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Boat Safety - Understanding Salvage

Updated: Mar 8, 2022

Maritime Salvage Law is based on the principle that ship owners should encourage independent salvors to save an endangered vessel and that one must make the risk of attempting to save a sinking vessel worthwhile. More importantly, law makers wanted to make the reward large enough to discourage would-be salvors from helping themselves to valuable cargo and freight.

In addition, law makers recognized the expense required to maintain specially equipped salvage vessels and equipment and to have a crew ready to act on a moment's notice. Remember now that many Maritime Salvage Law precedents, still cited today, occurred during the days when sailing vessels carried all of the freight and cargo. They traveled thousands of miles from home with no method of communication with the home office. They were not only at the mercy of the potentially tumultuous sea but at the mercy of the local legal system as well. Thus most countries treated Maritime (Admiralty) Law cases outside of the civil courts and developed amazingly consistent rulings that created, for all intents and purposes, an internationalAdmiralty


Today, there are three requirements for a pure salvage claim:

1) The ship or boat and/or other property must be in peril.

2) The salvor's actions must be voluntary. He must not be under any pre-existing contract or other legal obligation to help. Therefore, your local fire department would not be eligible for a salvage claim nor would the Coast Guard (but the Navy would).

3) The salvors must be successful in saving some or all of the property at risk.. If the vessel sinks while the salvors are attempting to save it and are subsequently unable to raise it, they are not entitled to any compensation, regardless of how much time and effort went into the attempt. One exception to this requirement is where the efforts of the salvors resulted in reduced environmental damage.

A failure to meet any of the above three requirements would negate any salvage claim.

Did the salvors of your two million dollar yacht meet these requirements? Was your vessel in peril? Yes. Was there a preexisting contract? No. Were the salvors successful? Yes. We therefore have a valid salvage claim. You may say, "I didn't authorize them to salvage my boat." By virtue of the fact that you allowed them on board, you authorized them to proceed. In fact, had you not permitted them on board, your insurance company might say that you did not attempt to mitigate the damages and refuse to pay a sizable portion of your claim.

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