Alum runs media boat in New York Harbor, saves life of tug sailor

Bjoern Kils captains his New York Media Boat in the waters of the Hudson River. Photo by Lisa Marie Segarra
Bjoern Kils captains his New York Media Boat in the waters of the Hudson River. Photo by Lisa Marie Segarra

By Lisa Marie Segarra

In the world of broadcast journalism, getting the perfect shot can be critical. That couldn’t be truer out on the water, where one J/MS alumnus pilots a boat that allows reporters and film crews to see New York City from an entirely different angle.

Bjoern Kils, J/MS 2002, owns the New York Media Boat, a 26-foot, ex-military special ops craft that plies New York harbor and surrounding waters.

“We take photographers on board, we take news crews on board, and I also do a lot of maritime photography out here myself,” said Kils.

His clientele includes CNN, Fox, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg, which use the boat to shoot footage from the harbor.

Kils also creates sailing-based photography packages for international clients like Hugo Boss and Maserati.

“A lot of these bigger New York media outlets come to us because this boat is cheaper to run than a helicopter, and generally we can stay on scene longer,” noted Kils. “We can also get to many places that are harder to access by car.”

A car could never have saved the life of a crew member of a tugboat sinking in the waters off Queens, as Kils and the New York Media Boat team did in January.

“I was doing some commercial work off East Rockaway, out in the Atlantic with this boat,” said Kils. “It was very bad conditions, very foggy with 6-foot waves. We were out there, and all of a sudden I hear on the radio that there is a mayday call, a tugboat was taking on water, and it was sinking.

“So the Coast Guard relayed the coordinates, and we figured out the position with the help of our navigation systems on board, and we responded to this tugboat that was going down. By the time we got there, there was only about two feet of tugboat left. The boat was going down fast, and there was a person laying across the bow. It was a pretty hopeless situation for the guy, but we were able to go in there and pull him on board and rescue him.

“We dropped him off at the pilot ship out there. The pilots also had three of the other crew on board. It was great. We were able to save this guy’s life.”

Although he always loved being on the water, Kils never thought he’d make his living this way. He grew up in northern Germany on the Baltic Sea and moved with his family to the United States in 1994, when his father was recruited by Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Science.

At Rutgers, beside journalism, Kils had a minor in marine science. He began working at News 12 News Jersey following graduation. Beginning as a freelancer working overnight in the master control room, he eventually got promoted to an editor and cameraperson. Kils also worked at the assignment desk and ran the satellite truck.

He stayed with News 12 New Jersey until 2007. He then got an offer to work for MedPage Today, an accredited medical news service, to build up the company’s video department. There, Kils shot medical conferences and expert interviews as he traveled throughout North America and Europe.

During that time, he got the idea to start the New York Media Boat by working on his own photography.

“I had a smaller boat here in the harbor, a 12-foot boat, with which I was doing a lot of photography, especially of sail boats and anything that was going on in the harbor, really,” he recalled.

“There was a lot of stuff happening. I saw the demand for photographers wanting to come on board and TV crews, and then I upgraded the boat.”

Kils cites his experience, including the skills he learned and the J/MS classes he took, as contributing reasons for starting the New York Media Boat.

“Rutgers was great,” he stated. “Steve Miller always stands out as one of my favorite professors. He always encouraged me to think beyond the classroom and do independent study projects and such. And here I am with the New York Media Boat, and I think this is in part thanks to Professor Miller.”

Now the New York Media Boat has another sideline: taking tourists and photography clubs out on the water. Embarking from a dock off the West Side Highway at North Moore Street, Kils’ Adventure Sightseeing Tours business lets visitors see the major sights in New York City from the water.

In fact, Adventure Sightseeing Tours now ranks fifth of 477 New York City activities listed on Trip Advisor. Seagoing tourists could have no better captain than Bjoern Kils.