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Acting As Good Samaritans,9 TowBoatUS Captains Honored For Lifesaving Acts

Locations in Port Clinton and Sandusky, Ohio; South Gulf Island, British Columbia; Beach Haven, N.J.; Old Saybrook, Conn.; Islamorada, Fla.

Springfield, VA  ̶  When recreational boats break down on the water, need a battery jump, run out of fuel or run aground, the nation’s largest fleet of on-water towing and assistance, TowBoatUS, responds 24/7 to get them home. Sometimes, however, matters aren’t so routine and the captains that helm TowBoatUS response vessels choose to step in as good Samaritans to help save lives as well.

At the annual gathering of the TowBoatUS fleet, company owners, captains and BoatUS staff honored nine captains from the U.S. and Canada who selflessly acted to provide emergency lifesaving assistance in 2023. Two Woody Pollak Awards  ̶  for the highest honors in lifesaving  ̶  and four Meritorious Service Awards were bestowed.

Woody Pollak Award: Capt. Matthew Lynch, TowBoatUS Old Saybrook, Connecticut
On an early summer day clouded by Canadian wildfire smoke and haze, Capt. Matthew Lynch of TowBoatUS Old Saybrook, Connecticut, was towing a disabled vessel when he thought he heard a screech-like “Help! Help!” over VHF radio channel 16. To Lynch, the broadcast sounded like it originated from a nearby location. Years of listening to radio calls – and understanding radio signal strength and its relation to proximity – had given the young captain a keen sense of location. Playing back the call confirmed his suspicions, so he responded. The caller again replied, “Please help!”

While contacting the U.S. Coast Guard to relay what he had heard, Lynch next used his radar to identify a lone boat in his vicinity less than half a mile away. Watchstanders had not heard the call for help but proceeded to attempt to reach the boater. Lynch, being in open water and knowing the vessel he was towing had limited propulsion, asked the towed vessel’s captain if he could unhook to assist the search effort, which the fellow mariner obliged.

Soon arriving at the lone boat, he encountered an elderly woman crying, saying in broken English, “He fell over.” Lynch immediately radioed the position to the Coast Guard as well as local marine police and fire units and determined the set and drift of the area and began a Victor Sierra search pattern he learned from his NASBLA Boat Operations Search and Rescue (BOSAR) training. A few minutes later, marine units arrived on scene and joined the search based on Lynch’s instructions. Shortly thereafter the overboard man was found some distance away unconscious in an underinflated life jacket. He was successfully recovered and transported to an awaiting ambulance where first responders were able to revive him.

Woody Pollak Award: Capt. Carlos Galindo, TowBoatUS Islamorada, Florida
On a Sunday morning in March, a mayday call went out over VHF channel 16 indicating a boater had severely cut himself and was in immediate need of help. The caller did not give the correct GPS position, prompting U.S. Coast Guard watchstanders to request a location. In a desperate voice, the caller said they were at the Islamorada Hump. A minute later, Capt. Carlos Galindo of TowBoatUS Islamorada, Florida, noticed a local Coast Guard response vessel quickly depart port heading toward the Hump, and he decided to follow the lifesavers.

While racing to the scene, but still about 4 miles out, Galindo kept replaying the desperate caller’s plea for help in his head – and remembered hearing the engine running while voice communications were made with the Coast Guard. As the Coast Guard vessel continued to make way toward Hump, Galindo pulled back his throttles and came to a complete stop, looking around. He soon spotted a vessel approximately 2 1/2 miles south of his current location, underway but navigating irregularly before suddenly coming to a complete stop.

Galindo turned the wheel, hit the throttles and within minutes was upon the boat. No one was at the helm, but a woman was waving her hands from the forward deck. Galindo immediately provided lifesavers his position. What he then saw aboard was gruesome: While trying to cut an outrigger line, a male boater had accidently cut his arm, hitting a major artery. Blood was throughout the 24-foot boat “like a murder scene,” described Galindo. The man was lying on the bow and, incredibly, still somewhat conscious.

Galindo jumped aboard the bloodied boat and tied a tourniquet around the victim’s arm, stanching the bleeding. Galindo then sat him up and kept the man talking to him, maintaining eye contact to keep him alert, while Coast Guard responders raced to the scene. About 10 minutes later, the man was transferred to the Coast Guard vessel and sped to the hospital where he survived.

Meritorious Service Award: Capts. Cory Schenk and Cole Heffernan, TowBoatUS Port Clinton, Ohio
During the early morning hours of Mother’s Day, May 14, a 34-foot sailboat left its home dock in Gem Beach Marina on Catawba Island with four aboard. Winds were out of the northeast with seas 3- to 5 feet, and water temperatures hovered around a chilly 50 degrees. At 12:16 p.m. U.S. Coast Guard watchstanders in Detroit issued an urgent marine information broadcast advising boaters of a vessel reported on fire near Catawba Island on Lake Erie’s west end.

Just four minutes later and with no other information provided, Capts. Cory Schenk and Cole Heffernan of TowBoatUS Port Clinton were underway in their towboat, Molly Lynne, departing their homeport on the east side of Catawba Island in search of the burning vessel.

