From summer gig to franchisee: School teacher Brian Becker purchases local Sea Tow

Brian Becker has been around saltwater pretty much all his life, so it was a perfect fit when he became the owner of Sea Tow Eastern Long Island last November.

Mr. Becker has worked at Sea Tow, which occupies an office and dock space at Founders Landing in Southold, for more than 20 years, even while he was a full-time physical education teacher for grades K-12 on Shelter Island.

Last November he purchased the franchise. And, because he loves his students, he will continue to teach on Shelter Island. When he is not teaching, he can be found on the water.

“I love the water, grew up on the water and spent years working here at Sea Tow even as I was teaching,” he said as he walked the dock overlooking Town Creek at the Sea Tow office. “When it became available to buy last November, I jumped at the chance.” 

Sea Tow has somewhat legendary status in terms of its business history in Southold. It was founded in 1983 by another teacher, Joe Frohnhoefer, as a boat-towing business. 

“Joe was out on the water a lot and when the Coast Guard stopped doing towing work, he saw the need and started the business,” Mr. Becker said.

And it took off. Today, there are approximately 100 Sea Tow franchises with nearly 200,000 members, on Long Island, nationwide, in the Caribbean and even Europe. For a yearly fee, boat owners can call Sea Tow for help if their boat breaks down and they need a tow back to the dock.

“Mr. Frohnhoefer was a shop teacher in Mattituck,” Mr. Becker said. “He started out with a single boat and it took off from there. The franchises went out farther and farther But it started right here, and we still have that first boat.”

Mr. Frohnhoefer died in 2015 at the age of 71. His son, Joseph Frohnhoefer III, remains the company’s CEO and his daughter, Kristen Frohnhoefer, is president.

Mr. Becker bought the franchise from Bill Barker, who had been partners with Mr. Frohnhoefer. Later, Mr. Barker bought out his partner and last November sold to Mr. Becker. 

“The nature of the business is that it’s 24/7,” Mr. Becker said. “I worked at Sea Tow for 22 years doing tows, the day-to-day stuff, and I was also teaching. Now, Bill will work for me during the day when I am teaching.”

Aspects of the job sound very challenging. Mr. Becker related a story about going out into Long Island Sound at 2 a.m. Jan. 12 to tow a boat that had run out of gas. The boat was six miles off Mattituck Inlet. And it was cold.

“I wanted to get out there, get him and get back to bed,” Mr. Becker said.

He said the Southold franchise averages about 350 tows a year, and he stressed that the operation is not there to fix mechanical issues but to go out and tow a boat back to its home dock. 

“We are not there for emergency purposes,” he said. “We are not mechanics. But we assist in any way we can if someone needs help. Our goal is to get people to safety.”