's boat is insured with a carrier other than Boat US, but they also purchased the TowBoat US $68 towing service separately. In that case, I think you're probably obligated to call TowBoat US if you expect that can of gas delivered or a battery jump start, free of charge. If, however, TowBoat US didn't have a contractor readily available in your area, at the time of your mishap, I'm sure they'd attempt to contact another company that was available, and could help. Not sure what the financial arrangements would be in a case like this, but I'll inquire tomorrow, and repost my findings.

Think of it like insuring your car with State Farm, but having AAA Road Service. AAA's cheap annual fee for the road service will surely change a flat tire, or tow you a certain amount of miles. However, these cheap "road service" plans all have limits, and if your car ran off a bridge a few hundred feet down into a valley below, I'm quite sure AAA's road service wouldn't pay to get your car back. Your primary State Farm car insurance would be responsible for it's recovery, as part of the total accident claim. Or, say the police called to say they found your stolen vehicle in the inner city, missing all 4 tires, but in otherwise perfect condition. Again, I'm sure AAA's road service wouldn't tow it back, but rather the primary car insurance would recover the vehicle, as part of the total theft claim.

With just the cheap $68 towing service, it's probably up to the responding contractor to decide if he wants to accept what's probably a discounted payment for freeing a grounded vessel belonging to a TowBoat US customer.

Once he arrives at the scene, he should be able to access the level of service required. However, I like Sailor Ted's suggestion, that you always get a "Maximum Charge Agreement" in writing, prior to allowing them to perform any work, and NEVER agree to an "Open Salvage Agreement", unless you sure you have proper coverage on your primary policy, or are in fear of your life due to the current situation.

Even if you think you've got proper primary insurance coverage, every policy has upper limits that they'll pay. I just heard about St Clair Marine Salvage charging $100,000+ for a salvage bill that the primary insurance company is refusing to pay. The boat is impounded by St Clair, and the owner's suing them about this gross overcharge.
 

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I would be happy that Dena and Fremont paid the claim. That in itself shocks and amazes me!!!
Sorry you had a bad experience, FO, but, as noted by others in your thread, incl. me: It would seem what happened to you is not typical.

Jim
 

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Sorry you had a bad experience, FO, but, as noted by others in your thread, incl. me: It would seem what happened to you is not typical.

Jim
I have never said it was typical, but speaking directly with more than one person that has had similar experiences with them, it is for certain a pattern. One that I would avoid at all costs.

Any insurance company that flat out lies by changing their story and reasons for claim denial 3 times (saying it was mussels, saying nothing is wrong, and then saying I filled my motor with sand), is an insurance company that will not get my money.
 

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I do not understand what the problem is.
This may be a "sailor" thing, but if a claim is filed, what do your "objections" have to do with the matter between your insurance and the service provider? If you so strongly object, I would think, as a matter of principle you would withdraw the claim to your insurance carrier and work it out with the tow company.

If I go to the doctor and he bills my insurance 9K, but I feel it is only worth 2K because some other Doctor said that is what they would charge, do I expect Blue Cross not to pay because I "object".

I am missing something here after spending 5 minutes of my life reading this thread.

Just for the record, I also enjoy "buying ridiculously priced personal pick-up trucks, going on fancy trips and frequenting the priciest establishments". I would also kindly add that I have spent most my money on women and boats, the rest I just wasted.

So lets all study a few salvage terms, and debate on how to how to run a business saving sailors in the little puddle called Lake St Clair.

A Captain runs his boat aground, he calls a tow company that comes out and saves his can, then he wants to tell the insurance company and all their Admiralty counsel how to run their business. Do I have the correct picture?

Cheers
I don't think it's a "sailor thing" and the guy's probably hoping they won't come after him for the difference.

The real issue is for the folks who get a bill that's way above their insurance limits, or the poor soul who has no insurance at all, but who's boat is impounded and held hostage for an unreasonable & unjustifiable charge.

Just because you "CAN" get away with something, doesn't mean you "SHOULD".

Any L.E.O. will tell you, people will agree to almost anything, while under duress.

