Capt. Dave DuVall is a water person, plain and simple. He grew up on the Chesapeake Bay. His father taught him to run boats when he was 6 years old. He was crabbing and fishing by age 12. He worked in marine construction. He attended the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. And he spent 16 years as a commercial diver before opening his Sea Tow franchise 25 years ago.
“I was getting out of commercial diving and looking for something else to do, and that was about the time that Sea Tow started up,” he recalls. “It was the right job for me. It’s not an easy job—you’re on call 24/7, basically running a firehouse without the budget or the manpower, and starting out, I did most of the work myself. But it’s a rewarding job, one where you get to help people, to have the knowledge and wherewithal to help people who are in a situation that’s usually over their head or beyond their control.”
DuVall is immersed in the lifestyle of Chesapeake Bay boaters. In addition to running Sea Tow Central Chesapeake, he helps to sponsor the annual fishing tournament put on by the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen’s Association, and he supports Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB), a nonprofit group that introduces physically and developmentally challenged people to boating. Most recently, DuVall donated 48 life jackets to the CRAB program.
“I’ve just always thought it was a good idea that people get out on the water,” he says.
What he would like to see, after 25 years of helping boaters out of jams, is more boaters learning more about, well, boating. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadrons offer outstanding courses, he says, and people who learn the basics could save themselves an awful lot of headaches.
“More education would prevent problems,” DuVall says. “It would prevent accidents. Boats are boats. They’re always going to break down. But people who learn to use the radio, get proper equipment like a VHF radio and a GPS, that eliminates a lot of problems. People rely too much on cell phones nowadays. You get a guy whose boat battery is dead, and then his cell phone is dying, too, while he’s trying to call for help. It’s not a good situation.”
A lot has changed during the past 25 years, and one thing DuVall says has changed for the better is the perception of Sea Tow captains like him.
“When we first started the business, we were seen as pirates,” he recalls. “Near-shore aid to boaters in non-emergency situations used to be done by the Coast Guard and the Department of Natural Resources. It was a free service, and some people thought we were coming in and upsetting the apple cart. But what people don’t realize is that in the mid-1980s, the Coast Guard could not keep providing these services with their budget. So we’ve reduced the need for the Coast Guard and the DNR to provide this type of service so they can focus on law enforcement and true emergencies. And nowadays, most people wave at us. They shout out, ‘Good to see you!’ Perception has changed tremendously. I’m proud that I was one of the people who helped to get things started.”