Willis takes over ownership of Sea Tow Crystal Coast

The crew of Sea Tow Crystal Coast cuts a ribbon commemorating Capt. Chris Willis taking over as owner/operator of the franchise during a ceremony in Atlantic Beach March 24. (Contributed photo)

ATLANTIC BEACH — A ribbon-cutting ceremony last Wednesday at Anchorage Marina in Atlantic Beach officially commemorated Capt. Chris Willis taking the helm as the owner/operator of Sea Tow Crystal Coast.

For more than 30 years, Capt. Willis has been providing tows, jump starts, fuel deliveries and more to boaters on the waters of coastal North Carolina. Five years after beginning his career as a line captain, he became the owner of Sea Tow Wrightsville Beach, and for the past two years has used his local knowledge and attention to detail to assist in the day-to-day operation of the Sea Tow Crystal Coast franchise.

Thanks to his success during the last two years, aided by the management skills of captains Ryan Saporito and Scott Collins, Capt. Willis was named the new owner of Sea Tow Crystal Coast. The ownership signifies the expansion of his area of responsibility to include more than 120 miles of coastal North Carolina, including the Southern Outer Banks and 30 miles of the Neuse River to New Bern. 

Capt. Willis built his Wrightsville Beach location into the third-largest Sea Tow operation in the U.S. In 2007, he was awarded the Sea Tow Franchise of the Year award. 

“Early in my career, I took the advice of someone older and wiser than me who told me I was trying to do too much myself,” Capt. Willis said in a release announcing his leadership. “Since then, I’ve hired people smarter than me who can help me do my job better. None of my team works for me, they work with me to give our customers the best possible service. My philosophy is to treat team members like family, pay them well and empower them.”

Educating the public, especially the large number of those new to boating, is another priority to help keep them safe. When Sea Tow’s captains are out on the water, they are often spotted providing their local knowledge to those who might need it. 

Capt. Willis inherited the crew at Sea Tow Crystal Coast, like operations manager Capt. Christian Gillikin. The staff also includes several captains who are adjunct professors at Carteret County Community College, teaching prospective captains using the experience gained from their work at Sea Tow.

In addition, Capt. Pete Koltun keeps the franchise’s Facebook page updated with boating tips, adverse weather advisories and changing conditions, like recent shoaling. Several of the staff have deep roots in the area. Working alongside the Sea Tow Foundation, they also established multiple life jacket loaner stations throughout the area to make life jackets available to the boating community ready to borrow free of charge.

In addition to on-water assistance, Sea Tow handles salvage and recovery and responds to natural disasters, environmental hazards and oil spill cleanups. 

“Sea Tow is dedicated to helping people enjoy boating,” Sea Tow CEO Capt. Joseph Frohnhoefer III said. “Capt. Chris Willis and his crew are a testament to that commitment. We’re proud to have them wear Sea Tow yellow.”

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