Understanding the difference between towing and salvage can save boaters money and aggravation. Historically and legally, salvage is any voluntary and successful rescue of a boat, its cargo and/or its passengers from a peril at sea. BoatUS, however, narrows this definition. When contracting for towing services on behalf of its over half a million members, it requires that marine assistance companies distinguish between simple towing and/or soft groundings and the more serious and expensive salvage efforts where distress or danger exist.
Salvage: sinking at the dock is not uncommon The distinction between towing and salvage is reflected in the different types of programs available to boaters. Towing assistance, like the pre-paid service available to BoatUS members from the TowBoatUS fleet, provides help for breakdowns and light groundings. The far more expensive salvage claims are covered only by yacht insurance policies.
Since the same marine assistance company often provides both towing and salvage services, it is essential that the boat owner reach an understanding with the marine assistance provider before action is taken. BoatUS Towing Service Providers are required to inform the captain of a boat before beginning any work if the procedure is salvage, not towing. If this isn't possible due to wind and sea conditions, the towing company should tell the captain as soon as possible.
However, boaters should not assume they will always be told. Boaters should always ask whether the job is towing or salvage before they accept a tow.
To be an approved BoatUS Towing operator, marine assistance companies must agree that Towing/Ungrounding is any operation not involving immediate danger to the boat or to a legally protected marine environment. It requires just one towing vessel with lines attached to a grounded boat to refloat it or to the disabled boat to tow it. If a grounded boat can rest without peril until the tide returns to float her free, or a boat is drifting in calm conditions after losing power, it almost always calls for towing, not salvage.
Salvage, on the other hand, involves imminent peril to a grounded, sinking or stranded boat or to a protected marine environment, or the use of more than one towing vessel and/or special salvage equipment such as air bags or high capacity pumps.