Originally Posted by Tom.B
My problem in understanding this topic has to do with federal maritime salvage laws. If you get off your boat under peril, the salvage company then (the way I understand it) OWNS your boat under some sort of lien. There are huge loopholes in how much they can charge and how long it takes to resolve disputes. In the meantime, you still have a boat that needs fixing, and as is often the case, have to keep paying for.
The interweb is littered with accounts of tow/salvage companies that have made it difficult to trust even the largest of towing organizations. Compounded by the fact that both of the biggest operate under a model of franchise companies that carry their name, therefore, not always consistent in service levels, pricing, or employee hiring. Otherwise, you wouldn't hear things like you do around our local waters... That the Sea Tow guys suck and for everyone to use Tow Boat US... That is a constant chatter I have heard from everyone in this area, whereas, the opposite is true in other areas.
All I want to learn is how to protect us from that? I feel like we can trust, to a greater degree, what our community members say about it, thus the inquiry.
You are seriously misinformed. No Salvor "Owns" your boat after a successful salvage. They have a right to compensation, but not title. Whether you are on or off your boat has very little to do in the equation also.
I'm going to give a few facts on about marine salvage and
hopefully not put you to sleep.
The premise of marine salvage is that the owner must take all available steps to protect the vessel AS IF IT IS UNINSURED. This goes, both ways. Your insurance company will be very unhappy with you if you have available salvage services and turn them down to "Save the insurance company money" and the damage is escalated later. They have grounds for denial of claim. The salvage contract doesn't care if there is insurance or not, its irrelevant. In practical matters the salvor wants to get paid, usually from insurance, but not always.
There are 3 elements to a marine salvage.
1: It must be voluntary. No salvage awards to members of the crew because it is your duty to protect your vessel. No salvage awards to Military (Coast Guard, Navy, or army)
2 There must be peril. If you are aground or sinking , there is peril. If the boat has already sunk, it is a different situation.
3: The salvage must be successful, in whole or in part. The salvors must use their best endeavors to successfully save the casualty. There is a new wrinkle on this because of threats to the environment (oil pollution) that insurance companies and salvors are trying to figure out.
To further complicate matters there are to types salvage, pure and contract.
Lloyds open form 2000 (which most peeps have heard of) is the international standard of marine salvage. Believe it or not, the so called "generous" salvage awards that are handed down are a direct result of the insurers wanting salvors out there, taking risks . In other words appeal to the pocket book. What they (insurers) don't want is for mariners to sail past casualties because it won't be financially worth their while to stop and render assistance. This is contract salvage in its purest form "No Cure No Pay".
Pure salvage is when a moored boat breaks its mooring and the owners don't know it and salvage averts the casualty from hitting other boats or grounding. These are the hardest to deal with because there is no prior agreement between the owners and salvors.
For every horror story about greedy towing company/salvors, there is a reverse story about customers.
I have been involved in several yacht salvages that went to arbitration or court because of unhappy customers or insurers.
One was a well known broker for a very old Boston firm that stranded his sail boat on and offshore rock ledge. He told us that we would not be able to free it and it was going to be a CTL (constructive total loss). We explained that he had nothing to lose and we would assume the risk and if we weren't successful there would be no claim. Long story short we took it off with $6500 in damage and it was fixed in short order.
We made a claim to the insurers for $14000 and were told that they would pay $2000 for towage and refused to acknowledge it was salvage. We were too blocked for several months and agreed to arbitration. A federal judge on Cape cod, ruled that not only was it salvage, the insurers were trying to bully a small salvor/operator from a valid salvage claim. We were awarded $41,000.
On another stranding, an owner of a large Searay ran up on the rocks and needed pumps and equipment to free him. He tried to sue me in federal court for $1,000,000. saying he wasn't aground and it was a routine tow. My atty presented pictures of his boat with folded up running gear and a severe port list hanging 5'in the air from the rock. The judge threw it out of court. In both of these cases owners signed SALVAGE AGREEMENTS that shifted responsibility to me. Do I want to be paid when I'm successful? hell ya! These were both done in the 1980's when I owned a Sea-Tow licensed area.
On the tug that I know work on we have been involved in contract salvage and the largest was in excess of 33 million dollars. The knife cuts both ways, we have been on jobs with losses in excess of 10 mill.