What To Know If You Think It's Just A Tow:

The Difference Between Towing and Salvage

As millions of recreational boat owners get ready to launch their vessels this season, knowing the difference between towing and salvage could save them boatloads of money should they need help on the water, says BoatUS, whose towing companies are the nation's largest fleet of assistance towing vessels.

Historically and legally, salvage is any voluntary and successful rescue of a boat and/or its cargo from a peril at sea. Salvage often results in a "demand" for a percentage of the boat's post-casualty value — sometimes a considerable amount of money. Towing costs much less and is billed by the hour, averaging $200 per hour for non-members.

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, provides help for breakdowns and light groundings. The far more expensive salvage claims are covered only by yacht insurance policies such as BoatUS Marine Insurance.

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, cautions Jerry Cardarelli, BoatUS Vice President of Towing Services. 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.

If the answer is "salvage," the boater should ask if the company — or "salvor" — will give a fixed price or one based on time and materials before beginning the job. If so, get the price in writing or, if an oral agreement, try to have someone witness it, Cardarelli suggests.

If the salvor wants to do the job first and says he does not know what the cost will be but will make a salvage claim afterwards, the final charge will be decided one of three ways: negotiation with the boater's insurance company; binding arbitration (a variety of forums exist, including the BoatUS Salvage Arbitration Program, a low-cost option available to all boat owners, marine assistance and insurance companies); or — rarely — through litigation in federal admiralty courts. If the salvor does not give a price before doing the job, the boater should ask the salvor if he uses or will agree to use the BoatUS Open Form Yacht Salvage Contract, which assures any claim can go to binding arbitration if negotiation fails.


Towing vs. Salvage - Jump Start
Towing vs. Salvage - Jump Start
Salvage: Beached Sailboat
Salvage: Beached Sailboat