It used to be when I’d slip past the breakwater and into the inner harbor on some paid gig, I’d turn and gesture back at the sea. It seemed she never made anything easy. Same thing with planes except it wasn’t the blue sky, but the plane I’d flip off. Fact is, in my youth I developed a sense that between gravity and the ocean, one of them was always trying to off me. Nowadays my relationships are different and calmer. No more maritime gigs on questionable vessels and I pass on pissing off the aerodynamics of flying machines, leaving me and the sea in a sort of domesticated awkwardness. We both know and like each other alright, it’s just that history of knock-down fights keeping us apart.

I don’t having anything against the sea. The immature gesturing is simply a reflection of my love of victory. If you etch your way across a bending sea bringing craft and self home safely, that’s a victory! Have you finished a splice that looks half decent? Did you replace a fastener, scale a mast, burnish brightwork, find home in the fog? These are victories and in a life as finicky as the sea is tempest, you should be busting out a victory lap every time. Like bricks to a wall, each victory no matter how demure builds something good in you.

And to taste victory, of course, you have to occasionally have the rancid finish. That is, you can’t really appreciate the sunset without knowing of the day that finishes in a gray gloom. And here’s my pivot to a morsel of maritime knowledge; you can’t know a good day of boating without having had that day where you landed the hull atop a sand bar, sprung a leak or otherwise fell victim to the gremlins of an inboard engine. In those situations, you may require the services of a maritime salvage company. Here’s three thoughts that might spare you a claim of salvage.

First, and this is written against the memory of the hearty chuckle of an uncle who was always first in line with this sort of quip, don’t run aground! He may be on to something because the groundings we see largely tend to be driven by operator inattentiveness. As for inboard engine failings and leaky hulls, this too may be driven by operator inattentiveness but on a different time spectrum. That is, the seawater flooding might be driven by a lack of maintenance and the hard-to-start inboard engine might’ve been hollering at you for two seasons that it needed new injectors. The point is, there’s some truth in the idea that the attention you pay your vessel might spare you a salvage claim.

Second, maritime salvors do not want your boat and you don’t need to fear a salvage claim. There’s no harm nor foul in signing a salvage contract and letting a professional with a purpose-equipped vessel render assistance. Still, there’s a fundamental tenet in maritime law that basically holds a vessel owner can always refuse salvage. Don’t be coy. If you think you can handle the situation by yourself, tell the salvor you do not require assistance and get on getting on. If you let the salvor render assistance, then it’s really not fair to later say, “But wait, all I wanted was a tow or to rent a pump.” It’s also important to understand the terms of your maritime insurance policy, which may require an insured vessel owner take all reasonable measures to protect the insured property – meaning, your vessel. Hypothetically, and I’m spit-balling here, but if you refuse the assistance of a salvor in a situation where another reasonable boater would not have, did you breach your policy?

Third, if you have the luxury of time, consider discussing the terms by which the salvor will assist you. This might start with understanding whether the salvor’s efforts will be covered by some national boat towing plan. (My experience with these plans is that if it’s a salvage service, it’s not covered under the plan, but you should read and understand what is and isn’t covered before hitting the waterways.) If it’s not a covered service, then there’s no harm in asking the salvor whether it will agree to be paid on a time and materials basis or a fixed fee.

It’s all too easy to flitter past a victory, missing the moment in the momentum of the day. Don’t let that happen. Find and claim your victories in whatever your endeavors. And when you do, take a beat, carve out a pause in your passage and savor the sweet rush of accomplishment. Big or small, life’s victories are the first signs of a spring. They’re the headland that confirms your dead reckoning through life’s raucousness is spot on.

So I say this: Savor each sweet rush of accomplishment. It’s an alluring addiction.

Underway and making way. (In recently reading Admiral Stavridis’s Sea Power, I was alarmed to see his use of “Under Way” in the prologue. What sorcery is this breaking up this word into two parts!?)

This article is provided for your general information, is not legal opinion and should not be relied upon. Always seek legal counsel to understand your rights and remedies. ■

John K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a Proctor-in-Admiralty representing individuals and small businesses in maritime matters including personal injury claims throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and with his office in Newport, Rhode Island. He can be reached at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293) or, or visit his website at

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