As they left harbor, they identified the sailboat a half-mile away – without any visible smoke – and immediately headed toward it. Moments later, smoke began billowing from the sailboat. Just six minutes after departure, the captains arrived on the scene of the fully engulfed boat. Scanning nearby waters, the captains soon found, about 150 yards away, four souls in the water – one who was elderly, unable to move, and suffering the effects of hypothermia. As the mast of the burning boat toppled down nearby, Schenk and Heffernan were able to bring all four aboard and swiftly transport the stricken sailors to awaiting first responders ashore. They all survived.

Meritorious Service Award: Capts. Jake Dunfee, TowBoatUS Port Clinton, Ohio, and James “Jimmer” Kennedy, TowBoatUS Sandusky, Ohio
On late a September evening under poor weather conditions, a 110-foot tour boat on Lake Erie packed with 221 persons aboard lost steering 3 miles southeast of Kelly’s Island near Sandusky, Ohio. Upon receiving the news, Capts. Jake Dunfee of TowBoatUS Port Clinton, Ohio, and James “Jimmer” Kennedy of TowBoatUS Sandusky, Ohio, quickly hatched a plan to borrow the nearby, 2,400-horsepower tugboat John Francis to affect a rescue. Four others were recruited as crew.

After securing permission from the tug’s owners, the George Gradel Company, and with Dunfee at the helm of the 74-foot tug and Jimmer running the deck, the crew of six set out to lasso the stricken boat. Arriving on scene a short while later in 25-knot winds and 6- to 8-foot seas, Jimmer arranged a towing bridle and towline that was quickly attached. The tour boat, its passengers, and John Francis with its assembled crew all returned safely to Sandusky.

Meritorious Service Award: Deckhand Céline Sevald Boychuk and Capt. Nick Boychuck, TowBoatUS South Gulf Island, British Columbia
Off Montague Harbour on Galliano Island, a man lifting anchor aboard his boat suddenly collapsed, and a mayday on VHF channel 16 went out. Other nearby boaters had watched from a distance the boat’s lone occupant standing on the foredeck, pulling anchor, struggling in the high winds. Suddenly he was off his feet and lying on top of the deck with the boat’s anchor still dangling in the water and the vessel appearing to drift.

Along with nearby good Samaritans rushing to aid, minutes later Capt. Nick Boychuck and deckhand Céline Sevald Boychuk of TowBoatUS Gulf Islands, British Columbia, arrived on scene. As the Boychuks’ towboat pulled alongside, Céline jumped aboard the drifting vessel while Capt. Nick connected a towline. Céline immediately began CPR on the stricken man lying on the bow, not stopping for nearly 20 minutes until Nick had safely towed the vessel to awaiting responders ashore.

Meritorious Service Award: Capt. Rich Ellenberg, TowBoatUS Beach Haven, New Jersey
Unlike other Meritorious Award nominations, which are typically made by TowBoatUS company owners, Capt. Rich Ellenburg of TowBoatUS Beach Haven, New Jersey, was nominated by U.S. Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay for his “entire body of work and commitment to safety and assistance to the U.S. Coast Guard, including countless search-and-rescue operations, towing assistance and attending to other boating safety incidents.”

The nomination noted that due to distant locations of official rescue assets, Capt. Ellenburg is frequently “the closest, fastest and best-equipped resource for emergencies.” Sharing his expertise and local navigation knowledge with Coast Guard crews, Ellenburg was cited as never failing to assist in some manner over the course of 20 years.

One specific action cited included a fall 2023 incident when a cold front was bearing down on a disabled small vessel with a father with two children aboard. With official response assets some distance away, Ellenberg, acting as a good Samaritan, raced to the location in heavy seas, 25-plus knot winds and 60-degree air and water temperatures.

While en route, communications with the skipper were lost, and subsequent calls went unanswered. Ellenberg soon found the vessel capsized with the trio clinging to the submerged hull. Frustratingly, he realized he could not affect a rescue without putting himself in grave danger as well. Ellenburg heard a Coast Guard helicopter flying nearby and, working with watchstanders, vectored the helo to the scene where the three were safely retrieved.

Good Samaritan lifesaving acts by #TowBoatUS captains in Conn., Fla., Ohio, N.J. and British Columbia honored at annual gathering of on-water boat towing fleet https://bit.ly/42heOzb @BoatUS #redisready #boattow #marinetowing #boattowing

About TowBoatUS

Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) is the nation’s leading advocacy, services and safety group for recreational boaters. We are the Boat Owners Auto Club™ and provide our nearly 800,000 members with a wide array of helpful services, including 24-hour on-water towing that gets you safely home when your boat won’t, jump-starts, fuel delivery, and soft ungroundings. The TowBoatUS towing fleet is North America’s largest network of towing ports with more than 300 locations and over 600 red towboats, responding to more than 90,000 requests for assistance each year. The BoatUS App makes it easy to summon water and road assistance 24/7 and can speed response times (BoatUS.com/App). For more information go to BoatUS.com/Towing.

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