Mar 28, 2019

Dodd Narrows The Dodd Narrows C-TOW Boat puttering down Newcastle Channel on a sunny July afternoon with the Coast Guard hovercraft Siyay in the background.

In 2019, C-TOW celebrates its 35th anniversary of providing 24/7 “Peace of Mind Boating” for Canada’s recreational boaters.

Serving the British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland waterways, C-TOW was founded in 1984 by Captain John MacDonald to support boaters on the West coast. In 2009, under the leadership of current CEO Andy Cardiff, C-TOW began to expand, first into Ontario, then into Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. They now provide free towing, fuel delivery, soft ungrounding, fog shepherding, jump starts, minor on-scene repairs and trip-planning assistance to members across Canada.

Cardiff began his career in municipal government and made a career shift into the marine sector in 2006 when he purchased and operated a water taxi business in Pender Harbour on BC’s Sunshine Coast. The experience he gained getting to know the BC coastal waterways made him an ideal candidate to become a C-TOW captain. Three years later, he took over the company.

“Being an operator was very enjoyable. Being able to help people and at the same time have the enjoyment of being out on the water was a gift,” Cardiff says of his time as a C-TOW captain. “Working on the water was a life dream for me.”

C-TOW has a close relationship with the Canadian Coast Guard and was, in fact, founded when a change was made in the federal towing legislation. “In 1984 the Coast Guard changed their policy to assisting only those vessels in distress,” Cardiff explained. C-TOW founder Captain MacDonald saw the opportunity to fill the gap left by the Coast Guard and “he responded by forming the company.”

Today, C-TOW works closely with the Coast Guard, jointly developing ongoing policies and legislation in addition to providing non-distress rescue assistance, personally responding to each call.

Despite offering an essential service, C-TOW is a unique business in a niche market. A key challenge in growing membership is awareness of C-TOW’s capabilities and services. While some boaters may think it is not necessary to enlist in the service, no matter how prepared, whether it’s with years of experience, a new boat, a new engine, prop, studious maintenance; you cannot protect against the unexpected challenges presented out on the water. In that sense, C-TOW is yet another tool for preparation. Providing piece of mind for the unexpected.


Dodd Narrows Sailboat During a recent blow this poor sailboat parted its mooring line in Lyall Harbour on Saturna Island and ended up on the rocks directly in front of Hope Bay, on Pender Island. The owner was unable to tend to the situation and the boat sustained significant chafing to the hull below the waterline. C-Tow Dodd Narrows assessed the situation for marine pollution and formulated a salvage plan. With the help of a couple local gentlemen, they managed to patch a couple of the larger holes. They returned the next morning to find the vessel had shifted position, so they had to rethink their salvage plan. With some improvisation, they were able to refloat the vessel. With pumps running, they handed the tow off to C-TOW Victoria/C-TOW Sidney for a haul out at Vector Yacht Services & The Boatyard Ltd.

Although, there is certainly a demand out on the water, which is evident in the success of C-TOW Windsor, which began around six years ago with two boats and has grown to a fleet of 6 vessels. Owner, Captain Darin Alderton explained that they will have anywhere from 2 to 6 vessels out on the water at any given time. “It’s demand from the boating community” he said referring to their growth, adding they have exceeded their expectations. This year C-TOW Windsor continues to grow, expanding their operation from Port Stanley to Grand Bend.

“I’m a helping person,” Alderton said when asked what initially drew him to C-Tow, “I used to be a firefighter, so I’ve seen situations in the past where you a give a helping hand.”

Nanaimo and Dodd Narrows C-Tow owner, Captain Evan Hogarth echoed a similar sentiment. Hogarth was operating a water taxi business when he took over C-TOW Nanaimo three years ago. “I saw it as a way to expand my business and help other boaters,” he said.

“It’s been fantastic,” he said of his experience, “I really enjoy the work, I really enjoy meeting the diverse client base, everyone from commercial fisherman to people chartering boats from overseas just discovering our coast for the first time – and everything in between.”

