CROSS, S.C., April 27, 2021 -- When Capts. Joseph Abeyta and Thomas Griffin became new owners of TowBoatUS Charleston in January 2020, growing the on-water recreational boat towing business was always part of the plan. However, as the country soon took to the water to escape the monotony of pandemic life, it became apparent to the two captains that there was a need for professional 24/7 on-water towing assistance on nearby lakes Marion and Moultrie, South Carolina’s largest and third largest inland lakes, respectively.
Collectively known as Santee Cooper Lakes for the 1939 namesake hydroelectric project that created the waters, the lakes are now home to Abeyta and Griffin’s second port, TowBoatUS Santee Cooper Lakes. The location is part of a nationwide network of more than 300 ports and 600 towing response vessels across the country that responded to more than 80,000 requests for assistance last year.
Abetya, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, and Griffin, who serves in the Merchant Marine as an articulated tug barge (ATB) first mate holding a 1,600 Ton Master of Oceans license, both felt confident in expanding inland with their company’s dispatching being run from Charleston. Layla Abeyta and Kirsten Griffin, the captains’ wives, are critical to the success of the smooth-running dispatch operation that responds to requests for assistance with engine breakdowns and towing services, dead batteries, soft ungroundings and fuel drop-offs. The women also handle media, marketing and member services.
Strong women are not just part of the company’s dispatch: The company’s bright red boats with white lettering have a deeper connection to women as well. “All of our response vessels are named after prominent women in our lives, such as mothers, grandmothers, and aunts,” said Griffin. Vessel names include Ruby, Sally, Sherry B., Marcela, Big Lou. On Santee Cooper Lakes, the company’s response vessel, Cleo Belle, named after Layla Abeyta’s great grandmother, is docked at Mac Daddy’s Restaurant at the Canal Lakes Fish Camp, centrally located between Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion. The boat is fully rigged for towing and salvage and carries extra fuel for drop-offs.
All of the company’s captains are U.S. Coast Guard-licensed and have first responder credentials. They include three retired Coast Guard captains, a Coast Guard Reserve captain and a Charleston Fire Department captain. A fourth retired Coast Guard captain local to the area will primarily serve TowBoatUS Santee Lakes. “The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is thrilled we can handle routine requests for assistance, so we are excited to establish ourselves there,” said Griffin.
Much like an auto club for boaters, the company offers BoatUS on-water Unlimited Towing Memberships for freshwater boaters and anglers for just $90 per year. Boaters without BoatUS towing services face out-of-pocket costs that average $800 per towing incident, with some paying more. Included with Unlimited Towing membership are more than 25 Boat Owners Association of The United States benefits and discounts, a subscription to BoatUS Magazine, free DSC-VHF radio registration, and more.
The fastest way to summon assistance from TowBoatUS Santee Cooper Lakes is to download the free BoatUS App, which connects boaters to the closest local towing captain. Additionally, the company can be reached at 843-745-5977, by hailing on VHF channel 16, or by phoning the BoatUS toll-free 24/7 Dispatch Center at 800-391-4869. More information can be found at BoatUS.com/Towing or by calling 800-888-4869.