May 15, 2017
Leading up to National Safe Boating Week, I was excited to speak with Kristen Frohnhoefer, President of Sea Tow International. Sea Tow has been the on-water assistance fleet of choice for boaters since 1983. A franchise-based marine assistance organization headquartered in Southold, New York, Sea Tow was founded in 1983 by Captain Joseph Frohnhoefer after the U.S Coast Guard stopped responding to non-emergency calls.
Since that time, Sea Tow has grown into a thriving network of over 100 locations across the United States with additional offices in Europe and the Caribbean. Sea Tow Services International is a family-owned and family-run business. As the daughter of the founder, Kristen Frohnhoefer has spent over 25 years working for Sea Tow learning about every aspect of the business. As President, Kristen is responsible for overseeing all internal operations including the membership program, marketing, sales, communications and call center operations. Kristen also serves as President of the Board of Directors of the Sea Tow Foundation, a national public service organization that promotes safe boating practices and educational initiatives that directly reduce accidents, fatalities and property damage related to recreational boating.
Kristen grew up sailing and powerboating, spending time in Newport, Essex, and Block Island, RI. She still gets out on the water and enjoys sailing to Shelter Island and Sag Harbor, and cruising around the Peconic Bay, beaching the boat and watching her niece and nephew swim and enjoy the water.
Kristen and I spoke about their Designate a Sober Skipper campaign, tips to keep your boat working so you DON’T need a tow, some of the great benefits of Sea Tow membership, and more. Enjoy!
On the Designate a Sober Skipper Campaign…..Just like you wouldn’t get on a car and drive drunk, you shouldn’t do it on the water. Designate the sober skipper before you leave the dock. Boating should be fun and safety helps make boating fun. That person makes sure everyone has a great time and that everyone gets home safely. We all know that boating is one of the best activities out there. Blood pressure goes down when you step out on the water. It’s a great family activity. It should be a good time. If people take a couple small steps to ensure it’s a safe day, everyone’s also gonna have a fun day and be able to go back out over and over and make it that lifetime sport.
On the industry reception.....The Sea Tow Foundation launched the campaign a couple years ago. We’ve gotten tremendous support from Sea Tow franchise areas and also partners across the country from the US Power Squadron to the state of Washington State Parks, to Coast Guard auxiliary, local marinas, boat dealers, and individual groups and associations. One of the materials we have is that wristband that someone can get locally or can go request on www.designatedskipper.com. It’s just a reminder that the designated skipper can wear on the boat to say 'I'm the one responsible.' We encourage people to share the message on social media and we do as well. It's not just the boating safety groups, it's actual real boaters doing this on a daily basis.
On growing up in boating…..I think the first picture of me is when I was about 2 months old. My parents were really big into boating. My father said the first time I went out we took a wave over the side and I got soaking wet and I didn’t even cry so apparently, that was a good sign and they kept going boating. We first had a 22’ Catalina sailboat and then we had a 30’ Newport sailboat. We also had a couple 13’ Boston Whalers but most of my early childhood was spent out on the sailboat, sailing over to Newport or Essex, spending the night in Block Island, or just rafting up with friends. I remember those great days out with the family.
On the learning process…..While I was required to take a boating safety course, I was often the mate, not at the helm. My father liked to be at the helm and that’s what he did. We sort of learned through osmosis but I’m really good at putting the sails up, taking the sails down, and tying us up at the dock!
On power vs. sail…..They’re two different experiences. We don’t own a sailboat anymore but my cousin does and luckily, he keeps the boat five minutes from my house so we go out sailing on the Peconic Bay. Sailing is such a serene activity, you’re just gliding through the water. You’re gonna get somewhere faster with a power boat; you take in more of the experience when you’re sailing. It depends upon your mood for the day.
On favorite boating activities…..Most of the time it’s going to raft up with friends. Or we’ll take a ride around Shelter Island. Maybe head over to Sag Harbor. Or go out with my niece and nephew. It’s great to see them experiencing the water as children, beaching the boat to get out there and pick up shells or watching them swim in the water and jump off the boat.
