When is a boat considered abandoned and thus salvage? - SailNet Community

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  #1  
Old 02-20-2008
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When is a boat considered abandoned and thus salvage?

Here’s one for all the arm chair maritime lawyers. Every morning and every evening I cross the same bridge. For a couple of months, a sailboat about 36’ has been sitting just off the bridge at anchor. This is not a recognized anchorage and there are no other boats around. No activity at the boat is ever seen. About a week ago a storm came through the area. The boat dragged into shallow water dangerously close to the highway. Then a few days ago it dragged some more and now it is hard aground with the port rail in the water and the mast at about 60 degrees.

So my question is, “Is it salvageable?” In other words, can it be legally boarded, moved to safe water and claimed? And by claimed, I mean by moving it to safety can a fee of some sort be assessed, or if the owner cannot be located, claim ownership?

Last edited by TLombardi; 02-20-2008 at 11:37 PM. Reason: Change formatting
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Old 02-21-2008
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I wouldn't use this advice in a court of law, but I've always been told that if its attached to an anchor, it's not abandoned
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Old 02-21-2008
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I won't give legal advice here (so please don't take it as such) but "abandonment" and "salvage" are two different questions. Salvage involves a bunch of factors, such as how much peril the boat is in, how much risk (physically and monetarily) you took to "save" it, and yada yada. The outcome of this complicated question will determine whether you're entitled to a salvage "award", and if so, how much.

Abandonment is a simpler question in a way, but you have to prove abandonment. The owner may have given up, but his hull insurers may not have. You may end up in a joust with them, and the question of "peril" may not be as dramatic as it is in a true salvage case.

Having said all this, it's not legal advice, contact your own attorney, etc, etc, etc....
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Old 02-21-2008
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This issue has been discussed at length on this forum. Go here for two other forum users' experiences with salvage and clear title for an "abandonded" boat:

Has anyone on here raised a sunken sailboat?....I have...
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Old 02-21-2008
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I consider it far superior to ask for forgiveness rather then wait for permission, but this is an axiom not codification of salvage. Call BoatUs or Safe Sea, if they haven’t touched it it’s not in a salvage sitution.
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Old 02-21-2008
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Report this to the USCG, or if not applicable report this hazard to the civilian authorities.
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Old 02-21-2008
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I have heard all kinds of stories over the years, and of course a part of the problem is to even figure out whose jurisdiction applies. (I heard a story about a fellow who rescued a boat in a State rather than Federal waterway and although he would have had rights under Federal Law, he had no rights under that State's law.

My best advise is to track down the owner and his insurance company and strike a deal to buy back the boat contingent on actually being able to salvage the boat successfully, or a salvage agreement that pays you for your efforts. The problem with salvaging the boat without pre-assigned rights is that you can end up in court spending far more than the recovery value of the boat or anything that you could recoup for your efforts.

The problem with salvaging boats that have sunk is that in many cases the boat has a negative value, meaning it will cost more to replace the electroniocs, engine, galley gear, upholstery etc, and repair the water damage than an identical boat that had not sunk would be worth.

Respectfully,
Jeff
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Old 02-21-2008
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If the boat is in a situation where it is in danger of being damaged or sunk, then you can probably legally salvage it, regardless of whether it has an anchor attached or not. The key is that the boat is in danger of being damaged or sunk. It may not give you the same rights as if the boat is abandoned, but it may be worth doing in anycase.

Nolatom is right as far as abandonment and salvage being two separate issues. Anyone can salvage a boat, regardless of whether it is clearly owned, cared for, or abandoned. To salvage a boat merely means that you've taken steps to prevent it from being damaged further or sunk, and expect to be compensated for those actions. To claim a boat has been abandoned and then to claim it for yourself is a totally different thing.

Jeff's points about salvaging boats and them possibly having a negative value, especially after being submerged for any period of time, is a very valid one.
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Old 02-21-2008
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Thanks for all the good advice and information. I believe the boat is in danger considering how close it is to the highway and the fact that it is hard on its side. I'm not even sure it can be moved at high tide. I guess it's time to call the Coast Guard and then a lawyer to ask some questions.

One thing I didn't see specifically addressed is what kind of trouble I can get into by just boarding the boat, moving it and resetting the anchor. I hate to see it sitting like it is. Don't worry. I realize none of the advice you give me is binding legal advice.
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Old 02-21-2008
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The only trouble that I think you can possibly get into is that the owner, if there is one, can hold you responsible for any damage to the boat, should the boat drag after you set the anchor, since you were the one who took responsibility for setting it.
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You know what the first rule of sailing is? ...Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take
a boat to the sea you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps
her going when she oughta fall down, tells you she's hurting 'fore she keens. Makes her a home.

—Cpt. Mal Reynolds, Serenity (edited)

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