Father & Son Towboat Team Honored for Saving Sailor's Life

A pair of TowBoatUS captains, father and son, have been awarded BoatUS’s Meritorious Service Award for saving a man’s life on the Bay last summer.

One afternoon in July, a 25-foot sailboat was found aground at Sparrows Point, fully rigged, with personal belongings on board. A wicked storm had blown through hours earlier. The Coast Guard and Maryland Natural Resources Police quickly launched a search for the skipper.

That sailor, John Dalmas, had spent the night at Pleasure Island after setting out from Bodkin Creek. In the morning, he had told his wife he planned to circle another island before heading home to the marina.

Captains Dale and Austin Plummer

TowBoatUS Baltimore Captain Dale Plummer and his 19-year-old son, Captain Austin Plummer, were headed out to a family dinner when they heard the radio call; they dropped their plans to volunteer in the search.

The elder Captain Plummer tells Bay Bulletin, the rescue call got his attention because he’d been in the same storm that hit earlier that day, and “anybody caught in it was gonna have issues.” The father-son team agreed to help search until dark, despite weather conditions that were changing from heavy rain to fog and back again.

After the Coast Guard pointed the men to a search area off Bodkin Point, and none of the searching agencies had found the sailor, the Plummers decided to make a shoreline pass at North Point with their last remaining daylight.

It was Austin Plummer, still in the midst of getting his captain’s license at the time, who spotted Dalman’s head above water. He was standing, chest-deep, 300 yards from shore. He’d been in the water for seven hours when the captains pulled him aboard. Dalmas told the Plummers that other vessels had passed within several hundred yards, but none had seen him until the red towboat came along. 

Says Captain Austin, “When I first saw him it was really kinda of surreal. When I saw his head and his arms waving, it was such a relief.”

Dalmas said his sail had gotten caught when the storm hit, and as he went forward to try and release it, he was knocked into the water. He had life jackets on board, but wasn’t wearing one when he went over the side.

 Captain Dale Plummer (right) accepts the award from BoatUS
Captain Dale Plummer (right) accepts the award from BoatUS

Captain Dale Plummer says it’s not unusual for a towboat captain to help in search missions. He is trained as a first responder and is certified in search and rescue, as are his colleagues. But for Austin Plummer, freshly turned 19, saving another man’s life is one heck of a way to start a career.

Captain Dale says now, “The odd thing is that we left the dock thinking we were going to find him. I would have felt guilty if we’d just gone out to dinner.”

Whatever gave the Plummers that hunch, it turned out to be right, and John Dalmas got safely to land that night thanks to them.

“It feels good to be able to make a difference in situations like this. It’s one of the reasons I like being a captain so much,” Captain Austin reflects.

Congratulations to Captains Dale and Austin Plummer on their Meritorious Service Awards.