On the origins of Sea Tow…..My father always loved the water. Back when he was in college he started another company called Water Thrills. He would take people out and teach them to water ski, he would take them parasailing. He was already out on the water trying to get people into boating and have them feel comfortable with water sports. He’s always been involved in the marine industry and found out about the industry changing and the Coast Guard no longer doing non-emergency assistance and said ‘You know what, I can do this and this is going to be my opportunity to really make my living on the water.’ It took a while for the Coast Guard to adjust, it took a while for the boating public to adjust, but I think people realized over time that there’s no way the Coast Guard could possibly provide all these services in non-emergency services while still focusing on their primary mission. We have 102 franchise locations and boaters are covered nationwide. We have over 600 boats in our fleet and operate out of thousands of ports across the country.
On what makes a good Sea Tow Captain…..The same thing my father had – passion. They need to have a passion for helping people. Sea Tow is more than just getting on a boat and towing someone. Yes, you need to have the skill, but you need to understand it’s our job to help people, to get them home safely. When someone is calling us, it’s because something happened that was unexpected and it’s ruining their day. So it’s really important that we’re able to get people home safely and quickly.
On the most common reasons for calls…..The most common call is just a simple mechanical issue. Something happened that was unexpected, that tow home is our most common. We also get a good number of calls for someone who ran aground. They’re not hard aground but they’re just in an unfamiliar area, or that shoaling moved, or that sandbar that wasn’t there before is now. And then you have the good one where the fuel gauge is no longer working or they ran out of fuel or didn’t plan for the 1/3 rule – always have the 1/3 to head out, 1/3 to get back in, and 1/3 in reserve. And we get a lot of jump start requests. Right at the end of the day when people are coming in after the radio has been on all day and drained the battery.
On what boaters can do to minimize risk of needing a tow…..We always encourage our members to be proactive in maintenance. It is important to have that regular maintenance. Especially if you’re in the northeast and there are seasons, you want to do that spring commissioning and winterizing. Double check your fuel gauge on a regular basis, know how much fuel you put in your boat. Those fuel gauges don’t always work. Education ahead of time and knowing the area you’re in and being familiar with the waters is very helpful.
On National Safe Boating Week…..We’ll be participating in Wear Your Life Jacket to Work Day on Friday May 19th. There are so many options for comfortable life jackets out there, from inflatables to belt packs, that it’s a great opportunity to spread awareness that life jackets can be comfortable, and most importantly can save your life. The Sea Tow Foundation will be promoting everything on social media and you’ll see some of our life jacket loaner stands have ribbon cuttings during Safe Boating Week.
On changes in the industry…..The changes I see coming now are in how people are getting into boating. I see the peer-to-peer market, where current boat owners are going to rent their boats out to individuals through sites such as Boatsetter, as something that’s going to change the market. Boat clubs are blowing up at the moment because people see it as a way to get into boating, they’re just not ready to make that purchase yet. They can try it out and eventually move towards purchasing a boat. The way of entry is really going to be the disruptor to the industry of how we get people into boating and how people get that first experience.
On essential items for a day on the water…..Make sure you do have a cooler full of water and some snacks because you never know how long you’re gonna be out there. You might want to bring an extra jacket in case you get stuck a little bit later. Before you head out make sure you’ve taken that safety course. Even if you think you know everything, you might not.
On advice for would be boaters…..If they’re investigating boating and what type of boat they want, go to discoverboating.com to do some research. They should also try it out. Whether they rent a boat for a day or find some friends with a boat, just head out and see if they like it. Go to a boat dealer and take a ride. Once they’re more serious about it, take a boat safety course. Of course, right before you get the boat, make sure you buy that Sea Tow membership!
Kristen provided a lot of valuable information and I strongly encourage you to visit the websites mentioned for Safe Boating Week and Designated Skipper to continue learning how you can enjoy safe boating practices. Thanks!