The law of maritime salvage has ancient roots. It's an elegant proposition designed to encourage the disinterested to spring into action to save vessels and cargo from loss to the sea. Still, maritime salvage has plenty of rumor and innuendo making it worthwhile for us to observe the following which might not be readily appreciated:
Firstly, a salvor is not entitled to your vessel as a salvage award. A salvage award is generally calculated based on various considerations set forth in the International Salvage Convention (IMO 1989) and the general maritime law of the United States. A salvage award is generally calculated as a percentage of the value of the vessel and its cargo saved from peril.
Secondly, you can generally refuse to accept salvage services. In other words, a salvor cannot force its services upon you. In very rare situations, there is some court commentary speaking to an owner being compelled to accept salvage services where the public may be harmed by the owner's refusal.
Thirdly, in order to qualify for a salvage award, a salvor must typically establish that (i) the vessel was in peril, (ii) that the salvor had no preexisting obligation to assist the vessel and (iii) the salvor was successful. And remember, you don't need to be a professional salvor, even a passerby (i.e. an amateur salvor) could seek a salvage award provided he/she can establish these three prerequisites.
Whether it's a boat aground in Florida, or a vessel taking on water in Rhode Island or a dismasted sailboat in New York, the law of salvage will almost always be governed by applicable federal law and not state law.
Underway and making way.
By John Fulweiler