More on Towing versus Salvage:
1) Always ask if it is towing (not salvage) when offered a tow. Reputable companies will be upfront and let you know.
2) After you get back to the dock
, if there is any doubt as to whether it was a tow or salvage, this is decided by maritime courts. Maritime law is quite a bit different than what you're used witnessing in local civil & civil courts.
The Maritime judge will look at a number of things, which are codified somewhere, but if my memory serves me correctly, most of them are as follows (not necessarily in order of importance):
1) Was the vessel in distress
in any immediate danger
? If unassisted by the salvor, would it sink or be irrepairably damaged?
2) What was the weather
like? Were conditions worsening, staying the same or improving? Was the tide going up or down?
3) Were lives of the rescuing vessel endangered?
4) Were the lives of the distressed vessel in danger
5) What equipment
was used to rescue the vessel? Was it specialized equipment
that the vessel in distress
would not have otherwise been able to obtain?
6) What is the value of the vessel in distress (used to determine the amount of the award
, if any)
The court looks at these factors and makes a decision. Here are some examples of how salvage cases would typically be decided (some are real cases, some are hypothetical):
a) If the vessel was on a sandbar, with no holes in the hull
and the tide was falling, it would almost always be considered towing, since the tide would eventually rise, and the vessel would float off, no harm done. So there was no danger, just merely an inconvenience.
b) Same situation, but let's say a hurricane
is hours away. Then it could become salvage, since the weather
was deteriorating, and the boat might not have floated off on the tide before it the hurricane destroyed it.
c) Vessel hits a reef and is slowly sinking. No one is in any immediate danger of drowning, but he bilge
pumps on the boat can't keep up, so everyone knows the vessel it will sink if nothing is done soon. The towing company brings out a couple of large gas powered trash pumps that are able to keep up with the rush of water
, and then and tows them in. This would be salvage, due to the special equipment brought by the towing company and the imminent danger to the vessel.
d) Sailing vessel 30 miles offshore
calls for help, since their auxiliary engine
has died and there is no wind
. They are drifting. A towing company responds. The Towing company tells the captain
of the distressed sailboat over the VHF
that it will be salvage due to the long distance involved and the large seas. The captain
of the sailboat replies, no thanks, I can drift, I have a contract with your company, you can give me a tow, but I won't accept salvage. The towboat captain finally agrees, since he's gone all the way out there and doesn't want to leave the sailboat stranded out there. So the moral of this one is that there is sometimes room for negotiation. (By the way, this one I personally heard take place on the VHF
off the coast of SC).