Alderton conceded that it does take a lot out of you, “long story short, you get a call you go out,” he said. Despite its demands, the job isn’t short on rewards. “I went out in the middle of Lake Erie, when somebody tried to steal a customer’s boat.” Alderton explained he got the boat fixed and drove it back, “and the customer ends up becoming a life-long friend because you’ve done everything and more.”

When you’re responding to a call you have to be prepared for anything that may happen, he explained, if you’re not careful you can end up in the same situation as the people you are trying to assist. “Every job you go out, it could start out that you’re just towing somebody, and it can get into a real bad situation,” said Alderton, “We’ve been in situations where a boat flips over and we’ve saved a life,” he said, “situations where we’re right beside the Coast Guard helping them out.”

“I’ve even pulled Coast Guard boats out,” he said.
Cadboro Bay Teamwork C-TOW Nanaimo had both of their boats on scene helping C-TOW Victoria/C-TOW Sidney pull a 32' ferro cement sailboat off the beach. It had been high and dry since December 21st and really didn't want to return to the sea. With four C-TOW Marine Assistance boats pulling, as well as some much-appreciated help from the Canadian Coast Guard Environmental Response boat, they got it floating. The C-TOW Sidney boat rigged a pump to control some water ingress, before towing it to Canoe Cove for haul out and eventual repair. We are happy to have been part of the process, preventing pollution on our spectacular beaches.

Although C-TOW is not a life saving service, the nature of the business adds a level of uncertainty to each call. When it comes to marine assistance you must be willing and able to rise to the challenges presented out on the water, because you never know how a given call will transpire. Ultimately, Alderton noted, “The number one goal is making sure the customer is happy.”

Cardiff says the introduction of their free C-TOW smartphone app, which automatically transmits a customer’s longitude and latitude coordinates to C-TOW dispatch, has been a game-changer. Allowing them to take the “search” out of “search and rescue.”

“You just hit one button and your message goes straight to our dispatch; we know exactly where you are, which is very helpful – sometimes people don’t know their exact location, and this takes the guesswork out of it”.

“We responded to a request from our customers and to a need in Canada. There are many American apps, but no Canadian apps that work for Canadian waters, Canadian tides and Canadian marine weather.” He adds that “we are continually upgrading the app to enhance its effectiveness for our members.”

In addition to providing immediate support to C-TOW members, the app enables boaters to check Environment Canada Marine weather, live weather reports submitted by C-TOW members and tide predictions from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and provides information on nearby marinas, fuel docks and marine facilities. It even displays the boat’s speed and compass heading.

CTOW NanaimoC-TOW Nanaimo assisting a member back to Ladysmith Harbour.

For any company, success and longevity are a result of multiple factors. For C-TOW, identifying captains who have the skills and expertise required to competently navigate the waterways as well as provide assistance for a wide variety of issues, is absolutely key.

“Being consistent and reliable has been a big player in our success” Cardiff notes. “When people call they expect a level of professionalism and reliability, they expect good response times, and they expect operators with the skill and judgement to effectively tackle whatever the situation presents”. Finding operators who meet C-TOW’s standards and requirements is an ongoing challenge, Cardiff says, but one which the company is managing effectively.

35 years after it began, C-TOW remains at the forefront of the industry. “It can be difficult at times” Cardiff says. “We’re blazing the trail, we’re creating the industry and working on legislation with the Coast Guard and other federal and provincial governing bodies. Everything we push through, we’re the first one – the most challenging position in any competition is to be number one, and that’s where we have been, are, and will remain.”

“C-TOW is very grateful to the Canadian boating public for supporting us – without them, we would not be where we are today,” he said. And that continued support over almost four decades is certainly a contributing factor to their focus as they remain vigilant in providing consistent and reliable expertise. Supporting Canadian boaters in the years to come.


By Blake Marchand

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