NEWBURYPORT — The arrival of maritime rescue captain Mike Goodridge can represent a bittersweet moment: nervous boaters on disabled craft will get the assistance they need, but their trip on the water could be finished when the tow line is secured.
Goodridge runs Tow Boat/U.S. on the Merrimack River and others along the North Shore. Vessels for TowBoatU.S./Newburyport operations are located at Bridge Marina in Salisbury. His business includes TowBoat/U.S. Portsmouth and TowBoat/U.S. Ipswich, so the range of service runs from southern Maine to the Gloucester area and out to the fishing grounds of Jeffreys Ledge.
The water-based entrepreneur, who operates eight vessels, responds to the calls of scores of boaters each month, and he and his team are gearing up for a big season as July 4 approaches.
Though some might assume that the Coast Guard is the primary rescue force in local waters, operations like TowBoat respond to tenfold as many calls, because the federal service focuses only on the most serious cases.
Maritime historians say President Ronald Reagan, in the early 1980s, pushed for private companies to take over the tasks handled by some federal agencies. Advocates said local companies could take non-emergency calls rather than the Coast Guard.
That’s when Goodridge got involved, and he left his trade as an iron worker to concentrate on boats.
“At first this was a one-man, one-boat operation,” said Goodridge, a Salisbury citizen. “Back in the ’80s there weren’t so many boats on local waters, but in recent years more people with more money have made this a busy market. And boats get in trouble.
“There are many reasons for calling us — running out of gas, going aground, engine malfunction, especially early in the season. At this time of year, we are really on the go.”