Sailing on his retired U.S. Coast Guard boat "Titan," Ryan Sewell has dealt with hurricanes, sinking ships and deadly fires. But after 10 years on the water, the dangers of the seas don't faze him.
For Sewell, who owns the Fort Lauderdale-based Downrite Marine Towing and Salvage, the most-rewarding aspect of his work is that he's helping people.
"I don't believe if you see an accident on the highway, you should just drive away," he says. "I'm the type to stop and help. … I don't know where it comes from, this need to help others, but it's just something that's always been there."
Sewell, along with three other South Florida towing companies, will be featured on "Shipwreck Men," a new show airing 9 p.m. Monday on the Discovery Channel.
The show gives viewers an inside look at what Sewell and his two-man crew do when they're out at sea — sometimes, for weeks at a time — scanning the waters day and night in search of sinking vessels and boaters in distress.
Over his 10-year career span, he estimates he's saved more than 1,000 sinking vessels. He also volunteered his services during the BP Oil Spill of 2010, and, more recently, during Hurricane Sandy.
Along the shores of South Florida, he may be considered a hero. "Not too long ago, I saw two girls stranded on a Jet Ski, and I could see from a distance that a cruise ship was coming straight toward them," Sewell recalls. "The Coast Guard was there trying to help them, but the girls were scared of the size of the Coast Guard's boat. So I jumped in my boat and raced over and scooped them up."
That day, Sewell, who can earn anywhere from $275 an hour towing boats to several hundred thousand for a project, didn't make any money, but he says "saving someone is more rewarding."
Life at sea is not only about adventure and rescue. There's also a cutthroat element to boat-towing, as shown on the TV show. "The competition is fierce," he says, "because when a call comes in for a tow, the first person on the scene gets the job."
Sewell bought his first boat in his teens, but planned to become a firefighter and graduated from the Broward Fire Academy. Luckily, he says, his sea legs eventually proved stronger than the desire to live full-time on land.
"It's funny — if I'm at home for too many days at a time," he says, "I start to get antsy and want to be back at sea. ... It's my therapy, passion and something I that love to do."