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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.
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.
If the salvor wants to do the job but does not know what the cost will be but will make claim afterwards, the final amount will be decided one of three ways — negotiation with your insurance company; binding arbitration (including the BoatUS Salvage Arbitration Program, a low-cost option available to any boat owner, insurance company, and marine assistance company) or, rarely, through litigation in federal admiralty courts.
All boaters should review their marine insurance coverage with their agent. The best protection against a salvage bill is adequate insurance. Boaters should make sure the policy provides for salvage up to the full value of the boat, not a percentage of its value, and that there is no deductible for salvage costs. The BoatUS marine insurance program offers this level of service.