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A new era for TowBoatUS Beaufort and Swansboro, N.C.: Capt. Stephen Lilly takes the helm

by BoatUS 15 Jun 2023 11:36 PDT
(L to R) Capt. Stephen and Mariangel Lilly of TowBoatUS Beaufort and Swansboro, North Carolina © Scott Croft

His great grandfather was a Cape Lookout Lighthouse keeper in the 1930s, so it's perhaps befitting that Capt. Stephen Lilly is the new owner of TowBoatUS Beaufort and TowBoatUS Swansboro, two local towing ports that help boaters in the Inner and Outer Banks region with routine on-water troubles.

Much like an auto club for recreational boaters, the locations provide professional, 24/7 on-water towing, ungrounding, battery jump and fuel drop off services.

The business is a first for Lilly, who purchased it from his former boss and longtime owner Capt. Lee Sykes, who is retiring. It's been a long road for Lilly, who said, "I towed my first boat when I was 8 years old. I was in a marina on my little dinghy and 2-hp motor, and a big cruiser was having trouble getting into the slip, so the captain leaned over the rail and asked me for a little push," he said. "Definitely not something I would recommend today," he adds with a chuckle.

Joining him in the business is his wife, Mariangel Lilly, who is overseeing marketing and public reach out efforts as well as business operations. "She's my right hand in life," said Lilly.

Lilly says he's always known that he wanted his future to be on the water. Since graduating college in 2012, he has renovated a marina, been a dockmaster and boatyard forklift driver, worked as oil spill crew rescuing sea birds, and helmed long tows for TowBoatUS Beaufort. He understands the company's long-term commitment to the community. "We take a lot of pride in serving boaters in our area," said Lilly. "We have a duty. You're not just a number with us."

Lilly keeps the company's six red TowBoatUS response vessels at Sea Water Marina across from Chasing Tails in Atlantic Beach. All are part of a nationwide network of more than 600 TowBoatUS response vessels at 300-plus locations that responded to more than 90,000 requests for assistance last year.

Lilly's region sees a variety of on-water activity including snowbirds cruising the Intracoastal Waterway, a strong local boating community and charter fishermen with a busy schedule of local tournaments. Lilly says the tremendous amount of tide, wind and current in the area require his captains to be highly skilled in towboat operations. "Working here is special because you work together," said Lilly.

All of the company's captains are U.S. Coast Guard-licensed. Separate from BoatUS on-water towing, the company offers boat salvage and spill remediation services.

Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) offers Unlimited Towing Memberships for saltwater boaters and anglers for just $165 per year. Included are more than 25 Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) benefits and discounts, a subscription to BoatUS Magazine, free DSC-VHF radio registration, and more.

The fastest way to request assistance is to download the free BoatUS App, which connects boaters to the closest local towing captain. Additionally, both TowBoatUS locations can be reached at 252-728-5088, or by phoning the BoatUS toll-free 24/7 Dispatch Center at 800-391-4869.

For more go to or call 800-888-4869.

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