At this year’s annual gathering of TowBoatUS fleet, company owners, captains and BoatUS staff honored nine captains from the U.S. and Canada who selflessly acted to provide emergency lifesaving assistance in 2023. Two Woody Pollak Awards or the highest honors in lifesaving and four Meritorious Service Awards were bestowed.

On an early summer day clouded by Canadian wildfire smoke and haze, Capt. Matthew Lynch of TowBoatUS Old Saybrook, CT was towing a disabled vessel when he thought he heard a screech-like “Help! Help!” over VHF radio channel 16. To Lynch, the broadcast sounded like it originated from a nearby location. Years of listening to radio calls – and understanding radio signal strength and its relation to proximity – had given the young captain a keen sense of location. Playing back the call confirmed his suspicions, so he responded. The caller again replied, “Please help!”

While contacting the U.S. Coast Guard to relay what he had heard, Lynch next used his radar to identify a lone boat in his vicinity less than half a mile away. Watchstanders had not heard the call for help but proceeded to attempt to reach the boater. Lynch, being in open water and knowing the vessel he was towing had limited propulsion, asked the towed vessel’s captain if he could unhook to assist the search effort, which the fellow mariner obliged.

Soon arriving at the lone boat, he encountered an elderly woman crying, saying in broken English, “He fell over.” Lynch immediately radioed the position to the Coast Guard as well as local marine police and fire units and determined the set and drift of the area and began a Victor Sierra search pattern he learned from his National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) Boat Operations Search and Rescue training.

Moments later, marine units arrived on scene and joined the search based on Lynch’s instructions. Shortly thereafter the overboard man was found some distance away unconscious in an underinflated life jacket. He was successfully recovered and transported to an awaiting ambulance where first responders were able to revive him. Lynch received a Woody Pollak Award and we applaud his actions. To learn more about TowBoatUS Old Saybrook, operating out of JDZ Marine, LLC, log onto ■

D. Scott Croft at BoatUS contributed to this report.