People praise & bash businesses & services all the time on this site. It's a free country, but a privately owned blog site. As long as you abide to the site moderator's rules, why shouldn't informative and educational items be discussed.

Half the people on the water don't know the difference between a "red nun & a Dominican Nun". They view boating as a "kick the tires & light the fires" type of hobby. They're also the same ones finding the bottom all too often and end up with an impounded vessel after agreeing to an "Open Salvage Agreement".

Word's getting out about these unfair practices and the salvage companies that resemble hungry vultures circling their distressed prey, in hopes of a bonanza of a meal. It wasn't that long ago that the 2 competing companies each acquired high performance tow vessels in hopes of speeding across the water to the distressed, in hopes of beating the competitor to the prize.
 

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I would be happy that Dena and Fremont paid the claim. That in itself shocks and amazes me!!!
Sorry you had a bad experience, FO, but, as noted by others in your thread, incl. me: It would seem what happened to you is not typical.

Jim
[/quote]
*Sailor Ted would actually get more value from a course in how to read & navigate by a "real" chart rather than a high priced video screen that may, or may not work when needed.

*KMC asked about "Hard Aground", not "Hard Grounding". ETYNAL, maritime or otherwise, your understanding of Hard Grounding seems to be technically correct, but it doesn't necessarily mean you were "Hard Aground". Mister Spock would logically define "Hard Aground" as "not being able to free one's self". The only way to prove a "Hard Grounding" after leaving the area is by visible damage to the hull. But even that doesn't necessarily mean rocks caused the damage. It could have been a "dead head" or "floating debris" just below the surface. The whole point here is, that the TowBoatUS Franchisee justified his exorbitant fee by classifying Sailor Ted's situation as "Hard Grounding" while Sailor Ted himself doesn't seem to feel he was "Hard Aground". TowBoatUS franchisees probably agree to a reduced rate of reimbursement (Probably $200-300 for this type of service) in exchange for the high volume of calls directed their way through the TowBoatUS network. Bill Leslie was simply pointing out that even if Ted had the $68 towing policy coverage, it wouldn't have applied to this situation, thus justifying the $9500 bill. Thousands of dollars difference, same 10 minutes of work. If you have the insurance or a credit card, you get towed off and sent on your way. No insurance or credit card, you still get towed after signing an "Open Salvage Agreement" but you have to bail your boat out of impound at "highway robbery rates".

*To Joe 5.0: Just like any other insurance carrier, TowBoat US will authorize payment to a competitor, if their local franchisee, (in this case, SCM) was unavailable.
 

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Billing to meet what insurance will pay is a big problem in many arenas these days.

If it were up to me, seems like a good starting point for building a definition for "hard grounding" would be something like... A vessel sitting where there is 1/3 or less water depth, than the vessel's draft, at the time of arrival.

But, what do I know about boats, or the physics of floating -- I'm not an Attorney.
 

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I think the definition of hard vs soft grounding can go beyond the bottom conditions. If you run across a shallow bar at full throttle and end up in 6" of water on a sand bottom 50 yards from water deep enough to float your boat that is going to require more than a simple tow. The best defense is to have unlimited towing coverage as well as maximum insurance coverage, preferably from the same provider (BoatUS) and let them negotiate the final outcome with the salvor. I have gladly paid for this for 20 years without ever using it and hope to keep it that way.
 

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Seems like a "throw me a rope" network with other boaters you know might be one of the best options. Not that I would do anything that would be risky at all, but I'd certainly tow a friend if I was availible. I've towed a stanger before, from Gull to nearly the Clinton River, though if I had to do it again, I would more likely to them to the nearest dock. That took a LONG time at hull speed.
 

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*KMC asked about "Hard Aground", not "Hard Grounding". ETYNAL, maritime or otherwise, your understanding of Hard Grounding seems to be technically correct, but it doesn't necessarily mean you were "Hard Aground". Mister Spock would logically define "Hard Aground" as "not being able to free one's self". The only way to prove a "Hard Grounding" after leaving the area is by visible damage to the hull.
Point taken.

FWIW: TowBoatUS doesn't appear to distinguish between the two, from a coverage standpoint. Neither hard groundings nor hard aground are covered.

