Salvage or Towing?
Salvage & Towing
It’s a beautiful day. You’re on your pride and joy and enjoying a great day and all of a sudden you find yourself aground. After a few minutes of trying, you can’t seem to get free but what the heck - call a towboat to pull you off the sandy bottom. Since you have “towing insurance” you figure it will be no sweat. The towboat comes alongside, looks at the situation and refuses to give you a tow unless you agree to “salvage”. What’s that all about?
Salvage is a legal term that applies whenever help is rendered to a vessel on the water. Towing is one method of salvage. Salvage was written into the law to give people an incentive to render assistance to vessels in peril. Salvage is awarded not only to compensate for time and effort but also as a reward for helping others. It also served to dissuade “piracy”. By legally awarding salvors monetarily, would-be pirates had less reason to plunder the unfortunate vessel in peril. The courts have always favored giving awards to salvors for their successful efforts.
Three conditions must be met for anyone to claim the reward of salvage. One – the vessel must be in peril. Two – it must be voluntary. Three – it must be successful. (Salvage is not awarded when only lives are saved. Property must be save to earn salvage awards). Those are the only three conditions that must be met to claim salvage. Note that to claim salvage you do not need to use another vessel to help the vessel in peril; the vessel in peril could be anywhere (on the water); need not be a commercial business; does not need to be “abandoned”; need not be in immediate danger; and many other misconceptions. The courts have ruled many times that “in peril” includes being aground.
There is no such thing as a “light grounding”, “simple tow off a sand bar” etc. in lieu of salvage. It is all salvage. Certain tow companies do make the distinction regarding a “light grounding” to avoid the long and negotiated settlements of salvage claims. They will simple offer a tow at a set price. Keep in mind however that this is their decision to waiver their legal rights to salvage rights. As a boat owner you are under no obligation to accept any offer of help.
The best advice: do not go aground! Don’t assume that because you have “towing” insurance a “light grounding” is not to be feared. Insurance (salvage or towing) is no substitute for good seamanship. If you do go aground and need assistance be prepared to negotiate for a “simple tow” rather than salvage. Keep in mind that the law favors and encourages other to help and will compensate them accordingly.
The best Safety & Lifesaving Equipment that you can own is a well-maintained boat! Everything else may only provide a temporary respite from doom.