A plan to charge boat owners for non-emergency tows by county lifeguard boats has sailed through the Small Craft Harbor Commission.
The proposed new rescue policy, which was approved by the commission Wednesday, must get final approval from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors before it can go into effect. The supervisors have not scheduled a date to consider the issue.
The county does not charge for towing now. Officials want to charge a minimum of $125 for towing in situations where life is not at stake, such as a dead battery or engine failure. The county will not charge for services when life or property is threatened, said Ted Reed, director of the Department of Beaches and Harbors.
"It is insane that they would turn around and try to charge us," Jerry Rowley, president of the Pioneer Skippers Boat Owners Assn. of Marina del Rey, asserted.
'Not Property Damage'
"When you go out to sea, there is a fine line between what is an emergency and what is not an emergency," he said in an interview. "If a fellow runs out of gas and is stuck out there, it is not like an auto where he can get out and walk to a phone. We are talking life and death here, not just property damage."
Reed said the purpose of the new policy is to get boat owners to call commercial towers for non-emergency assistance and thereby free the county's eight lifeguard boats for emergency rescues of boaters and swimmers.
Last year, there were 861 boat assistance calls, 363 of which were not emergency situations, said Howard Lee, the county's assistant chief of lifeguards.
Most of these calls for help came from the Marina del Rey area, he said.
Reed said that "the intention is not to make money but to free up the boats. If they want us to do it, we will be there," he went on. "But they can probably get a private firm to do it for less."
However, Rowley of the boat owners group said that inexperienced skippers, who might not be able to judge when they are at risk, may now avoid calling the county for help because of the cost.
Err Toward Safety
The lifeguard boat skippers will decide when a situation is an emergency, Reed said. "They will be instructed when in doubt to fudge on the side of safety."
Rowley said the plan will force boat owners to pay twice for the same service, once through the towing fee and again with their county taxes and slip fees.
"We are all paying taxes to support county services, and we are all entitled to them, just as we are entitled to police and fire protection," Rowley said.
Reed said the eight county lifeguard boats originally were intended to assist in surf rescues. If the county does not charge for non-emergency tows, boat owners will have no incentive to call commercial towers, Reed said.
However, Rowley said that if the county cannot respond to all the boater assistance calls and surf rescues it expects to receive, he has an alternative to the new towing policy.
"Buy more boats and hire more people and put them on duty," he said.