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XIII. The Amount of the Award

Salvage awards are not based on any fixed percentage of the vessel's value. Historically, the practice in ancient times was to award a fixed percentage of the vessel's salved value in all salvage cases of similar circumstances. From this ancient usage, the practice of awarding a fixed percentage of the salved value based on the order of salvage became customary and widespread. To this day, many salvors assume that such is still the practice. However, this is not correct. While some awards are still expressed in terms of a percentage, this practice is becoming increasingly rare. Each award, whether expressed in terms of a percentage of salved value or a quantum, must be based on the peculiar circumstances of each case taking into consideration all the BLACKWALL factors. The use of a fixed percentage award to be applied to all salvage cases of similar circumstances is no longer valid.

Similarly, awards in other salvage cases cannot serve as an absolute precedent because each case must be judged based on its own circumstances. However, awards in similar cases may be used, if not as precedent, as guidance. This is especially true, where the vessel salved is a yacht rather than a "blue water" vessel. While a salvor of a $60 million tanker may be more than adequately compensated by a very small percentage of the vessel's value (1%-2%), the salvor of a yacht may not be reasonably compensated on the same percentage basis.

Frequently, the value of the vessel and equipment put at risk by the salvor equals or exceeds the value of the vessel assisted. It is almost certainly a more significant percentage then when large ocean going vessels are assisted. The public policy component of providing incentive to salvors by having those who use their services contribute so that they remain available for other boaters who might need them is also more significant in the recreational vessel context. Thus, salvage awards reported in cases involving large commercial vessels in a blue water context provide little guidance with regard to the size of an appropriate reward. An examination of recent salvage cases involving yachts may prove instructive, however, as to the typical range of awards in such cases.

For example, in one of a series of recreational salvage cases referred to binding arbitration by Judge Pettine of the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, awards of $3,000 and $13,000 were made for saving yachts with a value of $12,000 and $48,000 respectively.

The total time expended by the salvor was just under one hour. However, the vessels were saved, at some risk to the salvor, from being driven aground and suffering serious damage or total destruction. The salvor, running a business virtually identical to those of the salvors in this case, was also found to be entitled to an enhancement of 5% of the salved value to the award as a professional salvor. Similarly, in a recreational salvage arbitration in Boston, an award of $8,500 was made for the salvage of a grounded motorboat with a value of $41,500 involving moderate peril not involving serious risk of loss.

Judge Marcus of the Southern District of Florida recently awarded $8,000 to the salvor of a recreational boat with a salved value of $16,100 where the vessel was saved from sinking in deep water. The salvor plugged a leak and de-watered the vessel using his own pumps and a Coast Guard pump.

Merely because the value of the vessel is high, it does not follow that the award must also be high. However, large valuation of the vessel or benefit does frequently result in more liberal awards because it enables the court to confer a reward large enough to encourage salvors without casting too heavy a burden on property large enough to bear it. Thus, the combination of high values and highly meritorious services should result in a high award.

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