BoatUS honors captains for lifesaving efforts


With more than 600 towboats spread across North America, the law of averages dictates that eventually BoatUS towing captains will be thrust into the middle of life-threatening emergencies.

BoatUS Towing Services recently honored five of its captains — four with Meritorious Service Awards and one with the BoatUS Woody Pollack Lifesaving Award — at a ceremony that recently capped the group’s annual conference in Clearwater Beach, Fla., the organization announced.

Capt. Sean McKinney, of Vessel Assist Lake Havasu, Ariz., earned the Pollack award, which was named after a well-respected towboat captain in the fleet who died at an early age.

Last summer, McKinney was towing a BoatUS member in Havasu Springs Marina when he heard piercing screams. He quickly dropped the tow and found the source of the sound a few slips away. It was the mother of a 7-year-old boy who had jumped off the stern of the family’s powerboat as the boy’s father was backing into the slip.

Carrying his first-aid kit, as he had in the Army in combat, McKinney raced into action. The boy had two deep prop cuts to the bone on the calf and was bleeding badly. McKinney quickly applied a tourniquet, advised Vessel Assist Lake Havasu Base to summon help and continued to care for and comfort the boy and his family for 20 minutes before emergency responders could arrive at the remote location. The boy was medevaced to a Phoenix hospital and survived. McKinney’s quick actions and his ability to keep the boy and his father calm during the emergency saved the young man’s life.

Meritorious Service awards were given to Capt. Joe Burkett of TowBoatUS in Fernandina, Fla.; Capt. Mitch Kramer of TowBoatUS Oyster Bay, N.Y., who assisted with the July 4 rescue after a 34-foot cruiser carrying 27 people capsized; Capt. Harold “Smitty” Smith of TowBoatUS Sandy Hook, N.J.; and Capt. Robert Estrada of TowBoatUS Lake Lanier, Ga., who assisted in the recovery efforts after an accident killed 13-year-old Griffon Prince and his 9-year-old brother, Jake.

“Sometimes the routine of a normal day is interrupted by a life-threatening mayday call or an incident that unfolds in front of them, and our captains step in without hesitation,” Adam Wheeler, BoatUS vice president and director of towing services, said in a statement. “They are not in the rescue business, but their actions save others. We are very proud of them.”

Coast Guard Capt. Peter Martin presented the awards on behalf of BoatUS.

Click here for details on each of the awardees’ rescues.


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