The definition of “boat salvage” (also called marine salvage) can sometimes be confused with “marine towing services.” According to BOAT US, a nationwide provider of vessel insurance and towing services, vessels require towing services for simple breakdowns, soft groundings, and other minor incidents needing relatively straightforward assistance.

Conversely, BOAT US interprets boat salvage to mean incidents in which potential danger exists for the disabled vessel and crew, the assisting vessel, or both. Using this definition, salvage incidents would include dismastings, hard groundings, vessel sinkings, and hurricane damage.

Things You Will Need
  • Information on local boating market

  • Navigational and weather hazard information

  • Copy of state salvage laws

  • Business license

  • Special permits (if applicable)

  • Information on salvage vessels

  • Captain and crew resumes

  • Rack card

  • List of regional towing services

  • List of marine insurance agents

  • List of commercial vessel owners

Examine your local boating market. First, look at the types of boats commonly found on local waters (recreational vs. commercial). Next, note navigational dangers and consistent weather hazards (i.e. a long sand bar just offshore, or hurricanes). Finally, document the number of abandoned, derelict, or sunken vessels in your area. Taken together, all of this information will provide an estimate of the potential boat salvage opportunities.

Research your local salvage laws. Each state has adopted its own vessel salvage laws, and you should be thoroughly familiar with those laws before forming your salvage company. Contact your state Department of Natural Resources or Department of Motor Vehicles for state boat salvage law information.

Handle your salvage company logistics. First, organize your business structure with the help of a certified public accountant with marine industry experience. Next, consult with an admiralty attorney (maritime law attorney) who can assist you with issues related to boat salvage, as well as federal and state maritime laws.

Next, consult with a marine insurance agent familiar with commercial towing and salvage work. Ask about coverage for yourself and your employees. Finally, obtain your business license at your city or county clerk’s office. While at the clerk’s office, ask about special permits for boat salvage work.

Obtain a suitable vessel and equipment. Based upon the boat information you’ve gathered, purchase a vessel to capably handle salvage work for these boats. For example, let’s assume that most local boats are smaller, relatively lightweight recreational fishing boats and sailboats. Determine the vessel size, engine configuration, and mechanical gear necessary to assist those vessels in hard grounding and other salvage operations.

On the other hand, if your boating market is full of large, heavy shrimping and commercial fishing boats, or perhaps large motoryachts, you will need an entirely different type of vessel with beefed up engines and more powerful equipment. The “Boats and Harbors” publication includes many display advertisements for commercial vessels that might be appropriate for your needs.

Hire a qualified captain and crew. Find a United States Coast Guard licensed captain experienced in towing and salvage work, and with endorsements that will allow him to captain larger vessels. The crew should be experienced with towing and salvage operations as well.

Launch your boat salvage company. Generate a rack card that describes your salvage services, along with a profile of your commercial vessel experience. Include photographs, descriptions, and locations of your service vessels.

Distribute the rack cards to city offices that handle vessel salvage issues, as well as to the marine police or sheriffs’ departments that might be charged with enforcement duties. Ask these departments about salvaging derelict or abandoned vessels in local waters. Next, provide regional towing services with your information, in case their vessels are unable to handle a specific salvage situation.

Visit marine insurance professionals with rack cards for their files and for their clients. Finally, offer your salvage services to commercial vessel owners. However, be aware that commercial vessel salvage work might take place offshore in less-than-perfect weather.


Be aware of the differences between towing and salvage at all times. If the vessel's owner is present at the salvage scene, inform him that his vessel requires salvage before you proceed.