Towing vs Salvage
This is probably one of the most important pieces of knowledge that you should know prior to leaving the dock. This information and the corollary legal ramifications can cost or save you hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on your vessel. If you say or agree to certain words you could easily lose your entire investment and more. The best discussion of this topic that I have found is at Boat US. This is not a plug for the company; they just happen to have and excellent article on the subject.
The Coast Guard Auxiliary does not aggressively get into the towing business but if we come upon a vessel needing assistance we can and usually will render assistance. The National Search and Rescue Policy recently changed this rule. Prior to this we could only render assistance with Coast Guard approval and after private towing companies were offered the opportunity, and then on in the case of emergency.
Auxiliary boats are now authorized to tow when the Coxswain feels it is safe and prudent.
We have a number of areas in San Diego where the water is shallow and the likelihood of grounding is rather high especially at low tide. If you run aground, try to get off immediately unless you are holed. Towboats generally will try to assist if there is not danger to their vessel or yours. One thing to remember is that if you are a sailboat, especially with a fin keel, it is extremely easy to do damage to the area where the keel attaches to the hull. Sometimes sitting there for a few hours can save you thousands of dollars in repairs. The tide will come back in.
The best way to avoid the need for towing and god forbid salvage is to plan ahead. Know your cruising area, know your insurance carrier and discuss what they do and don’t cover, and know your insurance agent/brokers home and cell phone numbers as well as the office number. Accidents always happen at very inconvenient times.
Most of all, have all the proper equipment aboard. The Coast Guard wants you to have the equipment in this webpage http://www.safetyseal.net/what_is_vsc.asp. If you would like a free Vessel Safety Check please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org and I will arrange for an examiner to stop by your boat or you can stop by the VSC station at the foot of Laurel street any Saturday of the year.