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Captain Joseph F. Maloney Jr., of the Boston Harbor Pilot Association, was making coffee on his boat early Tuesday morning when he heard the distress call come in — three men were on board a sinking tugboat at the mouth of Boston Harbor, and it was taking on water fast.

“I know the captain, and I could hear the desperation in his voice. He said, ‘Joe, you need to get here — now,’” said Maloney in a telephone interview.

The 51-foot tugboat sank at the end of the North Channel, 5 nautical miles east of Deer Island, just before sunrise, in 44 feet of water, said Petty Officer Cynthia Oldham, a spokeswoman for the US Coast Guard.

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Already on the water — “we’re always on the water,” according to Maloney — and about a half-mile from the scene of the sinking vessel, Maloney and co-captain Shawn Kelly raced to the scene.

By the time they had arrived, the boat was gone, he said, but the three men were there, floating in the cold harbor waters.

Maloney said he and Kelly pulled the men from the water, and got them back to dry land. They were in the water for no more than five minutes before they were rescued. One was on a life raft, and the other two were in the water.

The US Coast Guard had dispatched crews to help with the rescue, but the men had already been pulled from the water by the time they arrived, Oldham said.

The men were evaluated by EMTs, and are in good condition, said Oldham. Pollution experts are also on the way to the scene of the sunken boat to check the water.

Maloney said he was calm during the “crisis,” but once he reached land, the adrenaline hit.

“I’m just feeling the adrenaline now. I’m getting that big adrenaline dump,” said Maloney. “We were very lucky everything worked out.”

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Doug Richman (left) was saved by Captain Joseph F. Maloney Jr. (right).
Doug Richman (left) was saved by Captain Joseph F. Maloney Jr. (right).James Reed

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.