Imagine you're on a boat in a secluded cove where you and your family splash and sip and sleep in the warmth of a summer day. But then, sadly, inevitably, the dusk falls, and it's time to go home. You crank your engine, but you're greeted by terrifying silence. A second try yields nothing. The kids start whining that they're hungry and your partner gets that look—you know the one—that says, "You can fix this, right?" And still, the engine is dead. You're stuck.
So, what are you going to do? Your roadside assistance agency—well, it's for the roadside. Now's the time you're thankful that you know Chad Walters and Sea Tow Knoxville, the folks who save the day on the water.
Capt. Chad Walters is the owner and operator of the local franchise of Sea Tow, a network of U.S Coast Guard–licensed captains that provides on-the-water assistance. The company was founded in 1983 after the Coast Guard stopped responding to non-emergency calls. Walters grew up on the water in Loudon and later joined the Marine Corps' Reconnaissance Team—that branch's version of the Special Forces—where he completed "an insane amount of water work." After his stint with the Corps, he wanted to find a way to be close to home, stay on the water, and continue a service mission in civilian life.
Sea Tow Knoxville, which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary, was one of the first franchises to locate in fresh water. And they're an easy operation to spot on the 90 miles that they cover around and about Fort Loudoun and Tellico lakes; Capt. Chad's two assistance boats are distinguished by Sea Tow's trademarked yellow hull. The crew includes four captains and four divers; between them, they have a trove of certifications and practical experience. They've responded to Hurricanes Ivan, Rita, and Katrina and deployed to the Gulf after the BP oil spill; their work has included everything from helping with a stalled engine or saving lives after a severe boating accident to helping put a marina back together after it's been turned over and twisted by a major storm system.
"We can handle everything from mild to wild," Walters says. While there are daring rescues during and after wrath of God–style storms, "tow-lines, jump-starts and gas-fills get the work," he says.
Towing a boat might seem pretty dull stuff, and even Capt. Chad admits that, after his experience in the Marine Corps "pushing boats out of the backs of helicopters 20 miles offshore at 2 a.m., this work is a little mundane." Still, you won't find him kneeling on the dock praying for a tempest. Sea Tow's first order of business is safety, so, in some ways, the captain is happiest when he's not busy.
Sea Tow operates a non-profit foundation completely dedicated to boat safety. They participate in national initiatives like the Life Jacket Loaner program and constantly promote and teach boating safety. Capt. Chad's a pretty jovial guy, but he turns serious when he talks about safety. "We're the guys who see the end results. We come pick up the pieces," he says.
"There are always a lot of new boaters on the lake, and there are things that they should know. Following the federal and state guidelines is a good start, and we offer advanced training for specific boats. But there are simple things that make boating a lot safer—like knowing that it's the law that boaters under 12 have to have a life jacket and having the right fire extinguisher. And knowing that you're not the only boater on the water is important, too—you have to keep a situational awareness of not just yourself, you also have to watch out for the other guy."
Paying attention to safety is pretty simple, and it ensures that the chances of a serious mishap remain slim. But in the event that things do go wrong, whether it's an act of God or a forgotten fill-up, Sea Tow monitors channel 16, has a 24 hour telephone number, and an easy to use phone app to get you back in the saddle—or abaft the wheel—again.
TN office: (865) 986-4045
GA/SC office: (912) 356-8344