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Service offers tows for drunken boaters

POSTED: July 4, 2014 12:49 a.m.

As boaters take to the water in droves, one captain, as he styles himself, is hoping his Lake Lanier business stays afloat in the minds of boaters who drink alcohol in America’s honor.

“It’s our busiest weekend, provided people are smart enough to use the service,” said Jeff Perfater, founder and owner of SAFENAV. The business model: Dispatch a U.S. Coast Guard-certified master captain to rescue stranded imbibers.

For $125, Perfater or a member of his team will show up on a small craft, then pilot operators and their passengers to dry land. No judgement.

“We come out in a small inflatable dinghy, which weighs next to nothing, and we just tie that off to the back of the boat,” he said. “When we leave and we’re back safe and secure in our slip, we go off to the next job.”

Everyone gets where they need to be, with no poor judgement along the way, a rampant tendency when it comes to boating, he said.

“There’s a false sense of security, and people are thoroughly overconfident,” he said. “If you’re out and you’ve lost track of how many drinks you’ve had; you’re too buzzed, you just need to give us a call.”

Every operator who answers a call is a Coast Guard master captain, he said. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and he hopes adding some user-friendly features in the offseason will help boost business.

“I think this coming offseason, we need to build an application. Have something viable for Androids, iPhones, more advertising like boat key chains,” he said. “We’re only a year old. We’re learning.”

Once the call is made, turnaround time can be anywhere from half an hour to two hours, depending on the volume of requests, he said. Patrons can try to secure an advance reservation.

“People will call and say for instance, ‘Hey, listen, we want to be the first people you come back to get after fireworks,’” he said.

Perfater plans to expand as demand dictates, but is finding thus far a small fleet is suitable.

“It’s a small service, but we haven’t found there’s been enough business yet to warrant more boats and more captains,” he said.

Looking at boating under the influence figures, that’s a troubling mismatch, he said.

“We’ve probably only had three or four calls this summer, and I probably should have had 30 or 40,” he said.

He said that culturally, the stigma of drinking and boating has lagged behind drinking and driving. For instance, he said, people seem to see similarly modeled driving services not as an embarrassing last resort stemming from a mistake, but a preplanned, responsible choice.

“I play piano five nights a week, and I see a lot of customers who walk in and they know they’re going to get hammered, and they’re going to call SafeRide at 11 o’clock and they know that,” he said. “‘I know I’ll get picked up, I know what it’s going to cost me.’ That’s the kind of mindset that needs to be on the lake.”

Perfater acknowledges that initially, it does seem indulgent to drop more than $100 for a one-way ride. But factor in the associated costs of a possible BUI, and it’s not a bad investment, he said.

“If you have five people and everyone chipped in 25 bucks, suddenly a ride isn’t going to cost you 10 grand,” he said. “You get home safe. You don’t kill anybody.”

And preventing deadly collisions inspired the business. The retiree said the summer 2012 deaths of young brothers Jake and Griffin Prince in an alcohol-related collision, and a few weeks later the death of Kile Glover, caused him to steer toward different nautical plans.

“My intention was to get a captain’s license and to move boats up and down the coast,” he said. “As soon as some of these kids lost their lives, I thought, ‘This is a service that nobody has ever done on Lake Lanier, but if they did, it’d be brilliant.’

“If you want to go out and have a drink and have a good time, know that there’s a service for it,” he added. “We’re trying to save lives on the lake.”


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