BoatU.S. ON-WATER TOWING SERVICE AGREEMENT

This Towing Service Agreement ... does not apply to: ... salvage, including but not restricted to hard groundings, or assistance requiring more than one vessel,
I would note that the above isn't in the "fine print." And, in fact, prior to the bits quoted above, there are numerous references to "soft grounding" being covered. They make pretty readily clear what's covered and what's not.

As to (Tow)BoatUS' definitions of "hard grounding" and "hard aground": I don't know as the following is definitive, but FWIW:

Soft Grounding

Jim
 

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I do not understand what the problem is.
This may be a "sailor" thing, but if a claim is filed, what do your "objections" have to do with the matter between your insurance and the service provider? If you so strongly object, I would think, as a matter of principle you would withdraw the claim to your insurance carrier and work it out with the tow company.

If I go to the doctor and he bills my insurance 9K, but I feel it is only worth 2K because some other Doctor said that is what they would charge, do I expect Blue Cross not to pay because I "object".

I am missing something here after spending 5 minutes of my life reading this thread.

Just for the record, I also enjoy "buying ridiculously priced personal pick-up trucks, going on fancy trips and frequenting the priciest establishments". I would also kindly add that I have spent most my money on women and boats, the rest I just wasted.

So lets all study a few salvage terms, and debate on how to how to run a business saving sailors in the little puddle called Lake St Clair.

A Captain runs his boat aground, he calls a tow company that comes out and saves his can, then he wants to tell the insurance company and all their Admiralty counsel how to run their business. Do I have the correct picture?

Cheers
I don't think it's a "sailor thing" and the guy's probably hoping they won't come after him for the difference.

The real issue is for the folks who get a bill that's way above their insurance limits, or the poor soul who has no insurance at all, but who's boat is impounded and held hostage for an unreasonable & unjustifiable charge.

Just because you "CAN" get away with something, doesn't mean you "SHOULD".

Any L.E.O. will tell you, people will agree to almost anything, while under duress.

People praise & bash businesses & services all the time on this site. It's a free country, but a privately owned blog site. As long as you abide to the site moderator's rules, why shouldn't informative and educational items be discussed.

Half the people on the water don't know the difference between a "red nun & a Dominican Nun". They view boating as a "kick the tires & light the fires" type of hobby. They're also the same ones finding the bottom all too often and end up with an impounded vessel after agreeing to an "Open Salvage Agreement".

Word's getting out about these unfair practices and the salvage companies that resemble hungry vultures circling their distressed prey, in hopes of a bonanza of a meal. It wasn't that long ago that the 2 competing companies each acquired high performance tow vessels in hopes of speeding across the water to the distressed, in hopes of beating the competitor to the prize.
[/quote]

I am all for discussing anything on this site. I agree with you.

I still do not understand the "problem".

I have poked around boats now and then, and worked with vultures, salvors, and insurance companies.

In this case, as outlined by the OP, I might highlight 2 points. 1). He called the towing company. 2). He was not under duress (or so it appears from his posting). These are important for reasons I do not have time to explain at the moment, but will post on my blog in the near future when I have another bottle of Carib Rum.

In essence, I do not readily agree with your opinion of "unfair practices". These matters are governed by Admiralty law. To say you have an "Unsatisfactory experience with TowBoatUS" after they came when called, corrected your poor seamanship, and got you going in the right direction, is confusing to me. I guess one could say they had a poor experience with a doctor after she saved you from a brain injury after you dove into a shallow pool, and you did not like the bill your insurance received. I guess you could say that. I guess you could post on the internet that your medical insurance paid your doctor over your objections.

Cheers.
 

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Never had a problem with them....I had a similar mishap due to water level dropping and was considered hard aground (210' tow).....bill was $2100 and paid in full by BoatUS. The first tow boat got stuck and a second boat towed us both.....
 

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Tow Boat US (Leslie) worked out well for me too. When my motor went he towed me in. The bill to Boat US was $350. Was probably an 1 1/2 to 2 hours time from the call until we got in. I thought the amount was very reasonable.
 
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