SOUTHOLD, N.Y. – Finding ways to utilize new technology is something that separates industry leaders from the rest of the pack. During 2017, Sea Tow captains across the country have done exactly that by using ever-expanding drone technology to find a whole new perspective on their day-to-day operations.
At Sea Tow Central Connecticut, Captain Tom Kehlenbach has been using his drone – a DJI Phantom 4 – for about three years. It all started when he was lending a hand in Puerto Rico, helping Captain Javier Menendez with a large salvage job.
“We were out there working, when all-of-a-sudden, I heard this buzzing noise behind me and noticed one of Javier’s guys was using a drone to get some shots of the work we were doing,” Kehlenbach said. “After we were done, he showed me the footage and I thought, ‘This is fantastic.’ As soon as I got back home I ordered one.”
Since then, Kehlenbach has used a drone on more than a dozen jobs. There is a sharp learning curve involved, but Kehlenbach said the technology has been immense in the way it has made many of his jobs safer and more efficient for him and his crew.
“Using the drone really helps to reduce the liability involved with a job,” he said. “If you have time and the weather permits, the drone’s aerial perspective lets you figure out how to get a grounded boat out to deeper water without putting divers in the water. You can’t put a price on that.”
Since first buying the drone, Kehlenbach has been able to survey most of Sea Tow Central Connecticut’s service area, allowing his crews to familiarize themselves with any rocks, sand bars or other obstructions in the water and better prepare themselves for potential jobs.
He has also used the drone as an educational tool. During flare and other safety demonstrations, the bird’s-eye view produces a unique perspective that helps to enhance the learning experience by showing boaters what it looks like from a view other than their own.
All the way down Interstate-95, Captain Jon Gridley – owner of four Georgia Sea Tow franchises – has seen similar benefits after buying his first drone earlier this year.
Following a severe storm that left nearly three-dozen boats – as well as the dock they were moored to – upside-down, Gridley and his crew at Sea Tow Clarks Hill Lake had a massive job on their hands. It would be great if he could get a birds-eye view of the scene, he thought.
That day, he went out and purchased a Parrot Bebop 2 drone, and it allowed him to get a whole new perspective on what he was dealing with. He even spotted two boats that were previously unaccounted for, bringing the grand total to 35 vessels in need of recovery.
Since then, Gridley has utilized the drone in around a dozen salvage and recovery operations, with the new point of view proving to be priceless in the way it has made the jobs both safer and easier for him and his crew. Additionally, the aerial footage assists Sea Tow’s Insurance Company customers, adjustors and surveyors better evaluate the extent of damage, recovery/clean up challenges, estimate costs and otherwise document the scene which saves time and travel as these folks can review the footage from remote office locations.
“It allows me to better plan for a job,” Gridley said. “It’s just an extra tool to make our jobs not only safer, but more effective and more efficient.”
Across the country, more and more Sea Tow captains are using drones to assist in their day-to-day operations. Gridley said he knows of at least a handful of other captains utilizing the technology and believes it will eventually play a key role in the industry.
Even the U.S. Coast Guard has recently made the move to adopt this continually-expanding technology. By the end of the year, the Coast Guard plans to submit a proposal to purchase its own fleet of drones to help guardsmen better protect the waters in which they patrol.
“We’re proud of the way our captains have remained ahead-of-the-curve when it comes to the use of new technology,” said Sea Tow CEO Joseph Frohnhoefer, III. “Our job at Sea Tow is to provide the best service possible and make boating safer for everyone, and the use of drones allows our captains to do just that.”