Capt. Mary Gilmer, (center) owner of TowBoatUS Knapps Narrows, along with her daughter, Capt. Sarah Lawrence (right), and son-in-law, Capt. Adam Lawrence (left). Courtesy photo.

Knapps Narrows Female Towboat Operator Wins National Award

Captain Mary Gilmer, owner of TowBoatUS Knapps Narrows and Kent Narrows (locally known as Tow Jamm Marine), was recently recognized as Tower of the Year by TowBoatUs. The Knapps Narrows location stood out among the TowBoatUS fleet of over 600 boats and 300 locations for their “outsized presence,” says Scott Croft, VP of Public Affairs for BoatUS. 

Tow Jamm Marine has been operating between Love Point and Taylors Island since 1989, when Capt. Gilmer and her late husband, Bill, traded a liveaboard life in the Bahamas for a life as towboat operators. Since then, the business has grown to include her daughter, Sarah Lawrence, who manages dispatch and marketing, and her son-in-law, Adam Lawrence, who is fleet captain. The fleet operates out of Kent and Knapps Narrows. 

“This is a small company that’s evolving rapidly, and doing things bigger and better,” says Croft, who commends their social media outreach for getting more people on the water.  

Sarah handles the social media and member outreach with an enthusiasm and intelligence not frequently seen in the marine industry. While her training in boating safety has been a lifelong pursuit, her passion for life on the water makes her an authority for boating on the Eastern Shore. Her social media posts speak to everything necessary for both, from winterizing an outboard to exploring the best secret anchorages. 

“We want our community to know that they can always call us for local knowledge and tips, as well as boat safety and maintenance,” Lawrence says. “Using the efficiencies that technology offers us, we have more time to communicate directly with our members and community, which in turn gives us more opportunity to assist boaters when emergencies hit.” 

Tow Jamm Marine sees between 750 and 1,000 jobs a year and achieves an exceptional reputation in towing recoveries due to their high standards and communications protocols. “When a call comes in, we have a policy that by the time we hang up, we’ve dispatched a captain,” says Lawrence. She credits her fleet with a knowledge of the Bay beyond a navigational chart. “We have an incredible team that’s been with us forever, and they know the waterways like the backs of their hands.” The Lawrences’ two small children (Burke, who is six, and Vera, who is four) are frequently seen riding along with their dad, learning the ropes.

Captain Gilmer credits the success of her business with both a trust and a respect for her team. “We run a tight ship because bad things can happen so quickly,” says Captain Gilmer. “We never know when a boat is going to break down, but we know that we want to be there when it does.”

-Duffy Perkins