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Brothers come home from the sea for a new calling: Assisting recreational boaters 24 hours a day

by Scott Croft 14 Jan 07:08 PST
(L to R) Capts. Thomas Griffin and Joseph Abeyta, new owners of TowBoatUS Charleston, part of a nationwide fleet of on-water towing response vessels offering around-the-clock assistance to recreational boaters © Scott Croft

When he was young, Thomas Griffin says he looked up to his older brother, Joseph "Bert" Abeyta. Though Abeyta is 13 years senior, the siblings always shared a tight bond. With a long lineage of commercial fishermen and ship captains in their family, it was no surprise both went to sea when they grew up.

Abeyta enlisted and later served as an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, retiring after a 24-year career. Griffin serves in the Merchant Marine as an ATB First Mate holding a 1600-Ton Master of Oceans license. Now the brothers have come back to help boaters as new owners of the local 24-hour, on-water recreational boat towing service TowBoatUS Charleston. The location is part of a nationwide network of 300 ports and 600 towing response vessels across the country that responded to more than 70,000 requests for assistance last year.

"We're from Charleston and happy to come home and invest in this community," said Capt. Abeyta. "Between my brother's and my experience, including being out on the water with our own families, I feel we can uniquely provide the best service, day or night."

Much like an auto club for boaters, the company offers BoatUS on-water Unlimited Towing Memberships for saltwater boaters and anglers for just $159 per year. Boaters without BoatUS towing services face out-of-pocket costs that average $750 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.

All of the company's U.S. Coast Guard-licensed towing captains remain with the company. "We are so proud of the work they do," said Capt. Abeyta. "It's amazing how they can gently put a 56-foot boat in crowded marina or pick up a sailboat while she's under way. We have a very skilled staff." Also joining the business are the brothers' wives: Kirsten Griffin handles media, marketing and member services, and Layla Abeyta is in charge of office operations.

Homeported in Dolphin Cove off the Ashley River, the company's four towing response vessels - recognized by their bright red hulls - include a rugged 28-foot SAFE boat for offshore towing. The region is known for shifting shoals that can snag an unsuspecting boat. However, running down batteries or maintenance-related engine breakdowns are also common requests for towing service back a marina, launch ramp or home dock.

The fastest way to summon assistance from TowBoatUS Charleston 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, or by calling 800-888-4869.

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