New captain takes helm at N.C. TowBoatUS locations

His great grandfather was a Cape Lookout Lighthouse keeper in the 1930s, so it’s perhaps befitting that Capt. Stephen Lilly is the new owner of TowBoatUS Beaufort and TowBoatUS Swansboro, two local towing ports that help boaters in the Inner and Outer Banks region with routine on-water troubles.

The business is a first for Lilly, who purchased it from his former boss and longtime owner Capt. Lee Sykes, who is retiring. It’s been a long road for Lilly, who said, “I towed my first boat when I was 8 years old. I was in a marina on my little dinghy and 2-hp motor, and a big cruiser was having trouble getting into the slip, so the captain leaned over the rail and asked me for a little push,” he said. “Definitely not something I would recommend today,” he adds with a chuckle.

Joining him in the business is his wife, Mariangel Lilly, who is overseeing marketing and public reach out efforts as well as business operations. “She’s my right hand in life,” said Lilly.

Lilly says he’s always known that he wanted his future to be on the water. Since graduating college in 2012, he has renovated a marina, been a dockmaster and boatyard forklift driver, worked as oil spill crew rescuing sea birds, and helmed long tows for TowBoatUS Beaufort. He understands the company’s long-term commitment to the community. “We take a lot of pride in serving boaters in our area,” said Lilly. “We have a duty. You’re not just a number with us.”

Lilly keeps the company’s six red TowBoatUS response vessels at Sea Water Marina across from Chasing Tails in Atlantic Beach. All are part of a nationwide network of more than 600 TowBoatUS response vessels at 300-plus locations that responded to more than 90,000 requests for assistance last year.

Lilly’s region sees a variety of on-water activity including snowbirds cruising the Intracoastal Waterway, a strong local boating community and charter fishermen with a busy schedule of local tournaments. Lilly says the tremendous amount of tide, wind and current in the area require his captains to be highly skilled in towboat operations. “Working here is special because you work together,” said Lilly.

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