What came as a sudden and severe storm left a wake of disarray and destruction for the boaters of Georgia’s Clarks Hill Lake.
The marina at nearby Pointes West Army Resort in Appling, Ga. was the site of a microburst that left nearly three-dozen boats -- as well as the dock they were attached to -- flipped upside-down.
According to the National Weather Service, a microburst is a localized column of sinking air (downdraft) within a thunderstorm and is usually less than or equal to 2.5 miles in diameter. Microbursts can cause extensive damage at the surface and, in some instances, can be life-threatening. Luckily, no lives were lost, but the boat damage from the storm was massive.
In the middle of all the chaos, Captain Jon Gridley – owner of four area Sea Tow franchises, including the local Sea Tow Clarks Hill Lake – had an idea. With boats strewn about in every direction, it was difficult for Captain Gridley’s salvage crew to get an idea of what exactly they were dealing with. It would be great if he could get a birds-eye view of the scene, he thought.
That’s what led Captain Gridley to the idea of using a drone to get a different point-of-view on his salvage efforts. He went out and picked up a Parrot Bebop 2 drone and, with it, a whole new perspective on marine salvage – literally.
On the first operation, the drone proved its worth almost immediately. He sent his additional set of aerial eyes up on its debut voyage and immediately Captain Gridley discovered two boats that were previously unaccounted for – bringing the grand total to 35 vessels in need of recovery.
Since then, Captain Gridley has utilized the drone in around a dozen salvage operations, with the new point-of-view proving to be priceless in the way it has made salvages safer and easier for him and his crew.
“It allows me to plan better for a job,” he said. “It’s just an extra tool to make our jobs not only safer, but more effective and more efficient.”
Captain Gridley isn’t the only Sea Tow captain using drones in his day-to-day operations. Captains Duke Overstreet of Sea Tow Sarasota and Tom Kehlenbach of Sea Tow Central Connecticut are among several other captains across the country adopting the new technology.
Its uses aren’t strictly limited to salvage operations, either. The unique point-of-view these drones provide helps captains gather further information for insurance companies, retrieve registration numbers of boats washed away in hard-to-reach areas and can even help with surveying projects.
Even the U.S. Coast Guard has recently made the move to adopt drone technology. By the end of the year, the Coast Guard plans to submit a proposal to purchase its own fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles to help guardsmen better protect the waters in which they patrol.
At Sea Tow, our captains love to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to new technology and are always looking for new ways to assist our customers more effectively, and the use of aerial drones is just one example. That’s what separates us from our competitors and makes us the leader in on-the-water assistance for boaters around the world.