AFRAS President Charles “Skip” Bowen, left, presents the search and rescue award to Capt. Nathan Lins at a January ceremony.

Capt. Nathan Lins, of TowBoatUS Catalina, in California, was selected as the recipient of this year’s AFRAS C-Port search and rescue award, for saving the life of a man who went overboard.

Lins was towing a disabled boat when he heard the mayday call for help come over the radio. He grabbed his binoculars and turned on his direction finder, noting that there was a strong signal coming from a sailboat he could see about four miles away. He was immediately concerned because of the panic in the voice of the person making the mayday call, and the fact that the vessel he suspected was making it was still underway – leading him to suspect that the people still onboard did not know how to operate the vessel.

Lins disengaged his tow and headed toward the vessel, arriving alongside after the people aboard were able to disengage the autopilot. The passengers were disoriented, but were able to pass that the man who fell overboard was not wearing a lifejacket and the GPS coordinates from when the accident occurred – thanks to the quick thinking of a passenger who took a photo of the device immediately after the man went over the side.

Lins started his search. Winds were at 15 knots, making the sea state choppy, and the water temperature was 71 degrees, creating a real concern for hypothermia. Lins had traveled about a mile when he spotted the man’s head, barely above water. He had been in the water about 45 minutes and was struggling to survive.

Lins made it to the man and threw him a flotation device, which he immediately grabbed. He was unable to swim the 10 feet to Lins’ boat, due to exhaustion, so the captain expertly maneuvered his boat closer and pulled the man aboard. Lins notified the U.S. Coast Guard and returned the man to his boat.

In the rescued man’s own words: “As the boat moved farther and farther away I realized two frightening things chasing it was impossible and also what a small speck hidden by swells I was becoming. At this point preparing for death consumed my every thought. As the sailboat got smaller and smaller, I was constantly scanning the horizon for other boats. Not a single vessel. This continued for 20 minutes or so until I saw what looked to be some sort of official vessel heading towards our sailboat. The amazing part was that his direction wasn’t towards me but towards where the current was taking me. There was a thought that maybe he wasn’t aware of even a man overboard but either way we were set to cross paths. This I knew was my last hope of rescue. As he approached, I gave all efforts to be noticed but I could see it wasn’t working. He drew closer and still no reaction. Panic was beginning to grow again and hope was fading. I was about 30 yards away off of his port side as he was about to pass. Then at the last moment, the boat turned towards me but I was still in disbelief that he saw me. It wasn’t till he looked over the side to adjust steering not to run me over that I was overwhelmed with what just happened. He pulled up next to me, very calm and professional, and I was like a cat that just got thrown in a bathtub. I couldn’t thank him enough but I didn’t want to annoy him either. The truth is I don’t know how to thank him. Captain Nathan saved my life.”

Lins was presented his AFRAS search and rescue award in January. His actions will also be recognized during the AFRAS Capitol Hill maritime search and rescue awards ceremony in Washington DC, Sep. 13. The event will be hosted by Congressman Jason Lewis (R-MN) and is coordinated by the board and officers of AFRAS. The Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as other senior maritime and congressional officials, will also attend.

The AFRAS C-Port (Conference of Professional Operators for Response Towing) Award was established in 2010 and is awarded to a marine assistance provider for their heroic response to aid a fellow mariner in distress.